Ask a Gallery Owner | Creating Awesome Titles For Your Art

In this week’s ask a gallery owner I’ll talk about how effective titles can help sell your art.

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About the Author: Jason Horejs

Jason Horejs is the Owner of Xanadu Gallery, author of best selling books "Starving" to Successful & How to Sell Art , publisher of reddotblog.com, and founder of the Art Business Academy. Jason has helped thousands of artists prepare themselves to more effectively market their work, build relationships with galleries and collectors, and turn their artistic passion into a viable business.

29 Comments

  1. Thank you for your very informative overview. I have several pages of lists of words that I use to come up with titles. I try to come up with words that express the thought behind the painting with more poetry or to give the viewer a clue to the emotion I was feeling when painting it. I will also write down descriptive words as I hear them or see them on other paintings. It is often one of the hardest aspects of painting. Luckily I have a spouse who gives me feedback on a possible name choices for a particular painting which is very helpful.

  2. This broadcast is a great help to me on titles. Thanks Jason.
    I have a question.
    Usually an idea of a title becomes a part of the painting process usually when I’m close to completing a work and this becomes a clue for me that The painting is complete.
    I’m wondering about one thing. Sometimes I come up with a title that I think is a really good title. And sometimes I’ve use this title for several paintings but I don’t add numbers to differentiate them. I’m actually reusing the title because I feel it’s part of a theme and I really can’t say it in a better way. Usually this is over a period of time and I’m only coming back to a theme so generally the specific paintings would probably not be shown together. Any thoughts on this? Thanks.

    1. Good question. It becomes confusing when cataloging works by the same artist. Our gallery keeps records of all exhibits and a website page of all work previously shown by an artist. Jason, I look forward to seeing your reply to this question from Jane Forth.

      1. Carrol, I’ve always appreciated the great administrative organization in place at the Fredericksburg Center for Creative Arts. For me it has always been a model for what artists hope for in exhibiting experiences.

    2. We’ve had artists who do this, and this is why it’s essential to have an inventory number with each piece of art. Most of our artists have their own number, and we have a number as well. This way, regardless of title, we know exactly which piece we’re referring to.

      1. Thanks Jason. So helpful. Thanks to Artsala I have inventory numbers. I would never have been able to organize work for gallery acceptance so easily. I used to have a series of unwieldy spreadsheets- so tedious!

      2. Our gallery keeps a website page that shows all artists’ works that have been displayed in a juried exhibit in our gallery, in addition to an archive of exhibit digital slideshows. It has been helpful for those artists who didn’t keep an accurate inventory of their exhibition work, and I can ensure that work is not entered again after being exhibited. Thanks for the tip of using a gallery “inventory number” which I can easily assign from our jurying sheets.

  3. I agree that titles are important, and I loved your explanation about why “Untitled” shows a lack of interest on the part of the artist. One thing you didn’t comment on, about “Nighthawks”, that I have always felt, is that of course the expression is well known, but also, the posture of the main couple always made me think of birds sitting on a wire. The woman almost appears to have her wings hunched up, like a vulture roosting at the counter.
    What a painting! It conveys so much emotion. I wish I could do that!

  4. Some of my titles: a jalapeño in a shot glass called Hot Shot, a horse with a blue collar and edges of a flag showing called Dress Blues, and a hanging plant called Hanging Out.
    I like interesting names. I agree on Untitled and numbers.
    Thanks.

  5. Love play on words. A favorite painting that I own by Tim Horn depicts two young surfers standing with their boards near the Huntington Beach Pier. Title: Pier Group. This painting could easily have had a banal title like Surfs Up.

  6. Art can be so intimidating to nonartists, and titles help the viewers understand a bit more.

    The best title I ever came up was for a pencil drawing of a downed Sequoia tree. I called it “Was It Heard?” The piece never sold! Good grief.

    The second best title was for a pencil drawing of walnuts – “With, Please!”. That one both won an award and sold.

    The title is the necessary period to the end of the sentence, whether or not it brings the desired result.

    1. I literally gasped reading your ‘Was It Heard?’ comment. That’s the most subtly poignant [and clever] title I’ve ever ‘heard’. I hope it sells…but even if not, it was heard.

  7. I believe titles are important. A fellow artist asked this question: “Would you buy a book without a title?”

    Sums it up rather well. 🙂

    Another interesting related topic is WHEN in the artistic process do artists come up with titles?

  8. I love titling my paintings. Sometimes the title comes first, sometimes as I create, and sometimes I see it when I’m done. I agree that Untitled shows a lack of imagination and love titles that are funny or have multiple interpretations. Often I have a whole story to go along with the painting.

  9. I used to do real well at titles I think..
    I did an engraving of 4 tress with fence posts and broken fence. Lots of blades of grass. Printed in a warm sepia. “Edge of the Meadow” which is what it was, but the broken fence was the story. I’ll have to find a photo.

    “House that I Once Knew” was an etching The house was abandoned the door askew on its hinges. I drove by it every day on my way to and from work. One day, on a whim I stopped and photographed it. The next day coming home from work the hohuse was totally gone as were the trucks and bulldozers. I started the print the next week with the title already in my mind.
    There were others- abstractions like “Bronze West” (from a Wilfred Owen poem.

    Now, titles are very difficult for me. I anguish because my work is very out of the mainstream and the little creek I’m on needs some navigation markers. I know there is no outline or 12 step process.

    I feel like I expend as much creative energy putting words together as I do making the images.
    Is this normal for some artists?

  10. I generally use humorous musings or a couple of sentence story as a title. I once did a fractured fairy tale format where each painting had a fairy tale about it they all started with “once up on a time……..” I like making titles it’s fun for me, I not good with the esoteric type titles which some of my friends do. I sometimes wish I thought more in that direction but I don’t…..In the end I think the viewer wants to have a hint and “untitled” is unsatisfying , where if you give the viewer permission to wander down a certain road they are happier and generally embrace it….my two cents….

  11. Favorite title for one of my paintings–a scene of black, shiny Friesian mares grazing–“Ladies in Black Satin”, suggested by an artist friend. I sold quite a few prints of that one.

  12. I used to be intimidated with titling my pieces, now I see it as the final stroke of each work.
    Some of my favorites : “Welcome to My Sky” shows a very textured dragon looking you in the eye, and “Winter Trumps Autumn in Michigan” shows a beautiful huge tree with full fall colors which is partially covered with snow.

  13. Jason, this video offered great advice for titling artwork. As a curator of monthly juried exhibits, I find that many artists use great titles to successfully engage the viewer, but I have also communicated with artists who labelled work as “untitled” or provided lengthy titles that won’t fit in an ordinary exhibit catalog space or standard wall label. It is embarrassing to tell an artist that their title needs to be more creative or should be brief but engaging. I am going to share your blog address in our next gallery newsletter.

  14. I think my best titles have emerged (quickly!) as I finish a piece and are about feelings. Two recent ones, both for abstracts mixed media pieces, were ‘Something About Round Things’ and ‘Circus in My Mind’. They perhaps obviously come from shapes in one case and colors in the other, but they do make the viewer take a second look.

  15. Thank you! having a this list of suggestions is helpful. And, you address the ‘Untitled’ issue that I strongly agree, takes away from the intrigue of the painting. As an abstract artist, I’ve struggled to find the right title to match the ’emotion’ I FEEL when painting a particular piece. I also keep a list of titles I come across from songs, books, etc. My challenge is capturing ‘my’ personal connection to the painting and taking the viewer on a journey. I recently saw a word that I thought was a perfect name for my newest painting — I ran it by my husband and a couple friends, and they all asked … what in the world does THAT mean … it had a mythological meaning, but obviously it was too ‘out there’ to be relatable!

  16. I can’t believe the number of times where some one said to me”When I saw the title it just spoke to me…” I think one of my favourites was a couple (actually my kids walking the dog for their last time) and I called it the incredible journey. Paintings are such an emotional purchase you need to connect to that emotion in anyway that you can.

  17. My entire MFA thesis at Rochester Institute of Technology was all about titles of paintings (mine in particular!) and the amazing impact it has on the viewer and collector! That was 1977! In the early 2000’s I did a semi-abstract watercolor of a wave exploding … close up of the waves guts, and titled it “There’s a Surfer Under There”. There was not a single indication of a body or surfboard in the entire painting – nothing. But viewers looked at the painting, read the title, then without fail, combed the image for that drowning surfer! It won 1st Place in watercolor at the Newport (RI) Art Museums Members Show and a wonderful write up in the Providence Journal with ‘then there s the painting of the invisible surfer…” YES! Titles and Art do go hand and hand. Have fun with the pairing, make the viewer respond, engage, think, wonder, ponder, identify with, get curious over and reach for their wallet! I’m so thrilled you addressed this significantly important connection! And with regard to the ‘Untitled” title, if you can’t come up with something on your own, rather then leave it sans a title, invoke the viewers participation with something like, “You Decide”. “Have You Been Here Too”. Etc. well, good luck and title on!

  18. I think a title brings the art to life. If a painting has no title your are standing there wondering what the artist was thinking. Even a title is creative and I enjoy it when in the middle of creating a piece of work the title just pops into my head. It also draws people into wondering what the the painting is about if all they know about it is the title. I am currently working on a series of large paintings (four so far) that I have named “Strawberry Acid” “The Source”
    “Head Trip” and “Acid Test” . Without those names the paintings (to me, would have no life) just more paintings about Strawberries.

  19. I thoroughly enjoyed this particular session on Titles for Art. A couple of years ago I entered a couple of pieces in an Annual Art Show, they both were accepted and one actually won a top prize. I think the title may have contributed to this. I called it, “YAWYM.” ( My Way backwards). It worked to well fir this particular abstract, SWest looking artwork. No one ever figured out the name.
    It worked!
    Thanks so much,
    Patti (PD Chisholm)

  20. Great video. It brought to mind a beautiful, intriguing landscape painting I recently saw on line. It was so mesmerizing that I lingered longer than usual. Then I notice the title that was something like, “Home of the Monster Spirits” … or “Lurking Ghouls”. It was an ugly, ominous, creepy title that made a beautiful painting suddenly loose all of it’s appeal … I couldn’t get away from it fast enough. You are right Jason, titles can be extremely important.

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