How Important are Titles of Your Artwork?

As an artist, you spend hours — possibly months — creating a single work of art. Perhaps a word or phrase inspired the piece, or maybe a title revealed itself after the work was finished. You may believe art titles should be avoided or you might consider titles to be essential.

As an arts writer, juror and art-marketing coach, I give a lot of thought to titles of art. The right title may provide insight about the artist’s inspiration and intention. On a practical level, titles of individual works of art as well as series, serve as useful tools in the overall marketing plan for an artist and a gallery.

Curious to know how artists feel about titles of art I recently posted a discussion on the subject in the Manhattan Arts International group on LinkedIn. Elaine Alibrandi commented, “I put a lot of thought into my titles, and I think that titles can be very evocative. If I’m looking at a work of art and the title is ‘Untitled,’ I feel a bit let down. It’s not that I can’t interpret art personally — it’s that I don’t have any insight into what the artist was thinking when he or she created the work.”

“They are the ‘You Are Here’ mark on the map of what it is I/the artist is attempting to say or have the viewer experience.” ~ Terri Lloyd

Many artists prefer to leave their art “untitled” in order to let the viewer enjoy a personal experience without any interference. When Jackson Pollock ceased from assigning titles to his art and began using numbers he explained, “look passively and try to receive what the painting has to offer and not bring a subject matter or preconceived idea of what they are to be looking for.”

Photographer Michael Amrose agrees: “As an abstract photographer, I use color, shapes, form, textures and movement to resonate with the viewer on a deep, unconscious and emotional level. Abstract art is powerful because it reaches into the viewer’s inner psyche by minimizing conscious distractions and evoking unconscious feelings. Using a descriptive title, however, creates a narrative or story line that causes the viewer to consciously process the photograph. The descriptive title objectifies the viewer’s perception or interpretation of the image. As such, I am guiding the viewer to think rather than allowing the viewer to feel.”

For artist Terri Lloyd, titles are extremely important. She explains, “They are the ‘You Are Here’ mark on the map of what it is I/the artist is attempting to say or have the viewer experience. I can understand an ‘Untitled #’ series if the statement is clearly communicated about what the artist is exploring. But in my own case, one really needs the title to point the viewer in the right direction.”

Charlotte Shroyer said: “Viewers of my work say over and over again: ‘The titles add to the mystery of the work.’ I like to include a bit of mystery in the painting and the title so that viewers think about their personal perception of the piece. Titles often just appear as I paint as do the people on my canvases — a wonderful part of the creative process that emanates from deep within.”

“Look passively and try to receive what the painting has to offer and not bring a subject matter or preconceived idea of what they are to be looking for.” ~ Jackson Pollock

Gail Green, founder and principle owner of Gail Green Interiors, had this to say: “Titles capture the essence of the picture or story. To me, it’s where poetic license is issued to the creator to be witty, pithy and clever.”

Whether you choose to use words, phrases, numbers or refer to your art as “untitled,” it is an important process that may communicate more power than you realize.

Renée Phillips, The Artrepreneur Coach, helps artists attain their highest potential through personalized consultations, articles and a free email newsletter on www.renee-phillips.com. She is founder of Manhattan Arts International, www.manhattanarts.com and www.manhattanartsblog.com, where she rewards artistic excellence through curated art programs.

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