To Title or Not to Title: Is That the Question?

Beginner Art Questions: The Paint Is Drying…Now What?

Artist Ginny Gluege approached us with an interesting question and an informed take on what artists can and should consider when debating whether or not to title an artwork.

 Whistler's Mother by John McNeill Whistler, oil painting.

I don’t like to title my acrylic paintings because I feel strongly about not influencing the viewers’ freedom to develop their own thoughts, interpretations, enjoyment of the piece. Is there a good way to label the pieces for inventory purposes? What are your thoughts on titling artworks?

Do you ever look at the painting-in-process on your easel and wonder what you’re going to title it? Do you think you have to give an artwork a title? That there’s no other alternative? I ponder this question quite a lot, but it always come down to personal preference. Ahhh, the freedom of art! There are, however, a few things you may wish to consider before you move forward with your final decision to title, or not to title, your artwork, and it is all connected to your intent.

To Title

Creating art, for many artists, means sharing the creative, passionate side of themselves with the world. Perhaps the intent is wrapped up in nostalgia and evoking the familiar or calling to mind sweet memories of the past. Perhaps it is about bringing the beauty of landscapes or the simple (or complicated!) things in life to their audience. Do you want to influence your audience to see something in particular? Naming your piece would be a good idea in that case.

Or Not to Title

Other times artists’ intend their audience simply look: to observe the colors and texture of the piece. Do you want to give your audience the freedom to simply see what they see, interpret, and enjoy it without suggesting, by a title, what they should be seeing? In that case you may decide to leave it untitled as I do.

But artists know that no matter what they intend, viewers have minds of their own, and hooray for that! Viewers see what they want to see regardless of the artist’s intentions. In fact, some artists title their artworks yet they become nicknamed despite these designations, as with James McNeill Whistler’s Arrangement in Grey and Black, which became know as Whistler’s Mother. So many artists couple Untitled with a numerical system of recording that Untitled might be the most common title of all. Plein air and landscape artists often use the date or the time of day a work was made as inspiration for a title. Others, the location where the work was made.

Beginner Art Question: To Title or Not to Title. Square, Triangle, Circle by Sharon Sprung, oil painting.

Square, Triangle, Circle by Sharon Sprung, oil painting. Sprung named this work after the dimensions, body position, and face “shape” of her model.

Some artists struggle with titles. Others think of phrases out of thin air, or name works after a song that was playing at the time they were painting. Others enjoy clever titles that add layers of communication to the experience. Some artists want to convey meaning, others want to confuse.

Naming or not naming your artwork has its pros and cons. If you decide not to, definitely come up with a system that allows you to talk about the work in a descriptive capacity (to a gallerist for instance), especially if you work abstractly.

Above all, spend time thinking about how your work communicates and what you want out of that give and take. It’s a guarantee that your viewer will receive a variety of perceptions from you as a creative “engine.” Does naming or not naming your piece play a part in that? I think so. Now it is up to you what you do with that. Enjoy!

***

Thanks Ginny! So many exciting pieces of the puzzle to think about and play with. I for one will own that my one consistency with titling artworks is that I am inconsistent. I’ve named them, numbered them, and left them “blank.” As Ginny says, there is no wrong answer. But we would love to know if you title your art or what naming conventions you like or aren’t so jazzed about. Leave a comment and let us know!

Courtney

Burning Art Questions: What’s in a name…or not?

Painters, draftsmen, and sculptors alike! Struggle no longer! Naming your artwork need not strike fear into your hearts. For we bring you an unbeatable, insurmountable, inscrutable (indecipherable?) list of ways of titling your newborn art.

Untitled. Loved by abstract artists and lazy artists alike. Add eye-crossing amount of roman numerals XXLIVI for variety.

motherwell--beginner art on titling art

Motherwell’s Elegy to the Spanish Republic No.70.

Give it a name. And a nickname. Whistler’s Arrangement in Grey and Black is known as Whistler’s Mother. We see you, Mom!

Give it the time of day. Look out the window and boom — title. Dawn. Dusk. Daybreak. Afternoon. Evening. Nightfall. Gloaming. Sunrise. High noon. Low tide. Wait.

Where are you? Look out the window and boom — title — the sequel! Double points if you are: in a bathroom, in your mom’s garage, or lost in space.

Stream of consciousness that shiz! Fur. Butter. Ew. No. Is that a hair on my tongue? Stop. This is a supposed to be a title of a painting. Stop it! People are reading this. Too late. Fail.

Get with the grooves. An homage to your favorite tune or perhaps simply the song you were listening to when in the studio. At the time of writing, this reporter is listening to Night Time Is the Right Time by Ray Charles.

Be confusing. Yes, Robert Motherwell, this means you.

Be reductive. Number 1 has a nice ring to it. So does Number 2, and Number 3, and Number 4.

Obvious is always in. Rothko’s Orange and Yellow. Kelly’s Red Yellow Blue White and Black.

Keep your secrets. Artists name tons of paintings based on their own baggage. Get some too!

Invite friends over and have a naming party. It helps take the pressure off you and, really, the unspoken rule is: you name it, it’s yours!

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About Courtney Jordan

For Courtney, editor of Artist's Network, art is one of life’s essentials. Presenting art techniques to you from trusted instructors and creators as well as adding her own voice to the mix about her own (sometimes blooper worthy!) art endeavors is what she loves best. She writes about everything from Old Master painting and techniques to how to troubleshoot a painting gone wrong. She is always looking for ways to make more of her studio time, too, working in mixed media.

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