Collective Wisdom | Creating Titles for Your Artwork

Creating titles for your artwork

Coming up with great titles for artwork can be a real drag. Many artists feel like it’s more work to come up with a title than it is to create a masterpiece. If you were a natural wordsmith you would have become a poet, not an artist. So, the question is do titles really matter, and how much time and effort should you spend titling your work?

From a gallery owner’s perspective, I can tell you that I do believe titles matter. A buyer wants to feel like that artwork they are about to purchase from you is one of your best ever – that it truly is one of your masterworks. They’re going to have a hard time believing that if you’ve called the piece “Untitled No. 427.” A good title becomes a part of the buyer’s narrative. A particularly good title will help sell the artwork. Conversely, a bad title can hamper sales.

So what makes a good title, and how can you come up with good titles without going insane? I have some suggestions, and I would love to hear yours (leave them in the comments below).

What Makes a Good Title?

Titling your artwork is a challenge because you have several potentially conflicting goals with a good title:

  • A good title will provide insight into your inspiration for the artwork and may help the artwork tell its story.
  • A good title will leave room for the viewer to bring his or her own meaning and interpretation to the artwork.

Additionally, a good title will

  • be memorable and catchy
  • be original (or at least as original as anything can be in a world where nothing is ever truly new)
  • not be too cheesy

How to Come Up with Titles

So the goal is to come up with a great title – but how does one do it? After having dealt with tens of thousands of pieces of art and having spoken with hundreds of artists about titles, here are some ideas I’ve come across that might help:

  • Start with the obvious – if there are elements in the artwork that are key focal points, use those elements as a jumping off point.
  • Was there a driving emotion or inspiration that lead you to create the work? If so, try and draw a title from that inspiration.
  • Is there an underlying story behind the work? Try to clue the buyer into the story with your title.
  • Try to put yourself in your viewer’s shoes – what will they see when they look at the work? What do you want them to focus on?
  • Keep it short. While there are obviously exceptions, if you need a 30 word title, you are probably doing something wrong (and maybe you should have become and author instead of artist!)

Coming Up with Titles Can Become More Difficult over Time

This all sounds great in theory and will work for the first dozen or so pieces an artist creates, but what about after you’ve created hundreds of pieces? Eventually you are going to run out of creative, unique titles. To combat this issue, try to come up with a naming system. I’ve known artists who look to poetry or mythology for inspiration. Having a dictionary and thesaurus around can help. Get help – my mother helps name most of my father’s paintings.

Examples of Great Titles

Here are some examples of works that I feel have strong titles.

Lorri Acott, an artist I represent in my gallery is a master of titling her artwork. Here are a couple of the best examples of her titles.

Who Rescued Who? by Lorri Acott

Who Rescued Who? by Lorri Acott 

The piece of sculpture is fun and engaging by itself, but the title adds a whole new layer of meaning to the art. One night at artwalk I observed a couple looking at this piece.

“Look at this one,” the husband said.

“I love it,” replied the wife.

“Now look at the title.”

“‘Who Rescued Who,’ Oh, I love it.”

“The title makes the piece,” said the husband. The wife agreed.

 

Conversation with Myself by Lorri Acott

Conversation with Myself by Lorri Acott

Again, the title makes you stop and think, and the more you think about it the more intriguing you find the piece.

“Okay,” you are saying, “so there are a couple of brilliant examples, but my work doesn’t lend itself to those kind of title fireworks – how about some more down to earth examples?”

You have a point – here are some strong, but simpler titles:

 

Aspen Elegance by John Horejs

Aspen Elegance by John Horejs

 

Commitment by Guilloume

Commitment by Guilloume

 

Chicago to Arizona by Dave Newman

Chicago to Arizona by Dave Newman

 

Desert Flame by Joshua Dean Wiley

Desert Flame by Josh Wiley

 

What Are Your Thoughts About Titles?

Do you struggle when titling your artwork? Have you come up with a great system for titling your artwork? What would you suggest to other artists who struggle with their titles? What are some of your favorite art titles ever? Share your experiences, challenges, and ideas in the comments below.

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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.

5 Comments

  1. Great article Jason. I often have no idea what the subject of a painting will be at the start. The painting reveals to me what it should be.

    With most, the title also reveals itself with relative ease. Some however, never seem to have a great title even after much thought. I hate those few that may be excellent paintings but a really fitting title simply eludes me.

  2. My work tends to be austere and abstract so I like to give the viewer “a way in.” In the titles as much as in the work, I try to evoke without prescribing.

    If working in a series, I name the series and number the individual pieces –as though they were prints even though they’re not prints. For example, a couple of years ago I made 100 smoke drawings and was listening to Otis Redding all the while. The series is Try a Little Tenderness 001-100.

    My stand-alone works tend to have something in common, howsoever loosely. For example, I have some linear works with water-related titles such as “Flood Plain” and “Time and the River.”

    In between a standardized series and stand-alone works I have a few works that are connected in that they are inspired by poems. These are all “Lauds” followed by something that acknowledges the source poem, as “Lauds: It doesn’t have to be the blue iris” (from the poem “Praying” by Mary Oliver).

  3. Great ideas! Sometimes I pay more attention to the names of my paintings, sometimes less. But if it is so important, then there is a serious reason to think. Besides, I really like writing poetry. Now it makes sense to pay more attention to the names. Thanks!

  4. Sometimes paintings whisper their own names to me, but after 100’s of works, it gets harder and harder to be original.
    Something that works well for me is to ask my followers and mailing list for suggestions.
    They love it, and I keep a list of good suggestions.
    When I use one I credit the namer, to finish the positive feedback loop.

  5. I find that including sufficient location data in the online title and ADA metadata helps new customers find me in their internet searches, but I might put it in parentheses after the hopefully catchy title. Whether the showroom tag needs to be short is my question? Some visitors may know the view that triggered the painting, others not. For example: View from the Trail (across Drake’s Bay, Point Reyes National Seashore). I’m accessing your advice with the short title explaining the inspirational adventure, and the mixed perspective looking down on a Park building yet also across to cliffs and up to clouds.

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