Friday, November 25, 2011

How you can generate a title for your art

On Wednesday I looked at Why you should give a title to your artwork. Today the topic is HOW to generate a title for art.

Before or after?

QUESTION: Are you an artist who creates a title before or after creating your art?

Before creation

Some people create a title for the painting as soon as they've seen what they want to paint or have an idea for a painting. This can help keep the brain focused on what the art is about.

While working something happens

It seems as if a lot of people get an inkling of what to call their artwork while working on it. They may not decide for certain until it's finished but a lot of pieces get a working title at the very least while they are works in progress.

After the art is finished

For most, the point at which people start to try and think about a title is the observation and reflection stage which comes when you think you may have finished.

Long or Short?
It's good to have a title that's not just one word. If you're gonna title it, you might as well try and say something.
Damien Hirst
You remember artists who use long titles - even if you can never quite remember the title.

Short titles are simple - and in principal easy to remember.  However their sheer simplicity means they are less likely to be unique.  With complexity comes uniqueness.
Brevity is enigmatic
Robert Genn

Work by Ford Madox Brown
Ford Madox Brown Exhibition Catalogue:
An exhibition of Work and other paintings by Ford Madox Brown
at the Gallery, 191 Piccadilly (opposite Sackville Street), 1865

Brown wrote a catalogue to accompany the special exhibition of Work. This publication included an extensive explanation of "Work" that nevertheless leaves many questions unanswered.

How to generate a title

There are some tricks which help some people to think of a title. Here are some suggestions. Do any of them work for you?

What you see is what you get - focus on the subject

You are allowed to be descriptive and nothing more!
Factual titling satisfies and is pure by its lack of bamboozlement. Robert Genn
Think of all the words which might be associated with the subject.

A Checklist of Questions
  1. Message:
    • Is there a message?  If so, what's the message?
    • What's the sub-text?
  2. Concept:  
    • What stimulated the painting?  
    • What was the idea you had in mind?  
    • Is there a concept behind your piece? How would you express this in words?
    • Is there a theme? (eg Work by Ford Madox Brown - see above and READ the original catalogue entry)
    • What words do you link to your concept?
  3. Subject:  
    • What's the subject called?  
    • Does the subject person / animal / place / object) have a name?
    • Does being very specific mean that people will no longer associate the subject with their idea of what the painting is about?
  4. Focal Point:  
    • What's the focal point about?  
    • Do you want to draw attention to it in the title?
  5. Colour:  
    • Is your use of colour something you want to highlight? 
    • What's the primary colour used in the painting?  
    • What's the most important colour in the painting?  
    • What's the most important characteristic of your colour palette?   (see Colour - Resources for Artists)
  6. Size, Shape and Form
    • Are size, shape or form relevant to those viewing the painting, drawing or sculpture?  Is it appropriate or useful to describe them?
  7. Composition:
  8. Meaning:
    • Do the words you use reflect the meaning of the painting?  Might another word(s) reflect better the meaning better?
    • Do you want to tell people what the art is about?  (Conversely, do you want to risk leaving them completely them in the dark - or coming up with arty-farty explanations?)
    • Do you want to leave no scope for imagination (by being direct and to the point) - or do you want to allow the viewer to participate in the creation of meaning?
  9. Emotion:
    • How do you want people to feel who look at this artwork?
    • Do you have a particular emotional feeling about the work? 
    • Was it stimulated by an emotion? Did it generate an emotion while you were working on it (frustration with art materials doesn't count!) 
    • Name some emotions you associate with the art
    • Caution - don't emote simply for the sake of it. There's nothing more "icky" than a surfeit of emotion when none existed to stimulate or generate the work! It's false and it often reads as false. 
    1. Humour:
      • A humorous title can be fun - but is your artwork also fun?
      • It's been suggested that titles are a bit like the punchline to a joke
    2. The Obverse of Obvious:
      • Do you want to allude to something less than obvious? (representational or conceptual)
      • Do you want to tease and intrigue?
      • Do you want people to think about what the work is about?  Do you want to give them hints or clues?
      • Caution:  Are you being opaque for the sake of "looking interesting"?
    3. Memorable
      • Alliteration is used by advertisers and politicians for a reason - it helps reinforce what's being said.  It's memorable.
      • If you say the title out loud, is it easy to say (or awkward)?
    Things to avoid
    • Do NOT be boring
    • Do NOT use cliches - it's boring!
    • Do NOT be pretentious - it annoys people and is also boring!
    One Final Tip

    Keep a notebook with ideas for titles.  They will come to you.  Just jot them down wherever you are and then transfer them into your book later

    Good titles beget good titles!

    Links:  Why you should give a title to your artwork


    1. Excellent post, as always. I get my titles from the music I am listening to when I am creating the work. I use a piece of a lyric from whichever album, or artist, I am obsessing over at the time. I feel that whatever I am listening to is already part of the piece so it seems natural.

      It's been too long since I was last visited, Katherine. Good to see your blog keeps it up excellent standards.

    2. I agree it is important to title your work (and two thorough posts on it... I don't know where you find the time Katherine)

      I choose a 'system' that more closely resembles a numbered cataloging type. This is because I work in series so it makes sense. I'll add other words to the title to make it more memorable when it seems a natural fit. But I try to keep it as short as possible and that's hard to do sometimes.

      I don't force titles by thinking about it too hard, so often I use a working title and find the name will naturally occur to me at some point.

      Incidentally I've noticed it's the added ( ) words and blog post titles (that have turned out to serve as alternate titles) that others use when referencing paintings to me. So I find long titles usually end up getting shortened in conversation... KEYWORDS.

      Most people, including myself, don't remember the really long ones word for word.

      I wonder if this IS how our brains have always worked (and is now being revealed) or if we are 'adjusting' our thought process to technology as a result of the web and keyword searches?...

      ... but that's a post all by itself...

    3. Titles are always hard to come up with. Thanks for this...


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