Collective Wisdom | 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 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. Last 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.

Did you find this post helpful?

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65 Comments

  1. I had a young art student wander into my gallery space one day. After talking a bit she asked me what the hardest part of being an artist was? I said coming up with a name for these after 35 years. I might have a working title while I am painting, but often try to come up with something that describes the piece. If I’m doing a series I do have the same name with a number or I’ll name them like a litter of racing dogs. Title starts with the same letter(s)

    1. Most of my artists do write the titles on the edge of the canvas or on the stretcher bars. It’s a good idea to have the title, your name, your inventory number, the size and medium on the back of the art. Makes inventory tracking easier for your galleries.

  2. I have the title when I start the painting. It’s my reason most of time. Once in awhile there is a detour after I start. If I don’t think I am capturing it, it is sidelined. If I finish it, and didn’t capture it , well it goes on my Death Row.
    In reflection, I think everything starts out as a idea and it expands from that.
    I enjoy and learn from your blog. Thank you

  3. I’m always disappointed to see a work titled with a number…like #45 of the Red Series. As a creative people, I’m sure we artists can come up with something better. True, not all will be witty winner but it’s like choosing a movie. What propels you toward the ticket counter and reach for your wallet; a title like #45 or Red Dawn?

    1. Georgia O’Keefe used names with numbers of some of her series, such as Black Iris III, or Light Coming on the Plains No. I. I respect your opinion, but I do not feel it takes away from the art- maybe it shows the progression. It seemed she used these series as a vehicle to go through a metamorphosis in her work.

  4. I create LifeMasked sculpture which requires a model, and often the title is a collaboration between myself and this subject. Sometimes the title comes with the inspirational vision. I will contemplate on title while I’m creating the piece, the title may change or adjust. Other times the title comes as I am creating the piece. If I don’t have the title when the piece is done, I’ll ask for the title to come to me in my sleep. I’ll also ask friends what they experience, that may inspire a title. I find I feel disappointed when I’m experiencing works as ‘Untitled’ so it is important to me to title a pice for it to be finished.

  5. I seem to think of a title, phrase, or description while I am finishing up on a painting. I show my husband Don–a wordsmith–the painting and tell him the title I have in mind, or the idea for a title I have in mind. He usually improves on it. In my last few paintings which were inspired by Puerto Rico, I titled the paintings in Spanish.

  6. I have kept an accurate paintings database of all my art created since 1995. There are 37 fields of information on each painting, the most important being the “TITLE”. The title of a work is the primary way that I can ID a piece that a Gallery has sold or a client inquires about. Coming up with over 3000 titles has not been easy but well worth the effort as I get feedback from my galleries on how important the title was in a clients decision to purchase the piece, just as you have pointed out Jason. Being a landscape, seascape and still life painter, I look for the obvious and then like to give it a little twist to intrigue and give the viewer a slightly different perspective that they may have missed without the title.. A back county road may be titled “Forgotton Road” or “Abandoned Road”. Adjectives in titles get folks to think more about the artist’s intension’s for having created the piece.

  7. Yes, it is difficult. In retrospect, I’ve found that being a little enigmatic is better than being too specific. As you say, it draws the viewer in and helps the experience to be more interactive. But you need to give them a starting point.

  8. Sometimes I find if I look at songs, quotes, or sayings about the subject it makes it easy to come up with a painting. And I often look for help from someone else. One of my favorite titles is “On the Rocks”–it’s a painting of longhorns getting a drink from a creek with lots of rocks. Another painting of a rainstorm is called “Purple Rain”. The sunset behind the clouds gave the falling rain and clouds a strong purple hue. It is one of the hardest things for me too. I start thinking of the name as I paint it and usually by the time I finish, I can come up with a name. Sometimes, the name comes first and I paint toward it!

    1. That is something I should do. I am very musically inspired while I paint. I also am one of the many with a piece called Purple Rain, anf have dabbled with it lyrics, but I struggle with titles and will pursue it further– maybe noting what I listen to on the side. Thanks!

  9. Different artists have different problems based on the subject. Landscapes can be easy to title in the beginning, but get harder as a body of similar subjects builds up. On the other hand abstracts–especially the “doodles that turned out kinda cool”–don’t always lend themselves to any kind of title.

    And then there are the ones that simply defy being titled.

  10. My titles go back and forth between pragmatic and poetic. They’re always concise, though. Most of the time I have some sort of metaphor in mind that drives me to make an image in the first place, and that usually works into the title. If I’m working on a more abstract image and struggling with a title, I often ask my daughter what she sees. She is five, unburdened by reality, and almost always has an insightful metaphor for me to use as a starting point.

  11. On the nose with piece this Jason! So often I quite like a work and then am disappointed with the bland, even meaningless, empty title, or even, “untitled.” I can’t stand cheesy titles where I visualize someone over-gesturing as they say the words… And other times a title takes me to a new level of insight into the piece, or touches me on an emotional level.
    I take great care in naming my works. The emotional response is the best, I think (for my own emotional reasons). I try for meaningful titles, to evoke what I saw or felt that stirred me to create the image as in “Shroud of Silence.” A favorite when I can pull it off, is a title that can be interpreted more than one way-the viewer will interpret based on their own experiences, making it more personal to them, as in “Tee Totalers.” Sometimes humor is the key, as in “A Pigeon, a Chicken and a Bear Walk into a Bar…” At times the literal description, a named place or time of day is all my brain will conjure. And yes, I do sometimes turn to others for help with a title. Sometimes we are just too close to it, or fatigued by the creative effort we have already expelled.

  12. What I like to do is come up with a Series theme and generate a story-line of titles. The Cerrillos Series is one of my creation arrangements that developed an unfolding story of sculpture art

    Another thing I like to do is write down possible titles and themes before they slip away in the great unknown. These ideas always seem to come in the middle of the night when my dreaming subconscious mind is working. Sometimes I have to chuckle to myself in the morning and read what I wrote down.

    I notice when doing art exhibitions possible collectors like to hear the title and story behind the art piece. It gives the art depth and understanding beyond the physical appearance.

  13. There is zero excuse for not having a title, if you want to sell the piece. Titles should be short for two reasons: (1) If too long for the available room on the wall tag, the font may have to be so small that people have to squint so much they give up and just pass it by and (2) if they can’t recall the name easily (or it doesn’t roll off the tongue easily), they just won’t be too interested in buying. They want to be proud of their purchase. If the aim is to sell the piece, name it succinctly.
    Further, if you like to paint river scenes, people won’t seem to care too much about a generic title such as Rushing River 7, or even Rushing River 11 (and particularly if the river is specifically named), but the chances of selling Rushing River 87 are very reduced. Even though you have made a life project out of painting scenes on the same river (knowledge of which can be good for sales), having the same name for too many items reminds people of the relative value of limited print sales. All things being equal, Print 1 of a run of 25 prints will be worth more than Print 1 of a run of 250–and that mindset can reduce sales of higher numbered originals. Even though that mindset should not apply to originals, subjectively it seems to cross over and make the piece seem worth less.

  14. In the process of creating my paintings, I jot down words and phrases that come to mind. I ruminate over these notes and refer to a dictionary and thesaurus until I come up with a title that fits the piece. In doing this I am closer to understanding my intention. I also agree that the titles of artwork are important.

  15. I never title a piece until it’s absolutely finished. Then, I take a long look at it and things about the painting start to tell me what is key about it…the mood, colors, images that emerged that I did not even intentionally paint in there. Finally, I sit down on my computer and write down any words that come to mind as I look at the painting. Alliteration in a title does make it easier for people to remember, so many of my titles have alliteration. A familiar phrase that suggests something without obviously stating it. For example, I just finished a piece with mountains in it and named it “Mountain Majesties” because the colors were close to American flag colors. Perhaps a military or patriotic person will love the painting just because it made them subconsciously think about the words from “America, the Beautiful”.

  16. I, like most everyone else, have difficulty coming up with titles. For a while I was naming my figurative work after my models with titles like “Prince” or “Michael – Black and White”. These were honestly terrible and, to me, lazy titles. Since my work has become more introspective and because I want the viewer to delve deeper into the piece I’ve taken a new approach. I look at the work for a day or two to get a sense of what the painting is telling me with respect to theme. I look for several one-word clues as to meaning or story. I then go onto several quotations websites and search using these words. I then scan the results seeking older quotes which are brief yet still capture the essence of the painting. Some examples used recently are “Virtue is a veil, vice a mask” and “Freedom lies in being bold”.

  17. Titling influences:
    1. Friends and husband are often good for suggestions and an external perspective.
    2. I always try for double (or more) entendres
    3. Simple series titles can work (eg, “Barrel Bling #2”, for barrel racers with lots of sparkle).
    4. I also have theme series, such as my “Future Imperfect” series for large predators (eg, “Future Imperfect: Felis Concolor”)
    …as an animal artist, I have a totally allergic reaction to overwrought stuff like “Lord of the Canyon” and have avoided those throughout my career.

  18. Good post and ideas! I liked the titles shown here. Along what I would have used for titles. I don’t try to get too cute and flowery. ‘Just the facts mam’ pretty much describes me.

    Here is a post I wrote about the importance of titles.

    nsfw
    https://danielteolijr.wordpress.com/2015/05/09/the-importance-of-naming-your-digital-files/

    Personally I never used to name my photos until I started with museum placements. As mentioned in your article, ‘Untitled #xyz’ gets old and confusing.

    Now, there is a tool I use for generic naming. Such as ‘Selection from De Wallen: Amsterdam’s Red light District’ or ‘Selection from Piercing Darkness.’ I have nearly 200 artist’s books that I’ve done or am working on. Naming the books is hard enough let alone naming 50 or a hundred photos in each book.

    Sometimes names evolve. This one used to be called ‘Carla and Babydoll.’ Then when I learned about gentrification, it was changed to ‘Faces of Gentrification.’

    http://pre02.deviantart.net/9e07/th/pre/i/2015/007/4/4/carla_and_babydoll_2012_daniel_d__teoli_jr__by_ilovemycam-d8cy3gn.jpg

  19. I am, primarily, a landscape watercolorist. My titles usually present themselves to me as I paint. If I finish a painting without a solid title, I’ll always get useful suggestions from my husband and my adult daughter. These suggestions also give me insight as to what they ‘see’ in the artwork. Between the three of us, we agree on the best of suggestions. I like my titles to evoke a sense of what my intentions were as I was painting the subject.

  20. Many artists take the task of creating a title as a bothersome task but I see it as a chance to expand the encounter of my art work. The words and their meaning can add to and emphasize what is pictured. But they are also like another level of meaning that the artist can bring more richness of the experience. For example Mondrian’s “Broadway Boogie Woogie” adds a level of vibrancy and excitement to something that might just be seen as a study of color and geometry.
    But also there is another added benefit that many artists don’t know about. If one uses the title of a picture posted to their web site or named in an exhibit then someone googling the words of the title may come across a link to the artist and their web site. Another words it can be an add on to marketing efforts.

  21. I love naming my paintings but I know most of my artists friends hate it. I also do like writing so that makes a difference. I remember all of my paintings as I recall them all by their name. I want to share one of my best titles was a Cityscape of New York Skyscrapers and I showed it to my 3 year old grandson and asked him what he thought of grandma’s painting. He studied it for a few minutes and then asked me “Where’s Spiderman?”. ….well I couldn’t believe it and that’s what I called the painting. It sold immediately at a show and I do know the name made a big Difference. I find buyers appreciate the name of a painting as it personalizes it for them and I always share how I arrived at the name.

    Diana Templeton
    Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

  22. Something I’ve done is, as I read, I write down words or phrases that interest me. When I finish a painting, I sit, looking at it and go through all of these hundreds of “phrases” (written on all sorts of pieces of paper) until something jars me and says that’s it! Sometimes I will find a word that connects with a painting that I would never have thought of on my own. Sometimes I combine two words that seem to apply to the painting.

  23. Titles don’t seem hard, but witty stories for my website and for gallery owners or shows seem to be my difficulty

  24. I think titles are important, too. I usually know a painting is about to be finished when I have the perfect title in mind for it. Sometimes it comes to me in a jolt while I’m working, sometimes first thing on waking in the morning, and other times as I look through my notebook of title ideas– I make notes of snippets of title ideas that come to me at various times. Looking through these, I’ll often find just the right one for a nearly finished piece. I try to avoid cliches and the over used .. some words are used so much, I completely avoid those (such as “spirit”, which seems to be used very often by artists in my area). One way that I’ve found of avoiding cliches and the obvious is by switching words around. For example, “Prairie Sky” became “Sky, Prairie”.

  25. I agree totally. How disappointing is it to look at a provocative piece of art just to read “untitled 10”. I go as far as sometimes writing a two or three sentence story as my title. People love that you offer them a little insight as to your thinking process.

  26. Thanks for writing about this. It is something I really struggle with. I do mainly landscapes, seascapes and still lifes. The seascapes are the hardest, because I paint a lot of close-ups of waves. It’s such a chore to come up with different ways to describe how I feel about the ocean. I’m always trying to find words that express the vitality and feeling of rejuvenation I feel at the beach, but finding new ways to say the same thing all the time can be very difficult!

  27. Titles are important and become part of the creative process. I make lists of potential titles. I prefer to use ambiguous titles as I want viewers to have their own experiences with my paintings. In that vain, I often use foreign words or phrases which adds a bit of mystery to a painting. For instance, I have a painting called “Sorpresa,” which is Spanish for “Surprise.”

  28. I enjoy making up titles for my paintings. Actually the titles often come as I’m starting a painting, as if to make me focus on what I’m trying to say in the piece. Often my landscape titles incorporate the place where the image came from. It keeps it interesting and I enjoy being reminded where it all started. For some of my horse paintings I’ll have titles that are humorous, but for other paintings the title will reflect the relationship of the horses depicted.

  29. Thanks for this great article. It confirms my own feelings about creating titles for my photographs, even though it is frustrating at times. When I need to title an image, I find the best thing to do is get into a meditative mode and approach it with anticipation and discovery. I first get out my dictionary and thesaurus – hard copies that I can peruse and flip pages – sometimes a word or phrase just shows up and fits perfectly. I stare at my photograph and words come into mind that I look up that lead to other words, etc. It can take a while, but the title will be there forever, so it’s worth taking the time to get it right.

  30. I’m always on the look out for titles. Nwhenever I read anything from the newspaper to art books to fiction I make a note of interesting words or phrases. I keep these in a file and look through them
    I gotten some into the computer; but need to get more in.

  31. Titles are important and can add to the work and open an audience entry point. Of late, my works are about place, so I use the exact location name plus a number as I work in series. For example: Bastendorff SHIMMER #1 from Shoreline Reflections.

    In a way, I am reminded of RICHARD DIEBENKORN: THE OCEAN PARK SERIES and find permission here.

  32. I try to give a title as few words as possible while still trying to capture the attention and interest of the viewer. I generally have a title in my head before starting the work but that can change if the work changes. I often snatch a word from something I’ve heard or from something I’ve read that I can twist around for another meaning to use in the title. For instance, I once did a cutting edge self portrait and titled it,”Bird In A Guilty Cage”. The most recent one is for a horse painting I did for my granddaughter who loves to ride but is now doing flight instruction which includes flying at night. The horse’s name is ‘Knight’, so I titled it “Knight Rider”.
    I can think of nothing more mundane than titling something “Abstract #1” or “untitled” – but to each his own as is said.

  33. Jason, a great topic. Titles are important. Just as for a novel. Being a music lover, poetry collector, avid reader and huge thesaurus user…. I will seek a short title with room for personalization. Sometimes vague and related. Stating the obvious is not my formula, yet I have as it punctuates the main object of the composition.
    I do wish I had kept a log of all titles in a log like my read books. Great topic .
    Thx.
    Vicki

  34. As someone mentioned, she has the title before she starts. So do I. I love coming up with titles! My most recent piece is of a Mason jar (the one with the brand name on the glass) with a crystal lying in front of it. The title is “Crystal Ball.” I did one of a mother and child around the beginning of the 20th century. The boy is in a sailor suit and the name on the band around the cap is HMS Black Prince, which was the name of a British ship sunk in 1918 during the battle of Jutland in WWI. There were no survivors. The boy is about three and the title is “Premonition.” Almost everything I do has some kind of story attached, which is where the title comes from. Love this topic!

  35. Titles & stories sell paintings! A painting entitled “Dog” will sell better than a painting
    that is “untitled”. People like to know what they are looking at. So many people are already intimidated by art & aren’t sure what to think or afraid to ask questions. Titles & stories really help people to understand what the artist was thinking & helps them to connect with the piece. Humor is great, when it fits. In 17 years of business, a titled piece sells over an untitled one, hands down!

  36. My titles seem to start percolating at the same moment as the idea for a painting. My painting, “In the summer of 2015 Ken picked the cherries from our tree, I made cherry cheesecake and our dog Annie Vick died” won an award at the Buffalo Society of Artists spring 2017 exhibit. The juror specifically commented that the title caught his eye. (You can see my paintings at http://www.michellemarcotte.com). I am now parlaying my paintings and writing into a line of greeting cards that will launch this May at http://www.sayitwithvegetables.com

  37. I do feel titles are important. As a poet and an artist, I have learned that titling my work evokes a storyline, and people want to know the story behind your art, and especially if there is a series that leads them on a journey.

  38. I find that my title changes as the work develops. I sometimes wonder how my fb viewers see this when I post work in progress and the title changes at the end of the piece. However, I must say, I have sold artwork and given some as gifts, and no one initially asked about the title. They were more drawn to the piece because of what it seems to have meant to them. They would look at the piece deeply, sometimes go away and return and look at it deeply again, (I don’t usually place titles on my work when I am doing displays at art events because I like to engage the potential buyer in conversation, at my booth. If even to ask me what the title is). They usually want the piece without first knowing the title. Titling is difficult when you are being driven by inspiration as you develop a work of art. Sometimes you start off with a definite idea and plan of execution in mind, but as you go along, the artwork takes on a life of its own and begins to tell you how it wants to be executed. You have to now ditch your title. The amazing thing I have found with every piece I have sold or given as gift…the receiver choosing the one they want, that there was something in the work that resonated strongly, and very strongly in some cases, with the new owner. Usually when they hear the title, identification is complete and it’s a definte must-have. I have been thinking lately that when I do work that takes control of its own unfolding, I will not title it because it seems people are more drawn to the story and what it personally means to them, than they are to my title. I have even had someone bought a piece to hang in a gallery, and it was only near the end of their deliberation when they had decided to buy, that they asked what the title was. I also sold two pieces within less than 5 minutes of the person seeing them and up to this day has not asked me the title, was just strongly identifying with the story. I think when it is like this, the buyer identifying with the story has their own title. It’s personal. I can understand this because when I see a piece of art that pulls me in, I am never interested in title, a title is not a pajnting or sculpture, it’s what the work is saying to me that keeps me interested, and the only reason I may want to know title is if I want to mention it in a conversation to make it easy for someone else to locate. I think titles are important too, and can be very effective when they align perfectly with the story in the work, but I also think that they are not always important when the work is speaking strongly for itself, to a specific person who is intent on owning it. So, I don’t show my titles when I am doing a show of paintings. However, I feel it is important to place titles when I show my photography work. Maybe because photography doesn’t take over my plans the way painting does, and they are easier to title.

  39. My last painting sold within a month directly because of the title. It was a photo realist still life, dark and moody. The items were paintbrushes, a palette knife, and tubes of paint and they were falling. I like to paint implied movement into a classical still life.
    The title? Pollock’s Secret. The twist was a photo realist painting as an homage to Jackson Pollock, whose work was anything but realist. The couple saw the painting, read the title, and laughed out loud. They had to have it… it was the first painting they ever bought.
    I love relating this story.

  40. Speaking of cheesy…I had made a cast glass trinket box and had used orange powder to create a mottling effect…it looked like I had handled all the pieces with cheesy fingers, and so that is what I called it…cheesy fingers. Still makes me giggle.

  41. Perfect timing Jason! I’m new to this and was just submitting to a gallery show yesterday almost having really boring titles. After reading your article it clicked. Why would I waste an opportunity to pique someone’s interest about my work or shed some more light on it?? So, I submitted my pieces with pithy titles, and it also helped me to relive why I created them in the first place. <3

  42. Thanks for this article. Full of useful info and has confirmed am on the right path. I am one of those who really enjoys this final step… the icing on the cake. Before I even start a piece though, (even the thumbnails) I pose the question… What do I want to say. It focuses the whole purpose and creates impact. It influences every detail that drives the work. This is half the battle when it comes to the name. (Even though each piece can have a mind of its own and veer off in a new direction). At least it is an emotional starting point. I like titles that grab interest, tweek the imagination or offer another perspective. My work is mainly figure, portrait, animal or bones, so there are always emotions to expand on… a gloved Goth girl sipping tea from a china cup- Earl Grey, I Presume… a pugnacious 2 year old boy in full highland gear, with clenched fists, surrounded by Celtic images- You Tell Him Its A Skirt… a buffalo skull with ghostly images of stampeding herds and a white buffalo- The Unbroken Legacy. The longer a viewer is intrigued with the whole of your picture, the more chance you have to sell it. (these sold). I am just starting a new series based on Masks…the why, where. when we wear them. I found a page of quotes from Oscar Wilde and am incorporating a quote, mask and figures around each one. Naming these is a given… so far.

  43. Fantastic topic for sure and one that we artists are always talking about.
    Titles come easy to me. Sometimes is a song playing, a quote a remember, something whimsical about the creature I am painting or the feeling of a landscape.
    Is usually the painting what tells me what the title should be.
    I believe a title finishes and compliments the painting. I truly feel sad when seeing a wonderful painting title “Red # 5”. I would definitely not buy it.

  44. If a work is worthy of being created surely it deserves a name …. hate “Untitled,” worse, with a string of numbers behind it.
    I was advised once to reflect on the piece based on an Internet search, such as “Guadalupe River.” I now understand search algorithms would filter it and my work wouldn’t turn up anyway. My name does, not subject matter. One hears often enough, “Where is this scene?” so I title landscapes by location if it isn’t a random site, such as a creek bottom.
    I can see how sculptural or abstract works would benefit from a little whimsy or to suggest your inspiration. I’m more literal than that. The artist is not always available to explain why or what, and the title can present more questions than a clear answer.
    The only negative with being too inventive with titles you take away any personal interpretation by the viewer … you interfere with their perception.
    I ask patrons to title commissioned works. It’s theirs, and they love to do so. I’ve never seen a patron not buy a painting due to its title. The piece speaks to them. Neither will the title close a sale … it can only interest and enhance.

  45. Thanks for this article – it is very useful. The subscriber comments are also interesting and useful. I find that enigmatic titles work well – they always result in a conversation between me and the potential buyer.

  46. There was probaly something that spoke to me when I decided to paint… I go with my instinct or gut. When that title is yelling at me I recognize it.

  47. So, did Rothko name his pieces things like Red, Blue45 or did the art critics and art historians ?
    Title will not keep me from buying his work. Just price.

    That said, I generally agree.
    After reading all the responses, I have the general idea that I wait too long before titling my work.
    Once in a while, I know what the piece will be called while I’m working or just after, like with Pin Numbers & Secret Codes– lyrics taken from the music I was listening to as I finished the piece. Usually, I don’t title work till I have to — for the website or for a gallery.
    I often ask my older son what he thinks. My best round of titling was right after a nap when I had to get the work done in an hour or something.
    I love the ideas I got tonight. Thanks.

    1. I have a book, “Goodbye Picasso,” that states he never titled any of his works. He painted it and shipped it off to his art dealer. The art dealer titled most, if not all his paintings. Such a prolific body of work would try anyone’s imagination.

  48. Thanks for the article. I sometimes struggle to come up with a good title so your suggestions really help. I try to match the title to the painting, example I have a painting of three bird of paradises so I named the painting, ” Three Friends”. Thanks again.

  49. I can usually come up with something appropriate. There was only one painting I couldn’t think of a title for, so I had a “name the painting” contest on Twitter. A Russian follower came up with a title: “When I was Twelve.” I tweeted, that’s a mysterious title! She responded, LIKE THE PAINTING!

  50. Sometimes when I read a title, especially with abstracts, the artist names it something that as, a viewer I see No connection. It just irritates me as I spend time trying to “get it”. I walk away frustrated. On the flip side the name can totally draw me in and, like others have said, give me a starting point to connect to a piece. Maybe I’m shallow, or lazy but I just don’t want to work that hard to figure out a piece of art.
    Personally I have a running list of names for paintings I want to do one day.

  51. I think a title can definitely break a sale as well. I had a person’s first name in a title and it turned out to be a negative reminder to a potential client about a past relationship! I now spend a lot of time thinking about how I would react to a title and try to keep it to three or less words. I have recently gone to Social Media friends for inspiration and have had a lot of great input and ideas though they usually change by the time I decide. I actually sold a painting this way as some people like to feel connected to this process. The one thing I would like to try is to have a naming party with a few friends and family over and let people suggest titles. Sometimes, other people can see things in your work that you do not think of right away.

  52. I rarely have a problem coming up with a title, but when I do, I will sometimes post the painting on social media and ask viewers for recommendations for a title. Other times, I will ask friends or family. It is very important to have excellent record keeping so you don’t name two paintings the same name. I used to have a spreadsheet that listed each painting, size, medium, location and price. I have now added a photo of the painting to the spreadsheet because I would look at the list when I wanted to enter a painting in an exhibit, would see the name and then wonder which painting it was. I have also added the title of the painting to the back on the stretcher bars. I had to do this in order to easily identify paintings, especially when you have a series of similar paintings which could easily have names that are similar.

  53. I have the reputation with my family of guys as the “Worst Person to Name Artwork”. So I’ve even begun to make it a theme. I’ll bring out a painting of trees from my studio and pronounce the title, “Group of Trees”, which always results in resounding laughs and begins a conversation about what the painting title REALLY should be. I then talk about the inspiration behind the work. This inspires a brain-storming session with the family, provoking thought and ultimately producing a perfect title.

  54. I like titling my work. Alliteration makes for a catchy title, but I also like something that describes the painting as well. Sometimes something mood-provoking, like “Hill Country Repose”, sets my own attitude towards my work. A recent title, “Zephyrland” was stolen from a book describing the train and the region, I just had to use it. Alas, as time passes, it is indeed harder to come up with names, but sometimes a simple place name will do.

  55. It feels scary to title a painting but I always do.. I have noticed that people remember some of them and when we have a discussion they always mention the painting with its title so automatically I am in a position to know the impact. Also through an exhibition it’s always a good start for a conversation. I think a title offers some kind of a personality to a painting somehow though it’s not easy to come up with a good one. My paintings have to do with lines and harmony which are connected with the subconscious and feelings so being from Greece I go through mythology sometimes or universal laws and energy. Sometimes I get stuck since I don’t like to be going for the obvious so all I do is to look at the painting and let it speak to me in a way.. How does it make me feel or what thoughts cross my mind.

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