Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Why you should give a title to your artwork

Two approaches to titling artwork and two posts this week about:
  • WHY - Why you should give a title to your art
  • HOW - Different ways of generating a title for your art
Have you ever scratched your head and had real difficulties finding a good title for art you have created?

I know I have.  It's very tempting at times like that to give up and just make it "untitled".  However I've personally always found art bloggers are very inventive when it comes to titles and have very often come up with something great when I've been leaning towards braindead!  So just post your piece and ask for suggestions - art bloggers love being asked to provide a title!

It's at times like that when I also try to remind myself of all the reasons why it's a really good idea to have a title for your art.

Why you should title your artwork

Here are some reasons why it's useful to title your artwork

Remind yourself of the reason for the art

I know that looking at my art very often takes me straight back - especially when it is a landscape.  However the words in the title often remind me of specific aspects of the place and why I created the art.

Wynn's View of Umbria
Coloured pencils on Canson paper, 11.5 x 17.5"
copyright Katherine Tyrrell
This particular drawing reminds me of the landscapes I saw during an art holiday in Tuscany - on the borders of Umbria - in 2003.  However as soon as I add in the title then I'm transported back to the terrace at the top of a castle and the view from one particular room - and the fact that I mapped out this entire drawing while sat there one morning. That was the holiday when I discovered I like doing big vistas!
Help those who look to understand and remember the art

How often have you remembered a piece of art - because of its title?  People relate to art in different ways.  For some the name is important.

You can also provide clues in the title to the reasons why you created the art and/or what was the inspiration for it.

Avoid being boring

You may think that art needs no words - that if you had the word you wouldn't have needed to create the painting.

However consider for a moment what it's like for people who are used to naming objects and things having names or titles.

Words and names actually matter to rather a lot of people - some of these people might be interested in buying your art.

Do you know how boring it is for somebody who reviews art and exhibitions to go to exhibitions where the artwork either lacks a title ("Untitled") or just has a number?  Guess what's easiest to leave out of a review?

Failing to give an artwork a name or title could leave you at severe risk of being judged to be lazy or  too arty farty for your own good and/or braindead. Not that I'm suggesting you are - just that others might think you are!

Help others to reference your artwork

A title gives a work a name.  That name, if unique, helps to create an identity for the work.

A unique name and identity is then helpful for:
  • establishing copyright specific to a piece of artwork (one "untitled" artwork sounds pretty much like the next)
  • creating documentary records about your artwork
  • filing records of your artwork
  • writing about your work
  • despatching your work to/from exhibitions
  • those who are storing your artwork for you
  • discussions about the artwork with galleries and/or clients
  • getting the right title with the right work in a catalogue
  • getting the right piece of art to the right client
  • finding your art on the Internet
Establish provenance and a record of ownership / increase value of collectibles

A consistent title for a piece of art over a period of time creates a record of ownership as it passes through different hands and hence creates its provenance.

Provenance adds value to a piece of art.  Without a Title people might get confused as to which artwork is the correct one and doubt undermines the authenticity of a piece just as a break in the record of the chain of ownership can create doubt about value.

Paying no attention to the value of a unique title and referencing a work by various names over time also creates doubt as to its provenance.

You might not think any of this is important right now - but just suppose you turn out to be the next [insert name of your favourite painter whose work sells for millions]?

Good titles often help to market a painting

Giving a good title to a work can have a number of positive benefits.  A good / interesting title can
  • create interest in the work.  My habit when visiting exhibitions is to do my first scan of the works in the exhibition without looking at the catalogue.  I then have a good luck at the names of the artists and and the titles of the work (and the prices!) and on my second review of an exhibition I find that I always end up seeking out the works with the interesting titles!
  • cause a potential buyer to look twice at a painting - to work out why it has that title
  • trigger interest in looking at other paintings you have done (which was my immediate reaction the first time I read the title of a Kurt Jackson painting)
On the other hand long titles are a bit like marmite - you either love them or hate them.  Oddly enough, all the artists I've come across who do long convoluted titles sell well!

Be memorable

Remember the trick to memorising things is to name them.  That on its own is the only reason you need if you want your art to memorable!


  1. Great post!

    I often have trouble naming my work but I know it is important. And other times I have a name in mind when I start the work.


  2. A very worthwhile discussion, Katherine. I like naming paintings but have pulled back a bit recently. Now I feel you've given me license to enjoy myself. It can be embarrassing though when one forgets the names of ones own paintings.

  3. Hello Katherine, I have followed your blog for some time and found each and every post very interesting and informative, it's also great to get a reminder on dates for various exhibitions/deadlines!

    I 'LOVE' thinking a title for my artwork, I often choose titles that reflect the subject matter / the composition / the feeling / the beauty. Recent titles have been chosen to highlight the beauty of the animal but also the importance of protecting these endangered animals, when a title is commented on I feel a real sense of achievement and honour that I have captured their story. Thankyou, Jules.

  4. I'd love to use long and mysterious titles but then my surname doesn't allow that !

  5. Do you have a preference when it comes to titles? Like, do you prefer something short and snappy, or something a bit more wordy and long? I like the second option more.

  6. I always give a title to work that I show for the practical purpose of keeping track of what is where.
    When I am looking at paintings in an exhibition I prefer to look at the paintings first then the titles.


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