To Title or Not to Title Your Art, That Is the Question

I received the following email from an artist asking about titling her work. This is one of the more common topics I discuss with artists. I understand that titling your artwork can become tiresome, and many artists feel that a title can get in the way of the artwork.

While I am an advocate of titling artwork, and I feel titling deserves investment of time and thought, what do you think: do titles really matter? Can the wrong title prevent you from selling your artwork? Can the right title guarantee a sale? While the issue may seem like a minor one, it is an issue you will be dealing with constantly over the course of your career.

Read my conversation thread with the artist below, and then share your thoughts about titles in the comments below. How do you feel about titles? How do you come up with your titles?

Original Email from Artist

Dear Jason,

I have a question: does a title really matter?

Today I was picking up two of my artworks at the venue for a recent two month international exhibition, “Arts in Harmony” in Minnesota. One of my pieces, Contaminated Water #2: Pond Scum won several awards and was very well received. The other piece juried into the show was Contaminated Water and is the beginning piece in this series.

The Curator of the exhibition made a point of coming over and talking to me as I was going through the checkout process. His comments to me were that he had never seen a piece of work intrigue so many collectors over the course of the exhibit. There were several inquiries into purchasing but no final sale coming through by the end of the show on March 29, 2012.

He was questioning the titling of my work and the series, of which there are four currently finished and being exhibited with 4 more in the completion process. He was suggesting that my Contaminated Water series is more reminiscent of Monet’s water pieces and that the titles should be changed to Monet’s Water or Monet’s Pond with the subtitle (Pond Scum, etc) but to lose the Contaminated Water part because it was possibly affecting the salability of the work.

In your experience as a gallery owner, have you seen the actual title of a piece be the “killing factor” in a potential sale? If I was to change the titles of these pieces (on my web site, galleries, future exhibitions, etc) which have been exhibited over the last two years, would that be detrimental to the affected artworks or to my reputation as an artist?

Many of the exhibitions my work is in also produce catalogs for the exhibitions so it is already recorded with the current titles.

I’m not sure about adding in the reference to Monet in work titles for a whole series would be good either – would that bring into play thoughts of copying of Monet’s great work instead of it being my own? I have always titled my work because “Untitled” makes it difficult for people to describe what the work is if they are inquiring about it via the phone, especially in my work as so much of it is abstract. It just seems like a natural part of the process but maybe what I see as the creator isn’t what viewers see and is the title a hindrance instead of a help.



My Response


I have always felt it’s important to have a title – just as you wouldn’t send a child out into the world without a name, you want to give a work of art a token of identity through the title.

Can a title hamper sales if it’s the wrong title? This is an intriguing question and I am going to admit that I’ve never really looked at the question that way. My gut reaction is that it is probably best in most cases to avoid words that would have overtly negative connotations unless the meaning of the piece (social or political commentary, for example) is directly tied to the title. Words like “Contamination” or “Scum” are going to land on the wrong side of this line.

People might be intrigued by the titles, but I think they are going to ask themselves, “do I want to bring ‘Contaminated Water’ or ‘Pond Scum’ into my home?”

There are going to be exceptions – some buyers like to have something unexpected, something perceived as negative, into their collection for the little shock value it might bring, but this is going to be the a very small minority. On average it’s going to have a small negative impact on your sales.

The more important issue for me is that I guess I just don’t see the contamination or scum in the pieces you mention – I think the work is beautiful and so the title seems not to fit.

I’m not sure the “Monet” title is the right one, but I wouldn’t see it as negative in any way.

This is not a make or break issue, but I am always looking to optimize sales.


Jean’s Response to the Comments

This post has certainly produced some interesting stories and comments concerning my Contaminated Water series, naming art in general, etc. I think the general consensus is that naming art is important, which I have always followed. Most of my artwork starts with a vague name and changes three, four, or more times during the lengthy process of creation.

I think I spend too much intense time with my work over an extended period of time (quite often a year or two). Because I work within inches of my work, I see things that many others don’t see on first approaching or seeing the work. Part of that may be influenced because my work is quite often more abstract than representational work which may be easier to name because you have a distinct place, person, thing, etc.

Part of it may also be because I see the world in a different light. Everything is not calm, tranquil scenes of forest, lakes, oceans, ponds, wildlife, etc. Looking more closely can bring about astonishing discoveries. I am heavily influenced (consciously and unconsciously) by all of the negativity in the world the last decade or so which is what is shown night after night on TV, news feeds online, newspapers, etc. It seems to be on calamity after another – wild fires, oil spills, earthquakes, tsunamis, industrial accidents, war, famine, and human, social and environmental degradation, etc.

I have come to the conclusion that it is really too late (and inappropriate) to rename these pieces which was I think the question that I was broaching. The first pieces in the referenced series have been juried into exhibitions by prominent people in the art world, won several juror awards at exhibitions, and been featured in several books and magazines as they are named right now. Changing would become confusing I think for people who have seen the work in person, tracking the history of the pieces, etc.

If viewers get past the title and see something else such as a hint of beauty, a feeling of hope, or something else entirely that sparks a connection for them, then my art has done its job: created a response, started a discussion, or got the viewer thinking in another direction whether it is positive or negative.

How Would You Respond?

What would you say to Jean? What has your experience been titling your work? Have you seen title’s make the difference in making the sale? Leave your thoughts and suggestions belowl

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, 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.


  1. Jean, I love your titles. I say keep them. You are the artist and if it is what you are expressing or painting than that is most important. Your collectors or new collectors should like what you do. Plus, you are taking something that might be icky and turning it into a beautiful piece of art. I think titles can make the buyer sway more in a purchasing direction than not purchasing. I have some “negative” tiled paintings that sold. I also agree with Jason’s idea about people liking to purchase art that is unexpected or special. I am that way actually. I don’t like perfect but like to find beauty in what may be initially perceived as “ugly” such as your contaminated waters.

    1. A while back I sold a painting to a woman who swore that she recognized the location of the painting I had done. It was a place that was very emotional to her. Of course it wasn’t the place she thought it was and we had a very long conversation about it. The title was also completely different than she had expected. Eventually she asked if she could change the title. (It was on the back side of the painting) . My response was of course she could. Once it was hers she could do what she wanted. The painting sold and she was very happy. She wrote to me much later and thanked me for being so kind.
      I realize that this is probably an unusual situation and many potential buyers would perhaps walk away from a painting with a title that they didn’t like. So I guess it’s a conundrum of whether to be true to your vision or play it safe. Lately I’ve tried to strike a balance between not being too extreme in my titles but also being true to my intent.

  2. I have a very hard time coming up with titles as well. I will make lists of possibilities/words & phrases for what I think it should be about or emotion to evoke, or something. I ask friends or family to help me brainstorm. When in a pinch I have left works untitled , however instead of ‘Unititled’ I have reverted to Cala Lilly Study #1,#2, #3, #4, etc. for my three dimensional studies. I have not, however done that with my two dimensional works. Why??? I have no idea other than the fact that the 2-D pieces are so totally different and the 3-d pieces feel more…connected somehow.

    Of course, I do not make a living selling my artwork and sometimes I don’t even care if it sells, but I like to try and I like to show my work as well.

    Amy Schomaker

  3. As an artist I find it’s not easy to come up with titles. If my painting doesn’t ‘speak’ to me in some way, I come back to it after a few days and look again, where, usually something will come to my mind. A certain mood or feeling will often lead to words. There are only a few paintings that I have as ‘untitled’ and I am uneasy about it, for some reason. Recently I’ve delved into painting more abstract work, and have found that creating titles came easier than my representational work. The titles themselves are a bit abstract, allowing people to see or feel what they want.

    I agree with Jason about Jean’s painting. It is beautiful and I don’t see anything in it that looks like ‘scum’. I see more of a pond ‘song’!

    1. Your phrase “Pong Song” actually makes me want to see it, but I didn’t see a link from Jason like others have.

  4. If I see a painting without a title, as a viewer I assume the artwork doesn’t have any meaning, just something pretty to hang on the wall. This is especially true to abstracts. Like it or not, viewers are always trying to figure out what the artist was trying to say in the painting. Untitled or a negative title will turn people away. I have seen this happen to a piece I created and have learned to be a little more creative when titling my work.

  5. I held a salon around this topic about eight years ago with artists and art collectors. I believed, at that time, that the visuals should speak for themselves irregardless of words. The overwhelming consensus from the art collectors was that titles are important to them. Words are visuals too. It mattered so much so to the collectors that it changed my mind. I realized then that art doesn’t speak for itself. We, asartists, speak for our art. What we say about it , what we call it does matter. So as an artist, you should ask yourself if the title, Pond Scum, is what you want to say about your art and if it is , own it. It matters.

    1. I agree. I started out hugely annoyed at collectors for needing titles, but if that is what they need, I will try to give it to them. I do find they are drawn to the words…

  6. I speak for myself primarily, but if you do work that has a message~ be it abstract or figurative or poetic or scenic, I feel that the viewer should be welcomed into your inner circle with a title…it is something like a greeting from you to them and they WILL be looking for it when they enter. Now if your work is for your own enjoyment you may not even have had a message in mind so perhaps a title is less significant in that case but for me it is step one in the process of painting and though I may change it in the course of working it will have importance to the end result.

    As for Jean’s title, she had a cause in mind that should take the viewer a step past negative. And, I tend to agree that the title will automatically eliminate some, but would they have been buyers? If you look only at the exhibition catalog listings rather than the at the work you are limiting your experience and we all hope that viewers become involved with the work. I don’t really like to attach ‘well known’ ‘beloved’ icons to what I do so I wouldn’t use Monet’s name…it wouldn’t fit Jean’s message at all.

    1. Kathleen, this reminds me of a friend. She had a totally abstract piece and changed the title from “Blue Abstract” to “Reclining Nude.” The conversations and interest that ensued were fantastic! Everyone was suddenly “seeing” the nude figure in her artwork. I’m pretty sure she sold it quickly too.

  7. I absolutely believe in titles and their power in artwork. My titles tend to be an extension of the piece itself or a string of words that mimics the piece’s concept (i.e. “There you go again”). My work is meant to evoke certain emotions and a title can add to that, can clarify the meaning for the viewer, or add to its mystery. I have been told by a gallery owner that my titles are most effective (with potential buyers) when they are evocative yet open-ended. For example, “You’re making me nervous” (where the “you” is a mystery) instead of “Sitting on a stone and thinking” (which is more concrete and less mysterious). In that sense, the title “Contaminated Water” is more concrete to viewers in that they visualize a sewage treatment plant or the like; whereas “Monet’s Water” is more open-ended and can mean various things (is the artist studying Monet, is the work reflective of his themes, is the work a commentary on impressionism, etc.) Also it’s important to note that even though the artist may mean something with the title, the viewer may see something completely different. If most viewers are “seeing” something bad, it might be worth changing titles slightly to evoke the feelings you intend (unless of course you intend for them to feel bad!).

    In regard to creating the titles, they usually come to me during or right after I’ve completed a piece. Often if I try to force a title, or try to come up with something different than my original thought, I cannot. I usually go with the thought that comes to me first (or a slight variation for the aforementioned reason).

  8. Change the titles. One of my artist friends always takes time and effort to give her paintings the most wonderful titles and they sell well. It adds to the value of the artwork and does make a difference. Negative titles are a turnoff no matter how wonderful the artwork.

  9. I hate titling paintings. I hate it almost as much as signing them.

    A couple years ago, a friend pulled me aside and said, “did you realize your titles are boring?” She felt that a boring title for a painting so full of life and color was a disservice to the painting. But, frankly after years of painting, and trying to come up with hundreds of titles the mind begins to dull. To me, it is when we try to become “cute” with our titles that we get in trouble. Since I paint primarily landscapes, people are usually more interested in “where it was” rather than the title.

    Ultimately, I suppose it matters if it is important to you that it sells! If that is not important to you, then name it whatever comes to your head, or try and be as innovative and cute as you want. But, in my opinion, if you want the painting to sell, you have to be careful about your title and try and walk that fine line between telling too much (so that it limits the viewer who is looking to buy it), and telling too little (which means nothing to the viewer).

    Heck, I’ll be honest, I want to sell paintings…but I also wish that someone would come up with an easy, searchable computer program where you could come up with a bunch of variables to enter, and the program would help you come up with tiles that are innovative and fresh–maybe in a foriegn langauge that will make me seem internationally worldly! (Jason, software idea for you! SMILE)

    1. Theobot! Ask Jason about it. The program is great and spots out multiple titles and then asks for your suggestions if you don’t like the first 5. More serious? More whimsical? More formal! Less descriptive. Theobot is great!!!

  10. People could discuss ‘that water scene kind of muddled’ or the ‘1st untitled blue painting, but does it go with the 2nd untitled green painting?’ maybe if they are all untitled you’d have to designate the wall. you could say the one that addresses an ecological problem.
    So I think naming is an aid to the viewer whether it refers to content or not.

  11. Titles are definately as important as the art itself.
    They can and should denote the essence behind the theme
    that serves to inspire and lead the viewer “into” the thoughts
    behind the work.

  12. I believe titles are an integral part of any painting. They can offer insight into the artist’s thoughts about the painting, tantalize through imagery association, deliver a message, or arouse curiosity. And all of this is good. What is sometimes not so useful is when a title somehow limits the viewership–for example, a painting titled “Vineyard Vistas” might attract a wider audience than the title “Provence Vineyard” or “Tuscan Vineyard” , simply because it prejudices neither the francophile nor the lover of Italy.
    I very much agree with Jason that words with negative or unpleasant associations more often than not are dissuasive. If the artist’s goal is weighted toward making a sale rather than a statement, why take the chance?

  13. I like titles and use them to enhance my work. I agree with Jason that the title is “a token of identity” for the piece. Since I work exclusively with digital reflections on canvas there is a ambiguity about the work. Reflections fracture and layer the photograph. Most of the time I like to work in the word “reflection” to give the viewer a hint at what is being observed. Since I love what I do, I try to title my work with words that are positive rather then negative.

  14. I’m probably in the majority of artists who dread titling my work, in fact I have put so little thought into them in the past that my 11 year old daughter informed me that they were really boring, I couldn’t help thinking that might translate to others as my work being boring. I’m not sure if that’s true but words can be powerful. So as I was getting ready for a show I sat down on the floor in front of each painting and really tried to think of what the series and each painting meant to me – the feeling of the painting put into words. It worked for me on a couple of levels: I found clarity in what I was trying to portray which helped me to write a decent artist statement (something I’ve always struggled with), and these titles became a catalyst for ideas for new pieces. I have to say I kind of look forward to it now.

  15. Like it or not titles matter. I try to use uplifting titles for most of my work, and many people have told me that my titles fit my work very well. I would never use derogatory terms like contaminated or scum in my titles because they provide negative mental images. People won’t buy a painting because of it’s title, but I believe they will not buy because of it’s title! If you believe your work is positive and uplifting, then the titles should match the work. Pond Scum, really?

  16. I also agree that the title of the work does not really fit the actual piece. It is a soft beautiful piece and the words scum and contaminated may not work for the buyers that would be attracted to this piece. I am not usually happy about coming up with a title for my abstract work . I do not want the viewer to be influenced or affected by the title of the work but to be affected by the work itself. I have asked several friends and buyers their opinion and most often I hear that they do want to be influenced or given a clue by a description or title. So, Abstract # 34 coming on strong!

  17. Titles matter. Titles give the viewer a point of departure into the work. But, I find a more enigmatic title works best. My advice is to be considering a title as you begin the work and revisit your ideas for a title as the painting evolves. Your search for the perfect title also helps you solidify the concept that drives your painting. So, as your painting evolves and changes, so too will your title.

    I am going to give an example of this process: I recently did a couple of abstract paintings inspired by Monet’s lily pond in Giverny. I was like Jean Judd who did not want to put Monet’s name or his garden in the title. So, as the painting evolved I became engaged with the liquid lines in the painting…so, I titled the first painting, “Liquid Melee”, and the second one, “Liquid Lace”. I think the reference to “liquid” tells people it is a pond or small body of water. I do not have to tell them it was Monet’s garden pond, but the mark making and reference to water is suggestion enough.
    If you want to reference these paintings, they are on my website: Tell me if you think I did a good job with the title.

  18. To me, I have a very strong commitment to naming all of my artwork. There are lots of reasons, but, my main reason is, not as an artist, but as a viewer of art.
    My experiences in museums throughout the US and in London is that if there is a museum I want to be there, to view, to be inspired or to inspire. When I come upon a masterful work of art and then try to get the meaning of it’s title only to find No Title, it drives me crazy. The reason is this wonderous concept before me lacks something and what is so important? The ideas and the “THOUGHTS ” of the artist while creating this work are a big part of how a person vieweing this can relate deeper and understand more with a title than with “UNTITLED” . I was just in San Diego and spent some time at the museums in Balboa Park (Absolutely Magnificent) built for the Pan Expo of 1915.
    I was so upset with viewing so many of the abstract work was untityled and it left me stunned and at a point that I wanted to leave. This had never before happened so I knew that it was more important then I had thought.
    Many times I may have issues with naming a work of mine, but I want people to know what I was thinking or what was the concept I latched onto for the inspiration.
    I think that unnamed art is an affront to the viewing public.
    I thank You,
    Harvey H.
    I enjoyed the article and the responces

  19. Let the public in on your thoughts so that they can feel the closer to the work and the closer the person feels about a work the more prestigeous a place for it in their home.
    I myself do not truly feel that way 100% about my art. I say that on my website. But what I do say is that the artist, who does not make the effort to bridge an understanding or somehow bring home the ideas that were in the artists’ mind, then the art will suffer the fate of so many great paintings.

  20. While doing diptyches and triptychs, I often don’t worry about titles so much, but when finding a western swallowtail butterfly flitting in a tree last fall, capturing it on film, and then painting it, there was a distinct passion about the piece; and it has been juried into an international show in Fort Worth, TX. So you are the artist, and you name your pieces, but let the passion guide you.

  21. I do believe that a painting should have a title. The best ones are original, apt, and perhaps a little bit clever. However, although Jean’s paintings are abstract, they do look like water subjects. And they are a series. Even titling them Pond I, Pond II, and so on would confirm to the viewer that he or she “is on the right track” in believing them to be water, and I do think that our audiences like to have this confirmation.
    I do agree that it is possible to title a painting so that it limits your audience, perhaps to the point of not making a sale. To paint a beautiful figurative work and then title the painting “Cancer” would probably turn off any number of potential buyers, but of course, if that was your thought as you painted the model, perhaps you had better stick to it.

  22. I am an abstract painter and I find that my paintings, as they develop, begin to name themselves. Ususally, partway through the painting as its identity begins to form, a title comes to me that is the meaning of the work. Then that title is most meaningful. I love words, and if I don’t have a title for a work, I try to grasp the closest feeling I can for the piece and scour the dictionary and the Thesauras, to find a title. Soemtimes I use idioms or some other referential means to pin down the meaning. I do this for my own satisfaction and do not know if or how it effects the sale or the viewer’s response.
    But titles are important. It is also the best way for me to catalog works and organize inventory.

  23. Absolutely, give the painting an attractive title. Naming the painting is a creative expression equal to painting it. It should be fun. Perhaps a couple of friends could brainstorm with you to come up with the best title.

  24. Thanks for presenting this subject. As a photographer, I have titled for years and enjoyed doing it. In recent years, my dilemma was wanting the viewer to have their own “pure” encounter with the image, unaffected/influenced in any way by the title. I wanted the image to stand on its own merit, totally dependent on the meaning to the viewer. I really valued this. So, for about a year I did very little titling, but some unsolicited feedback from some who knew my work, was that they missed the titling and liked it. I noted that the work of my peers in area galleries all were titled. With some reluctance but also some relief, my “experiment” concluded, I returned to titling. I still dislike structuring the viewer’s perception by titling, but console myself, hopefully not rationalizing, that most viewers first see/respond to the image, then may notice the title., as in noticing a work at a distance, then drawing closer to examine it. I don’t think I’ll ever be without discomfort about titling. But I honestly like doing it.

    1. I understand the desire to give the viewer a ‘pure’ encounter, but for most viewers, ‘untitled’ leads in the opposite direction of that desired. The only purity that some will experience in viewing an untitled work might be ‘pure terror’, ‘pure confusion’, or ‘pure disinterest’. Almost all viewers want guidance and support in getting to know an image. They are right, in looking to the title and the artist’s statement to help them understand and connect more fully with the artwork. It’s curious that an artist, who has selected and created every detail concerning the image– the location, content, point of view, color, form, juxtaposition of the elements, scope, aspect ratio, and so on– suddenly becomes shy about ‘limiting’ the viewer’s experience, when it comes to the title. The artist’s _main job_ is to limit the viewer’s experience, so that they can really see the one absolutely specific work of art that has been created, and what it contains. Only then can the viewer move from their appreciation of the concrete artwork to the expansive connections it makes to the wider world.

  25. Since I do a series of individually enhanced prints, a title some times gets in the way and is unnecessary. But if it is a painting that really feels like an extension of ME, I struggle a long time with the title, maybe even changing it several times.
    Recently I did an abstract design that caught the eye of several people, so I made a print for them. The official title is “Cosmos: Fireworks”. The unofficial title is “Two Boobs and a Belly Button” – a little tongue in cheek. I’m told most of the owners of a print use the second title.

  26. I believe in titles. To me, an untitled work is a cop-out – the imagination of the artist did not stretch far enough to title the work. The titles for my paintings just pop into my head when I view the work upon its completion. My abstract work has abstract titles which appear in my head in connection with the painting.

  27. I have pondered this issue for the longest; here is how I handle it; If I am concerned about the viewer seeing my point of view in a painting, I will name it to indicate that. If I don’t have a specific purpose in creating a painting, I often wait until it is complete and then “see what I see” and name it again with this in mind. If a title isn’t important to me then I just pick one that I think will stimulate the viewer’s imagination, make them think about what they see, rather than what I want them to see. See, it all depends on how I feel!

  28. We create to evoke a responce… Do we not? As artits, we extend our hand to the viewer,in the form of the medium we have chosen translate our emotion or our responces to a thing, a feeling, an idea/event etc.
    We extend that hand as a meens to help guide the view in hopes of evoking a responce; posotive or negative. The are in the dark and we offer some light. A titel may offer more light to those who have trouble with vision; BUT, I feel a titel need only be a hint or sugestion lest we spell it all out for the viewer. Here’s a sugestion; consider using your title as a point of refferance for the viewer and not a sign post. If I may be so bold as to suggest, consider something along the line of a general refferance to a thing of beuaty—your painting—- and a sub title or an accompanying statement that spells out what the painting is for you, which will not lable the work/ spoil it for them, and there by giving them the freedom to enjoy the work as thier heart allows and to help them understand the statement you are making. Pond Scum would be a great title if the work was presented in an exhibition that was specifically addressing an environmental issue. ” I painted this work as a responce to the vulgarity of what we as a society are and have done to the single most important ellement of out existance…”
    Hope my two cents helps you find some clarity with your truth. Peace, Chris

  29. As an abstract artist, I think it’s just about an “Anything Goes” proposition for titling my work. I actually do not think up many of the titles I use. Rather, I make lists of titles from several different venues such as books, movies, TV shows, etc., then I choose titles that “seem” to fit the specific piece of artwork. I get a chuckle doing it once in a while, and I find that my customers, and potential customers, are very intrigued by the titles they see on my work. Bottom line, I think titles are almost as important as the signature on each painting.

  30. I get a real kick out of titling my work. Usually when I’m nearing completion of a piece, ideas start rolling around in my brain. Then all of a sudden a title will jump out. It’s fun for me. Sometimes just the shapes I start to make suggest something to me, like in my “Green Apple” series.
    Titling is a bit of a game I play with my paintings.

  31. As a photographer, I can create images much faster than folks dealing with a surface to decorate by “hand.” I can, with my digital camera, take 5 – 100 images, depending on the storage media I use, in a few minutes. Each one can be very different depending on how fast I can move the camera to get another view. With this in mind, I can still have several different images to print and display. I prefer to use a combination of naming the object with a subject name, local, and number, such as “Sunset LC One.” So I have subject, location, and sequence. This is rather a cold way of naming them, but it is much easier than trying to become poetic for each individual image in a closely related series.

    For me, naming my prints is more for the identification of the image so I can make a duplicate of the correct image, when needed.

  32. I, too, have difficulties titling my watercolors. I have been told my titles are “prosaic”, “pedestrian”, and just plain boring. An artist friend has a knack for titling her works and the titles are often clever or toungue-in-cheek. My titles are usually descriptive of the subject and sometimes contain a modifying adjective, but they are always a struggle to do justice to the work and the passion. I think Jean should change her titles because the work is so beautiful and the connotation of “contaminated” is off-putting. I very much agree with Calvin deRuyter’s comments, but would like to make him aware that there is a style of poetry called “from the box” in which slips of paper containing words are deposited in a box, mixed and then withdrawn to create the poem. It would be easy to do something similar for landscape paintings, always coming us with a title that is pertinent but different.

  33. The title of a piece does not always come to me right away, but usually by the time I am putting the finishing touches on, some title just speaks up and makes itself known. I do believe work should be titled, as you are sharing your thoughts with the viewer as to what inspired the piece or what track you were on.
    You do not have to talk about Monet in your series, as you definitely have a voice of your own. Some title reflective of the fact that it has a water or pond theme seems quite appropriate.

  34. Though this topic subject made me want to answer vehemently and immediately, I felt I needed to read the comments before posting. After having read all the comments I feel vindicated in my initial impulses (titles are EXTREMELY important, and to put something as ‘untitled’ is a misdirected cop-out on the part of the artist).
    Art should speak for itself – I agree – but (BUT!!!) if the artist is so full of the power of their means of expression that they refuse to provide even a small clue as to how the viewer is to understand the work then they (that artist) deserve the non-sales they receive as a result.
    Art is essentially a form of communication – an expression of the artist’s psyche. As such, it is the artist’s duty to make sure the viewer can have at least a break-even chance of grasping what it is the artist is trying to convey. Assuming competence is not an issue, anything less is simply EGO (the artist’s) getting in the way of communication. (“I’m so good EVERYONE should understand ME!”)

    Get real.

    If all you are trying to communicate-to are the converted (who know all the in-jokes) then go-ahead and put the enigmatic ‘untitled’ label on it.
    But if you really want the viewer to understand the comment you are trying to make, don’t try to couch it in terms that only the IN-crowd are going to be able to interpret. Being in a foreign land and trying to communicate my needs without having the knowledge of the local language to do so means I have to use all (all) the methods at my disposal to help the ‘other’ to understand what I need/want if I really want or need it.
    I do not endorse titles like ‘Horse’ or ‘The Green House’ because they are too simplistic — I feel the artist has to work at constructing a title that suggests and tantalizes rather than cramming stuff down the viewer’s throat (the viewer doesn’t like it, and if they vomit it back-up in your face you don’t like it either).
    I do not suggest the artist to construct their title for the purpose of sales, but for the purpose of communication. If you subscribe to the view that art is a dialog between the artist (maker) and the viewer, then if the maker deliberately tries to make the work indecipherable except to the chosen few, the artist has to accept that they are discriminating amongst their audience. If discrimination is a bad thing (or not) is a question that each artist must answer for themselves, but I personally feel that I need to give everyone a at least a sporting chance of grasping what I am saying or I would not consider myself an artist.
    The purpose of this post is not to discuss the saleability of a work, but to discuss expression by and of the artist’s intent. All the skills of the artist should be used to convey the concept/feeling/emotion intended. I tell my students that each design should be approached as if it were to effect a surprise party for their best friend. EVERYTHING you can do towards that end matters – be it visual, verbal, or implied. To get the friend to believe it one must use ALL the methods at hand — anything less defeats the entire purpose of the endeavor and ruins the surprise.

  35. I see the title as integral to the work. I often write on drawing, words that come up in the process. A title adds another dimension to the work. Like poetry it holds nuance and can shift meaning.
    My favorite titles at those of Paul Klee. Sometimes the titles are as intriguing as the work.
    I do sometimes revert to a descriptive title, and I have adopted titles, when people start referring to a piece by a name such as the “Floating Deva”. Since I make objects, it may be easier than naming an abstract. Where the mane comes from could be simply referential, such as “Sunday, March 19th, 5pm”.
    A title defines a series or piece from all other pieces, like a name, makes it easier for collectors to relate,and to talk about a piece. If you want to be more neutral, number them, as in a catalog of works.
    To be contrary, name them all the same.

  36. Titles, definitely. I keep a list of “words” by my bed, and add to it regularly for future use. Inspirational readings very often give me great titles. Sometimes, as for some artists, I just “know” the title while I’m painting it. Being a gallery owner as well as an artist, I’ve come to know how important titles are.

  37. It seems that everyone agrees that titles are important, as do I. People are stopped by the artwork image, but they are taken a little deeper by the title which should intrigue, surprise, or somehow engage them. I can almost hear the buyer (and there will be buyers … the images are beautiful) telling the “Pond Scum” story. Part of what we sell is story … without words, most viewers have a hard time creating their own story around the work.

    On a crassly commercial aspect … google reads words not images so search engines are built around words, which makes titles doubly important. However, that could be an argument for changing the title to “Monet’s Pond Scum.” Just think about how many people google Monet. That is a joke … I think putting another artist’s name in a title of a non-portrait work would rarely be a good idea.

  38. I totally agree that the work should have a title. Words have meanings – and are important to viewers and collectors as they are intrinsically tied to the art itself. Often, they define the art to many observers, particularly if they are abstract. I believe that people need to put a name or an identity to an image, so that they can relate to it.

    This article on the Arts Business Institute blog addresses this topic. See what you think. The article is titled “In Art, Words Matter”

  39. A painting without a title is like a the best man at a formal wedding showing up barefoot. It’s incomplete, a bit unsettling, and nobody understands the point trying to be made. Also, because people are uncomfortable with “untitled”, they will assign a name to the painting themselves -and often one that might not be as flattering as one given by the artist. A title should contribute the painting like ears contribute to the face –everybody should have them but they shouldn’t draw attention to themselves. A balance has to be drawn.

  40. I had a person tell me that my titles were not very good. At first, I felt insulted, but then I realized that he was right. I then took time for each painting to get the title right; plus when I tweet it on Twitter, I need something catchy. So the way I would search for the title is put the subject matter of my painting in to search on the computer. After searching deeper and deeper I would discover a title. I found my titles are strong enough for the person to also go deeper into my paintings. As Martha would say, “It’s a good thing”.

  41. I feel my most successful paintings that have been purchased were well titled. Sometimes the titles come to me so easily and other times not, but I am much more aware now that titles help define my art so that people don’t have to struggle with sorting out what this rather mysterious abstract is trying to convey to them. That said, I think your contaminated and scum words are
    too specific and focused. Since you want to convey the feeling of not pure and clear, there are better words that aren’t so negative and let the viewer bring his/her own feeling to the art without being hit on the head. If your desire is to make the viewer be hit on the head, keep the titles as they are.

  42. I think titles are a mini artist’s statement, helping to focus the viewer’s attention on what the art is about. Most of the abstract works in museums are titled “Untitled,” which I have always felt is a cop-out. If you have no idea what your painting is about, how will anyone else understand it? I think if you had something in mind when you were working, you should clue the viewer in on the process, even if it’s just something like “RED #2.” I agree with Jason, also, that a title like Pond Scum is not very enticing.

  43. the only thing worse than a weak title is another piece labeled “untitled”. When naming anything, you have to decide between making a statement or selling art. Few potential buyers will tell you that they chose not to buy because of the title. It’s an opportunity to extend creativity, use a bit of wit and humor or just be pragmatically descriptive. like naming farm animals that might become dinner; only name them if you want them to be remembered.

  44. abstract art
    art that does not attempt to represent external, recognizable reality but seeks to achieve its effect using shapes, forms, colors, and textures.
    And yet abstractionists use representational titles. Art is a visual language. A painting should identify its subject and message without words. Adding a title is like saying, “Its a Barn Stupid!” Having said that if adding a creative or provocative title sells a painting… go for it! Art IS a commercial venture.

  45. Jason, I have to agree with you. Many artists feel the painting is finished and I’m done. A title gives a little insite into your thought process of the work wether serious or with a touch of humor. When I see a painting I want to see a title, I find those with #203, #206, etc. don’t catch my attention. Also, a little thought goes a long way in what you say in your title.

  46. Ask Joel Shapiro if titles matter. The well-known sculptor continues to title most of his works “Untitled”, even though the practice arguably lost him a big sale in the late 1980s in Charlotte, North Carolina. One of his iconic abstract figurative works composed of simple rectangular elements was selected to be the focal point for a then-new sports arena. Photos of the monumental work, titled (yes) “Untitled”, were featured in the local news media along with the announcement of its impending installation at the arena. Many citizens didn’t know what to think of the sculpture, but just as importantly, they didn’t know what to call it. A wisecracking pair of local drive-time radio hosts obliged them by naming it “Headless Gumby”. The derogatory name stuck, and the resulting chain reaction of public ridicule of the not-yet-installed work culminated in cancellation of the purchase. Critics and the public may not understand or like your work regardless of what you name it, but if you give it a relevant and meaningful title, at least you have taken advantage of the opportunity to shape the debate – the very public debate in the case of the Joel Shapiro sculpture, or just as importantly for most of the readers of this blog, the internal debate of the individual potential buyer of your work.

  47. I have a concrete belief in titles and that they are part of the work, just as the painter’s signature and date on front of a work is. If a friend would tell me a title was boring I would ask the friend to mind their own business. A work that one creates is a very personel thing gained through study, inner feelings and plenty of work, and your friend will not thrive for the success in the outcome.
    Hope I don’t seem hateful in attitude, but this work is my life.

  48. In my case, my artwork draws the person in but the title sometimes makes the customer ask questions and once I tell them the story… it seals the deal. In my case it’s just that simple.

  49. Titles are critical to most of my paintings. In fact, probably one of my weaknesses as an artist is that I sometimes rely too much on a title. Do titles add or detract from the sale of a painting. I don’t think so. People overwhelmingly respond to the artwork before they look at the title. My experience is that titles are probably less than 5% of the reason people buy a piece of art. Do I like titles? Absolutely! Admiring someone or something is always a little more special if you know something which will identify and personalize it.

    Regarding the main question about “Pond Scum” and “Contamination” as titles. If I really liked the painting I’m not sure the title would deter me. But if I was sitting on the fence about buying the artwork, those particular titles would eventually cause me to walk away. To me, personally, these titles are flagrant and “color” my emotional response more than a title normally would. The sale of an artwork is a very fragile process and several things, including titles can have a peripheral or tertiary effect on the sale.

  50. well as I make papier-mache figures they all MUST have a name!…to some degree it gives the buyer more of a feeling for the work…and I have to add that I’m lucky as most of the time when I’m working on a piece it will “give” me it’s name…
    I always enjoy reading what you have to say about art…and find the information you post very usful in my work and at the shows I sell at…I thank you for that…..

  51. While my mediums are jewelry and photography, I am most definitely in favor of titles. When I take a photo or create a new jewelry set, the creation just speaks to me and suggests a title. Some titles may be more profound than others; some perhaps more elegant; all, however, seem to want to declare themselves. If an end user is off put by the title, perhaps it was not intended for them. If we were manufacturers just cranking out product perhaps we might not be so invested in the work other than branding. However, as artists from my viewpoint, we are integrally involved with the materials and subject matter we capture. Yes! to titles!

  52. I work so hard to add the proper title to my work. English is my second language, and that in itself is little bit more work for me to be sure that I conveyed proper words to what I was painting. In my opinion, title is must, it does add one more layer to our art. I try not to be sooo obvious with the title, and use it as one more hook to attract the buyer. Sometimes, I’m not as successful as I should be, but I try…
    Thank you Jason for posting this good question. You are so smart with the way how to promote yourself, and at the same time make it useful to others. I learned a lot from you.
    Gordana Curgus

  53. The issue to titling is very important for an artist. I think giving a very appropriate title is both expression of the artist on the artwork and also can be vital cue for the onlooker to understand the artwork and read artist’s mind. I have enjoyed titling my artworks. I always look forward to finishing my piece and giving it a name.

  54. I agree with identifying your painting with a title. It helps your potential collector ID the artwork. I try to give a title that reflects the artwork. Abstract is harder to name though, still working on those. I want to know what the collectors think about titles, are they needed or not? I don’t know if they sell or not sell your artwork and I’m not sure yet but I think I will title for now. Negative titles not so hot. I wouldn’t want scum in my house.

  55. Titles are very important for many reasons (whether the works be photographs, other visual or figurative art, or literary). Consider issues of accurate identification, indexing, cataloging, and being able to distinguish one image or work from another. Beyond these curatorial concerns, providing titles can be a way an artist provides tone or clues to possible readings of the material. Titles that are not broad generic titles (such as “Nightfall ” or “Summerlight”), but have some specific referral point connecting with the image also help in recall of that image as it is discussed. You might get away with one untitled image, but when you have a succesion of them, that’s asking for trouble. And I see such trouble as a sign that the artist is not taking himself/herself seriously enough to name it.

  56. Titles for my watercolors and for each exhibit really help me in identifying each piece and where it was shown, so I find this to be very useful & important. Now that I am finally giving them each an inventory number, too, the titles are key in my cross reference system. For my first series, I simply numbered the paintings, which turned out to be just confusing when discussing an individual work or even several of the paintings, so I had to give them real names. A friend offered to help with titling the pieces, which was fun, as she came up with things that were totally unique. The ones that didn’t make sense to me, that I couldn’t recognize as a particular painting, I renamed after further thought & was sure to thank her for her help. I find that others like to get asked, to become involved with the title & it makes it interesting to me find out more of what they see in my work. Sometimes a visitor will see the work in progress and give me an idea, because of their impression & it turns out to fit well & evolves into the title. When I am painting plein air, I like to give the location or elements the title as I am painting them. I agree that a title can be helpful with connecting to a collector, as words do carry meaning. Words can enhance the viewers way into seeing the piece more closely & further…. perhaps give a little information or be intriguing, and give them more to contemplate as they continue to experience the piece. ..and they can be simple & let the art speak. I think it is best to title works thoughtfully if possible & while painting so much is going into the work, that many words can come up that are helpful in titling.
    Thank you for your question & for the other artist’s replies!
    Christine Dougherty

  57. I’ve wrestled with this many times, especially with abstracts. I think abstracts are better named things like “#1” or a work evoking an emotion such as “Absurdity” or “Reflection”. But I never look at titles first anyway – I look at the work and then see if the title gives any illumination into an abstract piece. Abstracts are for the viewer to name, really. I’ve seen some that looked like city scenes only to find a title that reads “River Contemplation” – totally different effect. With impressionism, no title seems necessary – it should speak for itself and say hello, my name is . . . With realism, maybe more than a title would be good – a short paragraph explaining the inspiration. Lots of animal portraits, for instance, seem to engender more good feelings if someone notes that THIS chicken was a family pet of many years. And then paintings that speak to the negative aspects of life – war, famine, pollution, hardships – can go many directions – some might only need one name, like Pond Scum. Obviously this artist finds great beauty in pond scum. I saw one once – a close-up of garbage in the street on a rainy day – and it was a remarkable painting of great stature. I think it was called Street Scene or something. I would have bought it. But my main modus operandi is to say little and let others decide what to call it. I think Monet did that – calling things simply by the main subject, such as Cornfield.

  58. My favorite titles are ones that a) hit you in the gut b) have a sense of poetry and c) expand the concept of the work (without being didactic). For instance, Damien Hirst’s “Mother and Child, Divided.” I think this title added a powerful meaning to the piece that would not have been there if it was called, say “Dissected Cow and Calf.”

    That said, I’m uncomfortable with the curator who told the artist to call his pieces “Monet’s Pond” instead of “Contaminated Water.” It seems to negate what the artist was doing in the first place. Although “Contaminated Water” and “Pond Scum” aren’t exactly selling words, Monet’s Pond sounds more like it’s for a Thomas Kinkaid audience, which I don’t think is going to be this artist’s source of followers. (I know he said to keep the subtitle, but I’m still just not comfortable with the recommendation.) If the art world can get behind dissected cows and canned poop, surely it can get behind pond scum too. Yet the name could have more impact by making a better connection, a bond with the viewer. Sales (whether selling money or a message or an idea) is all about making a connection, right? The curator may not have come up with the best title, but he might have nudged things in a positive direction by opening up consideration of a different title.

  59. I paint abstracts. Titling my work can be a breeze or a royal pain (usually the latter) but absolutely necessary. My wife and I sit at the kitchen table. She with her dictionaries and thesaurus’s and I with my iPad. Then we go to work (hard work). Can’t be too specific because I want the viewer to begin to identify with and build a relationship with the painting. They can’t do that if you have already done it for them with a “too specific title”. For me, the title has to be suggestive not literal. To make even more work, I have taken to writing a line or two about the piece. But in the end, all of the focus and concentration required to name a painting and write a short descriptive about that painting brings me closer to the essence of it (remember I paint abstracts) and enables me to talk to interested parties in a more credible way.

  60. Once I thought that titles just was for registration. I did not like it because I felt that the title limited the viewers perception. When a title was required from a gallery, I used Latin – for the same reason. English is not my mother-tongue, and neither is Latin. Since I really used a lot of time finding the right Latin words, I found myself wanting people to understand. Then the titles came in English. I still use time and effort to find the right one. I can still sometime feel I limit the painting – because there is several ways to understand a painting, but now the titles has become an inspiration to new paintings. New series. Now I feel I communicate through the painting – and the title helps.

  61. Titles do matter. I have gallery owners say buyers stand in front of my paintings reading titles. I have a series of crows that have had great sales. The titles are quite humorous. First buyers become involved, then they start to love the pieces, then all they have to do is decide which one is going home with them. For this watercolor series, I write the title right on the paper, and it becomes part of the painting.
    For example: A crow standing among wine glasses, wine bottles, and corks, titled, “Crow Bar”. I have had one with two crows fighting over a shiny object in one of their beaks, titled “Protecting the family jewels”. You get the idea. Titles really matter here.

  62. Hi,
    I am all for naming art. As an artist creates art the work begins to develop a personality and that personality deserves to have a name. Naming paintings also helps you to talk about them to other people in a way that lets them know one piece from another. At this point in my career I am making art to be shared not just stacked away in my studio. I know in my heart that each piece I make will eventually find a home. I’ve learned to let go of what other people think about the name of a work or how it looks especially after I’ve sold so many pieces that sat in the corner because I didn’t think they’d sell for one reason or another. You owe it to yourself to be true to your art. If you want to call it Pond Scum or Contaminated Water then do it. That’s what it was meant to be. Eventually the right buyer will come along and appreciate everything about the art they are about to collect including the name.
    And as far as worry about what people might think about your work just because you named it Contaminated Water or Pond Scum doesn’t mean they are literally made of those things (although its YOUR Art so it could be if you wanted it to be. I can’t help but think about famous artists like Warhol who actually did controversial things like urinating on his work. Oh thats right- I know that because I saw examples of them in famous museums. So there! Bottom line…

  63. I am very happy to see Jasons response as I agree and believe that descriptive titles will help a sale take place and of course helps a buyer to identify the art work. My art work is very emotional and descriptive of what is going on in my life at the time . I tell stories with my work and even though it may be a floral the intensity of color and style etc chronicles what is happening in my life and so Ido like to use descriptive titles. My husband thinks this is dumb and disagrees with me as he thinks the work should speak for itself. When looking at art work I like to see titles as for some reason it makes me feel more responsive to the piece. So thanks for the response Jason.

  64. HI, I have titled all of my books. Each has art in them. My books “Someone I Love is in the Hospital, Grandpa is in the hospital.” This has art according to what was going on in the story. “Oh Canada”, also has art that is related to the story. “It’s Not Easy Being A Woman” relates with my life and how difficult it is to be a woman artist. “It’s Not Easy Being A Woman, vol 2”, relates also with the same subject. The art that I put in these last two books were from some other art I was doing at the same time. Sometimes it happens to fit in. My last book “Esther Unleashed”, also relates to comical situations and stories that have occurred that I think are unique and yet universal. About titles, whether from art or books give an artist some kind of identification to relate to.
    The art needs to be in a system, a category to remind the artist where the heck it is. Esther Pearlman

  65. Titles are a real pet peeve of mine. To me, the artist is abrogating responsibility for the work by leaving it untitled. I want to know, or at least have some suggestion, what the artist had in mind. To me it’s a cop out by the artist, and disrespects the viewer, to say “the viewer can bring their own ideas as to the meaning of the work.” As a viewer, I can do that anyway, whether the piece is titled or not.

    I can certainly see that there are some works that don’t need a title, or where a title would be redundant. But I just saw a show here by an artist who paints and draws portraits of women. The show was called “Her.” Every single piece was untitled! (Well, OK, “Untitled #27”, etc.) I want to know who these women are. And, to me at least, it disrespects the subjects, as well.

    I don’t know which is more annoying to me as a viewer to look at a picture of, say, a window, and have it be untitled, titled “Window,” or called some artistic double-talk. For me, the more enigmatic a piece is, the more I want to see a title.

    Another artist looked at my work recently and said they didn’t like my titles because they grounded the work too specifically. The titles didn’t let him make up his own stories about them. Then, not 30 seconds later, he complained that he didn’t understand what was going on in a piece! As in most things, you’ll never make everyone happy.

  66. Titles are important! They can add a sense of time, place, concept or humor. I believe they should be short- more then three words or you’ve said too much and your painting hasn’t said enough. Just my opinion.
    In Jean’s series of paintings the “negative” connotation is a concept that expands the idea into something much bigger. It’s raising thoughts about a fragile, necessary, life supporting element that we need to pay more attention to and doing it in a beautiful way. I think the suggestion about Monet is- stupid- OK – I said it. If anything it should be -”what Monet wouldn’t want to see now”.
    I think you’ve come up an intriguing concept but just haven’t found your audience yet. To help stimulate sales you may want to consider a charitable donation to an ecological foundation from the proceeds or having a show some place like a Marine Science Museum where the patrons are more concerned with the preservation of the environment. Just thinking…..
    Good luck!

  67. Thank-you.. this is a significant issue in my own artistic process. Having been a Community Gallery Curator as well as an artist myself, untitled works, or those titled “UNTITLED” followed by numbers or dates are the most difficult to properly tag and for me, to really appreciate. If the artist didn’t think enough of their own work to give it a name, then how can a viewer or a potential buyer truly appreciate the full concept of the piece.
    As Melissa said.. my work.. almost “tells” me it’s name. In fact I keep a notebook at hand to make notes as I work. Most pieces have their own cinqain verse that accompanies it. My art work in mixed media sculpture and collage is apt to be abstract. This verse only adds to the composition and has also increased sales.

  68. I use a working title that acts as mental shorthand for my initial idea. As an artwork develops it may coalesce around this idea or may come to be “about” something else. I am not limited by my working title; the fun part, as far as words go, is to see if the title remains meaningful when the piece is finished. If it no longer fits, I change it. As a viewer and collector, I enjoy mixed media approaches, so I will often look to the “ingredients” first, but the title is important because it can reveal more of the artist’s thoughts to connect with, – or not. Generics like “Untitled: IV”, sometimes considered chic, may serve a documentation purpose, but communicate a lack of introspection and/or comprehension by the maker. No title says to me that the artist is committed to neither the process nor the product.

  69. Although abstract work is more difficult to title, a title is important. It becomes another layer of communication with the viewer and provides a clue ( as remote as it may be) to what the artist was
    thinking while creating. – a key if you will – Many years ago I came across a little book called “500 Titles for Artworks”.
    I remember sharing it with my students as it was an important question even then.


  70. I think titles are important and can sell a piece. If the point of your work is to make a comment about our environment I think the Contamination Series title is important. Maybe individual titles could be less harsh, ex: Oil on Water, etc instead of Pond Scum. I don’t think anyone thinks of Monet when they think of pollution, so that would be a completely different direction, unless is was called Monet Lost, or some such thing. I would stick to your commentary. An environmental twist could be more salable to the right buyer. To have a piece of art that is beautiful AND makes a statement, I think is great.

  71. In my charcoal landscape drawings, a different question comes up in what to use for the titles. Some people want to know the location, but I have found that sometimes providing that location like “Mt. Sunapee Snowfall” can deter a buyer, too. By having a generic title such as “Snowfall on the Mountain,” I’ve had people say to me, “Oh, that drawing reminds me of…” and they name some place that brings a wonderful memory. By stating an exact place, they might not have had their own recall of a beautiful place. What I’ve been doing is using a generic title, but on the back, I put a little write up sometimes including the real location in case someone wants to know.

  72. This is an interesting topic. I know there has been a lot of discussion about this. I am a watercolorist and have painted several collections with different themes. I believe in calling a painting what it is. In my opinion, if you have a title that is somewhat ethereal in nature, you may inadvertently give the wrong message. I believe in calling a painting what it is. So, a painting of white poppies is simply called “White Poppies.” I’m working on a collection now of autumn leaves. I paint in a collection of 5. Instead of trying to call each painting a separate name, I’m giving them a number – Autumn Leaves 1, Autumn Leaves 2, etc. This way, the title doesn’t detract from the beauty of the leaves themselves.

  73. Abstract work that I have seen “Untitled #1” does not bother me as I think the buyer might see something in it that others do not. If it is titled, then customers will try to find that object in the work. My realistic watercolors beg for titles. I have a fellow artist, Susan Tobey White who gets together with me and we name hers and mine and have a blast. Yes, some titles do sell art.We try to be very clever. Sometimes we fail. I have changed names of work later on and I think that can be okay to do that. I would change anything negative like “scum” to “Skimming the Surface ” or “Scum Crumbs” or “Into the Depths” or “The Still Pond”…..OMG…I’m on a roll again!! Write them down and see what they look like.

  74. Titles for me are a tricky thing. I tend to think in visual terms, so a title isn’t always relavent in the beginning. However, as the idea and painting evolve, I start thinking of a title. I agree with Jason that a title is important. Also, it helps in keeping my work organized and gives my clients a title to remember if they are interested in my work. If you have a lot of work called Untitled, it can get a little confusing. Been there, done that.
    However, I understand sometimes an idea is just an idea and you may want the work to stand on its own merits without any snappy titles.
    As always, its a personal thing and its up to the artist to decide for themselves to decide what to call their work. If you are trying to sell it, it may be good idea to title it, even if its a number designation or whatever.

  75. I think that titles matter to the viewer, the prospective buyer, even though they may not matter to some artists. Generally the title of a piece, or series will come to me as I am working on the art work. I think that the artist you were conversing with could have chosen a better title. The one she chose is a bit threatening.

  76. I have had gallery owners tell me the title of a piece is extremely important to a buyer and although I work diligently to title my art, I agree it is sometimes very difficult. When I see a piece of work which is untitled, I feel the painting became lost somewhere in space and within the artist’s creation.
    The name or title of a work is a connection not only with the piece but gives the viewer something else to contemplate – especially if the viewer cannot see the connection.

  77. If your intent is to draw attention to the pollution in the pond, then contamination is a worthy title supporting the intended response. I would not use the word scum. Too much yuck factor. Something more neutral, “unclear waters” perhaps, maybe a subtitle of the name of the specific pond, can be read metaphorically as well. Is it okay to change the title? As long as a work is still mine I consider it unfinished, so I can change anything including title.
    Send me my two cents if you use that title and thus make the sale.

  78. Titles are important for me…often they come to me while creating the piece, and other times when I consider the final effect upon completing the piece. I enjoy words and their meaning, and like to look them up in the dictionary / thesaurus to learn the additional meaning(s) of a word…it can add something, in my mind anyway, to a title. So that said, being aware of negative connotations in words/phrases is probably wise – the artist must consider if it supports their concept or not-even if it’s a little subliminal. Titling when it’s not really what the artist was going for may end up just feeling insincere to the artist (in Jean’s case of re-naming her pieces for Monet in some way – if that wasn’t her inspiration). I agree with other comments in that titling is practical for ease in identifying and/or discussing your work with galleries or potential buyers. Also I agree that it would be great to hear from the perspective of collectors and other gallery owners on this topic, to find out if it really affects a sale or not. Thanks for bringing the topic up!

  79. Like any other creative process, I struggle with tittles at times – but then sometimes they come easily. I actually believe that there have been times the tittle was enough to tilt the sale in my favor.

    I also feel that it seems rather odd an artist would spend so much time creating a piece and not value it enough to give it a proper name – Sunlight 1, Sunlight 2 – does not qualify.

    I recently had a piece win a prize – ‘Old Age” – however the gallery had miss spelled in on the label “old aga” – well, everyone was intrigued by the name – and the judge made a point to ask – in a room full of people when she presented the award . . . . what does old aga mean – is it someone special -i thought i could make something up – someone deep & meaningful . . . but I went with the truth – a typo – and the room filled with laughter –

    yes, names matter

    1. I’m not just replying to you specifically but overall with my work, I’m a figurative sculptor. my work either gets its name because of why it was created. I did a series of works on mathematical theorems so broken symmetry parallel lines and Mobius strip to name a few but others I feel are self-explanatory and don’t need a name. I did some work for the national sports centre so the basketball player’s diver beam balance was delicate. or with the others no name plaque because it was apparent. I use names or notable names when maybe there is a deeper point to a sculpture. my eye of David which was done after a very cruel ambush of Israelis is David crying for his children who in every generation are persecuted and killed. Another sculpture named Not a Bowl of Fruit is about the sanctity of a woman’s body I did the sculpture after a gang rape

  80. In a long career as a landscape painter, coming up with new titles can be a challenge! I often paint while listening to a certain satellite radio channel called “Chill” and it’s amazing how often the song titles are a great match for what I am painting at the time. Just a tip if you’re stuck for a title.

  81. My titles usually come to me as I am working on a piece. When that happens it gives me a super charge to keep going in a certain direction. This question of choosing a title has caught my attention and now I am second guessing a recent series of paintings. My husband was gardening and trimming palm branches in our yard in Florida . When I discovered the clippings from the palms and Magnolia trees I had to grab them along with other debris and put them in a plastic bucket. This led to my series “Your Trash-My Treasure”. Two of those paintings have been in juried shows and one took an award. I also exhibited them in a two person show, Going Green. I have had interest in the paintings but no sales . Maybe no one wants to be reminded of yard work.

  82. First, I want to say congratulations to Jean Judd for her Award of Excellence at the Wisconsin exhibit. It seems that her title did not negatively sway the jurors. As regards the suggestion from the curator, I disagree with the use of the name, Monet. Yes, everybody knows and loves Monet (even me), but that also means that any painting titled “Monet’s Pond” will conjure up thoughts of Monet’s paintings, and will beg comparison with the master.

    I have a friend who likes to create little relational vignettes in his still life artworks. He then gives them titles that help tell the story. Many of these are cute. Too cute. For me, the title gets in the way of my appreciation of his remarkable ability. His galleries have also suggested that he reconsider. In the end, I have to say that they are his paintings, and until his sales lag, he’ll do whatever works.

    I find that my artworks (mostly reductive abstractions) tend to speak titles to me during their construction. Some are obvious: “Target”for a target shaped drawing. I have to admit to using an artist’s name in a title: “Cage” for an abstract that reminded me of John Cage’s philosophy (but most people just think I’m referring to a cage).

    Good subject, Jason. Keep up the good work.

  83. I think of titles as part of the piece because my work is abstract and nonobjective. I have changed titles sometimes. Sometimes the titles are fun and easy, sometimes not. I tend to extremes, so I like either short titles or long involved ones. In regards to the water paintings, water is probably our most important resource next to air and it is good to bring attention to that. I don’t like the negative titles, as you would not want to give power to the negative aspects. I don’t like referencing Monet either, this is your work . My suggestion would be to perhaps name them with questions. ” Clean and pure?” Or hope, “Cleaning Up our Act”.

  84. Should an artist title their work? Yes and no. Titles can help steer the viewer to the meaning of the image. But sometimes that can be too confining, too specific. There are instances where the artist might want to leave it open to the viewer, allowing them to apply their own meaning to the image. After all, each viewer brings a different sensibility to the work and that can give greater meaning to an image than might have been intended by the artist.

  85. I personally struggle with titles on more abstract imagery and sometimes resort to numbering when I want the viewer to find their own meaning.

    In the case above, I had seen the work online and found the titles off-putting even though I understand the source of the imagery. (Finding beauty in our shameful behavior is important work.) Some sort of gentler terms for the same thing might be a way to “seduce” the viewer without jangling the nerves. (“Scum” doesn’t tell us what the stuff is on top of the water, just that it is undesirable. It may just by typical of healthy ponds too.) Maybe less concrete titles may be more useful but still make the point.

    Using the name of a famous artist in a title, show title, or artist’s statement/bio suggests derivative work; that your work doesn’t stand on its own. To stick to one person/style suggests obsession, not the thousands of influences we all have.

  86. +1 to “If the artist didn’t think enough of their own work to give it a name…” I realize that the artist probably wanted to leave the field open for the viewer to make an interpretation, engage, etc., but that’s not the way it works from my POV. Titles of any form give me a place to start; they are an invitation into the work.

    That said, I also understand that there are “reserved words,” and “scum” and “contaminated” are certainly on that list. I have a work that we call “Bug Juice” privately, because it reminds us of the mess a squashed bug leaves behind, but in public, it has a title that’s easier to live with and share with friends.

    However, my inventory is managed with item numbers and thumbnail images, not by title.

  87. I have read through the concepts and the comment that drew me the most is James Lane’s comment that the title has to be suggestive not literal. The work pictured above, if not “monet” or “pond scum” could be titled “water vision I” leaving room for more exploration in a series, telling the viewer that water inspired this but not driving the viewer into a determination that is either positive or negative, but letting them come to their own conclusions.

    I wish I had the above image hanging in my group show ‘Watershed’

    with compliments, suzanne

  88. Without the title “The Last Supper,” it would be a painting of 13 guys having dinner together. Titles should be considered another color that artists have at their disposal.

  89. I have seen a lot of viewers walk up to the caption and read everything first before they look at the art work.

    1. I have doubts about this interpretation, and what behavior was really observed. Did these viewers shield their eyes and turn their heads away, to avoid any glimpse of the artwork, before reading the title and artist’s statement? I very much doubt it. I suspect that they spot at a distance a painting that grabs their interest, walk partway across the room as they study it, close in on the accompanying written text, read it all and think about it, and then step back to look at the painting again, taking into account the information that they have just absorbed. They now address the painting with more confidence in their ability to understand and appreciate it. We might wish for a viewer who is more strongly visual. But good golly, Miss Molly, I think we should be thrilled with every viewer who dedicates that amount of time and attention to an artwork.

  90. I title every piece. Buyers love relevant, memorable titles. I recently created a new piece but couldn’t think of a title. My gallery assistant posted it on line with a “what would you name this piece” challenge. Hundreds of readers responded with great suggestions, and enthusiastic comments. People resonate to positive titles. A notable title can give artwork an identity as well as added value.

  91. Good topic. Having spent a year collaborating on found metal sculpture, I discovered we needed to collaborate on title’s too. Good exercise, in the end we always chose words that expressed the intent, and fewest possible. Example circus acrobat balancing on a ball is “Balance”. As to negative words in titles I have made pieces inspired by the news, nuclear fallout “Fallout”, “I.E.D Aftermath”, “”P.T.S.D” because that is where I started with the pieces. If contaminated water is on your mind when you start then use it – however if the final image does not elicit the subject then maybe the title needs to be honest and speak to the actual effect of the piece. Honesty not marketability works for me.

  92. As I work on a painting, a few are difficult to title, most just seem to title themselves. In my figurative work, the character becomes defined by the title, the most evocative one probably “Maasai Mama.” In my pastels of flowers, sometimes it’s the colors, sometimes it’s the flower itself that names the painting, Kaleidoscope Magnolia being a good example of both color and flower. So, yes, the title of a painting is very important, not only to me as the artist but to the viewer: the title is very suggestive of the mood, emotion or content. And, it adds a fun element to the painting process, trying to come up with the perfect title.

  93. I’m always unhappy when I see art in premier galleries with “Untitled”. I have titles for my work almost before I begin painting them. Maybe because I am a Narrative painter, everything has a story, but I am guessing every artist has something that inspires them to go toward a subject, a color, an image or abstract etc. I am currently working on a series entitled PAINTED MEMOIR so everything means something to me as I prepare and paint the pieces.
    Actually, I think the titles have helped get people to look closer rather than the opposite. There is still a lot of room for interpretation for the viewer but for me, titles are important.

  94. I’m a photographer and for the most part the titles I’ve seen answer the question “Where was that taken?” I also do portraits of flowers, really big images that I end up calling Chrysanthemum #1, #2. #3 etc. I’d really like to get away from that. Any suggestions?

  95. I am both an abstract artist and work part time in a gallery. It is always difficult when artists title their work “untitled” in hopes of not swaying the viewer in any particular direction. When there are a large number of works, all the same size, all untitled, it is more difficult to keep track of which is which, for one thing. When discussing the artist’s work with a client it is also more difficult to speak about the body of work unless the artist has created a cogent statement about why s/he paints (sculpts, etc.) the way they do. With such a rich title for a series as “Contaminated Water” I would think that the curator for the exhibit had the opportunity to have good conversations with the viewers about this artist’s work. When the viewer learns more about the artist and why they do what they do it is going to remain in the client’s mind even if they don’t initially buy a piece. I also think it would be unprofessional to rename work that has already been published and exhibited in other venues. However, if the artist isn’t trying to make a statement about ecology, and doesn’t want to motivate viewers to have a discussion about the work, vis a vis the title, then there are many more descriptive , less highly charged words to consider for future works.

  96. As both an artist and an art teacher I think titles are important..they often reflect the mind of the artist and showcase more of who the artist is.You see some of the thinking process or lack of it and sometimes I think you buy the artist as much as you buy the work.Initially my students(highschool 16-18 yrs old) found it difficult..but now its partof what they do as artists. I ‘ve found that it helps me to see more depth in their thought process and also to see the humor behind the thoughts.
    Sometimes I struggle to find a title and sometimes the title is part of how I think of the work while I’m working on it.I like humor in work and often a title amplifies it.Title gives buyers and viewers a start of a story and..that often helps a sale.

  97. If you are not familiar with the Andres Serrano photograph, “Piss Christ” look at the Wikipedia posting under the same title. Absolutely a title can make a difference. The Serrano piece would not have received the attention had it been Untitled #3. Admittedly, the construction of the photo is a crucifix submerged in a jar of urine, but if nobody gave you the facts or told you the title, you would agree with me it is a beautiful image. However, the “Piss Christ” title created such an emotional reaction that death threats were made, attacks to destroy the work, which ultimately succeeded and protests everywhere it was exhibited. So, yes titles can make a difference – are they necessary? Even Monet, who was thrown out as an example, use the simple title “Water Lilies” over and over…..

  98. Titling is something I often struggle with, even though I feel it is necessary. I usually title my work with simple, descriptive terms, rather than trying to be too ethereal and poetic. To me, that approach often seems forced, pretentious or overworked. I do believe one trap many artists fall into is trying too hard to appear profound and intellectual. It often backfires.

    A few years ago, I was lecturing at a show opening and my former photography professor attended the event. I remember him telling me how much he appreciated my naming of work with straight-forward titles – that he had always had problems with titles that were obviously too forced. He had never discussed titling in any of our classes, so we had come to that conclusion independently.

    Abstracts are often more difficult to title, because of the very nature that THEY ARE ABSTRACT. I would still try to think of appealing titles that attract, not repulse. I agree that “Contaminated” and “Scum” are turn-offs – especially when the work is pleasing. I feel they are disturbing words that could influence, in a small way, a potential sale. Those words, and others like them, invite the viewer to force themselves to see the negative in the work. Titles definitely guide the public to see art in a certain way, so be careful where you want to guide your public. I prefer to leave the interpretation of art to the imagination of the individual viewers.

  99. Jason,
    Thanks for your input about titles. I generally use titles reflecting the artwork. They usually come to me after I study the finished work. I create recycled abstract and symbolic artwork, and it’s rare that I title a piece before completion. It comes to me from what I see or what the work has in it with installed material. For example I just finished a small piece with dried horse manure, but I use the title, “Recycled Alfalfa Vault”. An impression of a dried corncob I used in another work inspired me to title it, ” Maiz de la Tierra”. Titles give a connection to the artists work which in turn gives the collector another perspective about the work.

    Organic Artist
    Daniel R. Ortega

  100. In my previous life I wrote books and learned the importance of titles from my editors. I didn’t like thinking up book titles any more than I like taking the time to find a title for my artwork. (I just want to paint!) However titles are very important so thanks for the reminder–I need to put forth more effort. I think a painting title should hint at the story you’re trying to tell, but like the title of a good book, it shouldn’t give away the ending. That will give the viewer enough thinking room to connect himself to your painting in some way. Does an emotional attachment to the painting guarantee a sale? Nope. But I believe it certainly ups your chances. As for the title “Pond Scum”…I think it’s too negative. But I don’t like the Curator’s idea either–I agree with Jean Judd’s reasoning.

  101. I think titles do matter. They bestow on the viewer an insight into the artwork, which is appreciated. Viewers already have an insight which is their’s alone. Now they also see the artist’s as well. In visual work one always hopes one’s vision is seen in a flash, but sometimes that is not the way it occurs, particularly with abstracts. Realism is also insightful, the landscape is a special landscape, the face a certain face. Titles can bring the viewer into the visionary process and create a closeness to the artist.

  102. I think titles are really important, and for me, they matter for not just for my own work, but when I am looking at other artist’s work as well – I’ll be honest, the way an artist titles the work can sometimes really disappoint me, and other times intrigue and even excite.

    For me, the titling process is part of making of the piece. It’s not really complete until it has a title, and I like having fun with it. Sometimes the title will refer to song lyrics or conversations I’m going over in my head (I’ve always got lots of stuff running through my craw!), or the picture will just suggest a title. Sometimes my titles are one word, sometimes a phrase, but they are always meant to pique the viewer’s interest and perhaps become more involved with the piece.

    Once in a while the title will hit me mid-work and then starts to influence the outcome, which can be interesting!

  103. Jean’s questions are really good ones and ones that many of us artists struggle with. Seems to me that there is an underlying question: who do you want your audience to be?
    If you don’t care – then name your work as you please.
    If you are pushing for the high end market with a few dedicated collectors and museums, then an “in your face” name probably works.
    If you are trying to make a political statement with your art and want to sell as well as exhibit, then you may need to determine where to attract the audience and the name can reflect your intentions.
    If you are making art that you love, and want to find a wider buying audience for the work, then careful consideration of the name seems warranted.

    As far as renaming art goes, why not just rename the rest of the series or not, depending on your vision for your art.

    Thanks for raising very thought provoking questions.

  104. I make illuminated sculpture (lamps) of tissue paper mache’. Since most people have never seen anything like it, I feel that it is very important to give an intriguing title to each. Some are humorous like “Moon for Chilhuly” . I listen to music as I work and am often am inspired by a composer or tune so I dedicate a piece to that. I believe anything to get the client to think about, and emotionally connect with a piece is good.

  105. I think a bad title may lead some people not to bother looking at the work. However I find that the longer I think about a title the worse the decision becomes. For what it is worth, my method is that if nothing comes to mind instantly, I can usually think of a song lyric or part of a line of poetry that fits in one way or another. Sometimes the song has already been in my head as I was painitng. I hope this is not considered plagerism, but I doubt whether most of the viewers even make thc connection most of the time. The titles are often semi-humorous, and I don’t thhink that hurts either. On the other hand there must be something that keeps people from buying the work

  106. I think a title gives the collector just one more way to see what the artist was feeling or thinking. I have painting that have sat unsold,so sad, but when I changed the title to something more meaningful then Pear number 4 they sold right away. When you paint alot it is hard to find titles of interest, I now keep a word journal, it helps.

  107. I have always used titles in my ceramic (and other) work. First, it is fun. Second, it give the viewer a handle to get into the piece. For instance, I have rather tall table lamp with Colorado wildlife all over it (some wear wrist watches and hats). The title is “An Incredibly Exotic Colorado Wildlife Lamp to Brighten Anyone’s Dull Day!” My titles evoke a gentle humor and give the potential buyer an insight into the essence of the work. I have problems with “untitled”; it is as if the artist simply gave up after making the piece – what did he/she have in mind? Even Jackson Pollock’s numbered series in the late ’40’s gives a time/space context and is better than an unimaginative “untitled”. Literature (which is what titles are) is also an art form!

    I have a 3-D drawing of my father sending me off to Art School with a rather lengthy “poem” about the piece, for which I have received favorable comments.

  108. This question made me smile, reading it first thing this morning. The last thing I was doing before bed last night was adding a few new paintings to my website and deciding on titles! I recently had a solo show where the gallery owner told me that her clients often love titles. At openings it gives them something to discuss and she feels that it sometimes does help with the sale. I have to admit that another gallery owner gave me an opposite opinion about a month before that! At a show once, I do believe the title of the painting pushed the customer over the edge, into a sale. Her words to her husband were, “And honey, with that title I just HAVE to have it!” All the points made here are valid, depending on your potential customer at the time. Having a title in the first place is a practical tool in keeping your records straight. I suppose you could use a number/letter system if you were against the title altogether. My first thought when mulling over “Contaminated” and “Monet” was that I didn’t like either reference. I do think “Contaminated” will turn enough people off that I would opt to not go that direction – at least in the future if its too difficult to change now. “Monet” in the title bothered me at first but since the work is not a full landscape, I am ok with it. Still, my preference would be something else. Here is a system that has been helpful to me at times. I have a folder on my computer desktop called, “Art Titles.” The first list is of the titles I have already used. At a certain point in your art career, as you know, you will never remember all of them yourself. After that is a list that I add to as they pop into my head or maybe while I’m reading a book, there will be a few words strung together that I think would make a good title someday. When I am stuck, as I was last night, I go to my list.

  109. Being an abstract artist, I feel titles are extremely important to give the viewer an understanding of the inspiration. Along with titling, I also write a description for all of my paintings to further enhance the meaning of the piece. I have had collectors express that the title and description is what spoke to them, making them want to purchase the painting. Often the titles come as the painting is in process but occasionally I will get a title first and then the painting. It is all a necessary part of the creative process and an extension of who I am as an artist. Susan

  110. Prior to 1996 I never titled anything. I felt if my pictures were communicating well visually, they didn’t need any ‘help’ from a title. This changed with the publication of my first book in 1997. For years I’d been pressured by galleries to title works and the added pressure from the book publisher finally made me change & begin titling artworks. It’s just too hard to catalog, or carry on a cogent conversation about ‘Untitled #4.’ Today I’m working in a surrealist style and the title has become an integral part of the process. My titles seldom ‘relate’ to the image. Do not confuse a title with a caption which exists to describe the image. Titles should have no bearing on saleability or ‘understanding of meaning,’ they simply aid in cataloging the image and provide a frame of reference when discussing the image.

  111. I like to use titles, and was once complimented by a curator that my ‘titles are great.’ Words and titles are important to me (my BA is in English). The title can evoke, or provoke, or provide context. I know authors agonize over titles, and while they may not be quite as important for a visual work, they are nonetheless significant. Great to see Jean’s textile work.

  112. When I’m not painting, I read or listen to music. Many of my artwork titles come from these sources. A phrase that strikes me is listed on my computer so that when I finish a piece I can look for an appropriate title. I just finished ‘Music From Beyond a Distant Hill’ and never would have thought of that title if not for my list. Many of my collectors comment that the titles really define the painting.

  113. Yes, titles matter, just as form, color and line matter. They are part of the piece, not something you just tack on after the fact – well, at least ideally.

    Sculptor Kevin Caron finds that some of his sculptures have a name before he even begins creating them. Others’ names develop as he fabricates the sculpture, and still others don’t get their names until they are finished. The last are always the hardest, but the goal is always to have a name that comes out of the sculpture, whether it comes from its inspiration, form or setting.

    People remember the names and get a kick out of them, so I (marketing person) see it as part of Kevin’s branding as an artist.

  114. My paintings always have a narrative theme, and the title is part of the “hook” to get the viewer into thinking about the painting. I agree that having a negative idea in the title may be a turnoff. I find collectors nearly always want a cheerful or provocative thought from the title. Not to provide a title is a cop-out by the artist, though with some abstract paintings, titling may be very difficult.

  115. I title all of my work – ceramic’s, paintings and glass. I wouldn’t let a piece be shown or sold without a title. I give a lot of thought to my titles. It’s part of the fun and its a part of the process. Does the title make a client buy or not buy? To me, that’s as much a question of, “should I use blue or red”? It’s part of the artist’s prerogative and presentation.

  116. This may sound unprofessional and perhaps even corny. The name of my piece is fairly well established before I begin the painting. I do some thinking on what the next piece will be and when the mood or the thrill strikes me, so does the title. Only once have I changed it. The title is an extention of how the physical painting made me feel while in the zone. Sometimes long, sometimes short, sometimes it doesn’t even appear to be associated with the painting. Like I said for me it’s a bit part of the entire process of producing a piece of art work. The title is for me, not so much anyone else. I told you it would be corny.

  117. There are many things words can accomplish that stand unique in their own sphere. So it is with music. Yet words can be “musical”, and so can images. This suggests that poetry must be the bridge, the meeting place between these realms.
    Images, like words, are quite often poetic, so if an artwork’s title can inject a nuance of poetry, possibly adding something to one’s appreciation of a visual work, then the whole becomes more than the sum of its parts. Good titles are those that suggest, without exposition or obfuscation, cuteness or cliche’.

  118. In a previous life I was in advertising and it taught me that the catch phrase at the top will draw the person to look a little further into the content. I realize that abstracts are difficult to name sometimes, so I call in a few friends/family/strangers and ask them what they feel/see/think it means. That helps me find what even I had not realized was there or reinforce my original thought.

  119. When I first read the question I thought I had all the answers because I have lost sales due to title. Then I read all the comments and learned so much so thank you Jean for asking the question. I paint actual scenes en plein air so titling my work is fairly simple but I love the idea of going the extra mile and giving extra thought to the title. I will try to do that from now on. I also firmly believe that art should bring cheer to the viewer so I am very biased. (Although I do see merit in painting morbid scenes.) That means I wouldn’t recommend any negative title unless you can turn the negative word into a positive thought. I love your work Jean and it doesn’t make me depressed but the word contaminated does. I can’t see tying your work to Monet with your title, just staying positive.

  120. A friend of mine recently sold an abstract painting solely on the strength of it’s title – something like ‘Hemingway’s Last Swim in the Caribbean’.
    For me, a stand-alone painting usually acquires a name as I’m working on it. For series paintings (dancers and musicians usually), ‘Blue Tango No.4’ or ‘Tenor Sax No.2’ works just fine.

  121. Titles are important. Here is one spin on this subject: I had a gallery owner explain her theory on titles…..the gallery was located in very artsy community. Many people travel to the city to vacation, shop, buy art, etc. When collectors purchase a piece of art, they love to be able to tell a story……that they purchased the art/painting in Carmel, in Santa Fe, in Italy for example. They also like to think that they can relate to the art, including the title. The title needs to grab the attention of the viewer, and if possible be a little sexy…. suggesting that romance, love and something personal is a part of the purchase. So while giving a title to a piece of your art can be a challenge at times, it is important to put some thought into naming the art.

  122. I think that it is a lot easier to identify a painting if it has a unique name, rather than Untitled #__. I would not go with the Monet idea – stand on your own merit. However, naming the piece something negative might be better if the name were more positive.

  123. I think titles are important and should help connect your work to the emotional part of the viewer. I think your titles are too negative and I would never buy anything with words like contaminated or scum. Monet’s name doesn’t fit there either. I’m not good at titles but my first impression when I saw your work was something like “reflections on a pond” or “blues forever”, or “composition in blues”. Anyway, I hope this helps.

  124. I’ve always titled work as my mentor/teacher does. Most of time it is easy as I simply know what I’m doing what the piece is about so the title comes easily. On my abstract work it is much harder and I often get confused on being literal with title and abstract completely with the visual presentation.
    Sometimes I run out of names on landscapes, how many times can you name something X Lake etc.
    Buyers seem to be more confortable with a work that has a name, an identity, something to reference something to set this piece apart from others, to give it individuality. I have piece named
    Ghosts in Granite, it is a abstract with 5 hidden faces that simply appeared and I enhance them but kept them hard to find if you didn’t really look. That name helped sell it.

  125. I think titling is important and should suggest a story behind the image. It is one more tool to add intrigue to your work. I try to consider the title even as I’m just getting started painting. Sometimes they pop in my head and other times I have to really roll it around during the whole process. Since I mainly paint flowers, the character of the flower will often suggest the name or the color.
    One of my titles actually has hurt its chances of being sold (See link above). The plant I painted looks very animal-like and thus I named it, “Snakes.” Unfortunately, my gallery owner is terrified by snakes so she has put her foot down on bringing it into the gallery even though it is almost a pair with another painting. I think the name is perfect (and snakes are kinda cute) so it will just have to be sold somewhere else.

  126. I very rarely have a painting come to me without a title…and sometimes the image and the title come at the same time, so I was curious about the question “To Title, or not to Title?” I truly think the title of a piece adds a whole other dimension to the experience of the piece…as if one is in a conversation a with the image. I feel it helps foster a relationship — of the artist to the image, to the person who then experiences the image, and then to the world at large — for a deeper connection.

  127. As a folk Artist of over 25 years, I strongly believe that titling of an artwork is important. From experience, it has been my titles that sell my paintings. Folk art revolves around life stories. I sold a painting titled “The Catch” featuring fishermen. The parton asked me to explan the title as he thought it was spiritual. I explained tha it was based on the Bible story of the Fishermen who Jesus tolld to cast out their net into the deep.” The art patron remarked “SOLD!” and paid a very good price for my painting. Another of my paintings titled” Beauty of Liberty,” sold becuase of the title and my narration of the inspiration behing the art. Over the years it has been my experience that the old adage, “a picture is worth a thousand words” does not apply to my paintings. It is moreso the “thousand words” that sell my paintings.

  128. In answer to the question, I think titles are important and certainly can add interest to artwork. My feeling on how to come up with titles, and this is purely from a personal point of view, is first of all does the piece evoke any particular sentiment that can be expanded upon. Second of all does it fit the piece, depending on the piece it could possibly have a negative connotation. Also what is negative to one person isn’t to another.
    Sometimes I just use place names, particularly for plein-air pieces because I like to identify where it was done. If it’s a portrait I like to use the person’s first name and occasionally I add something for example ‘Vivid Vivian’. Again this depends on the piece.
    I recently started a new way of working that is a little more intuative than working from life and my first piece ‘Little Guernica’ was about the personal efffects of war and that title just sort of came to me and it fit.

  129. I fall into the category that Dale O’Dell posted above, in that I really never considered titles to be partof
    the selling factor or the importance to customers. However, when I started to present pieces to gallery owners that eternal question always came up and I could see immediately that almost all of them needed a title to help them convey to their potential customers what the art is all about. Especially with the unconventional Art I create. By unconventional I mean, that I have found that galleries or 99% of the ones I have approached could not put the art in any category for their representation. So I would say that for me titles (instead of numbers) have helped to clarify what the piece means to me, the artist, and subsequently the gallery and potential customer. A question I have is, does a title create a category for a work of art? i.e. conventional, abstract, cubism etc…

  130. Sometimes titles come easily, whereas at other times, they’re the bane to my existance. Just recently sold a work entitled “Oh Happy Day”. The customer was already considering the piece when she noticed the title & commented on it. Did it help make the sale or just add to the fun of the work???

  131. I like titles and I also like “Untitled” I think you can do either depending on the work. The thoughtfulness of the artist comes thru with titles or “untitled”. I try not to describe the artwork in my titles, such as,
    “Roses in Glass Vase”, but rather find a title that has more to do with my motivation, “Reflecttion” for instants. It’s interesting how many bloggers said that the titles came to them while in the process of making the art. Often the painting will tell me what to call it. Viewers and buyers like to connect to the work and titles certainly help them do just that.

  132. A good title can help and a bad title can hurt, but the best use is to show that the artist has a sense of humor and perhaps a little humility, without taking it all too seriously. If the title can offer a view to understanding the subject the viewer can experience an “ah ha!” moment. Since we also create images to impress or entertain our peers, the title can offer a chance to show how it should be done. Pity the poor art history student trying to slog through remembering 400 slides titled “Untitled” with noting to choose between them except the date. Think of Robert Motherwell and try to select a memorable name that is easier to remember than “Untitled”. JMHO

  133. Titling is quite important, and frequently the piece tells me its title while I’m working on it; this can guide the direction I take. I can’t say that I lost a sale because of the title, because I never intended to sell the piece. However, many people responded positively to it without knowing the name or the story behind it. The one person who truly pressed me about selling it couldn’t get away fast enough when she found out the word “death” was in the title. That was a good lesson.

  134. I agree with pretty much everything mentioned here but especially with the concept that a name allows for easier bonding.
    As humans, we like things to be named. It’s right there in Genesis, things get named, right up front, and by the simple fact of being able to attach a name to something we feel we feel that we ‘know’ something about whatever it is.
    We’re not too likely to take a person into out homes without knowing their name and I think that we are somewhat more likely to take in a work of art that does have a name…because somehow, we ‘know’ it.

  135. I used Monet’s gardens as inspiration in one of my recent paintings of coffee cups. I called it Cafe Monet – which gave reference to the artist but not the specific piece of art I was inspired by.

    As for abstract titles – – Untitled is a perfect title for something with no title. I use it often, with numbers behind it Untitled 23, Untitled 88, etc.

    Great insight and blog, thanks for sharing.

    Beth Cornell

  136. I actually like the “negative” titles but I can see where they might be a turn off to potential buyers. I really hate the Monet suggestion. How about something like “Primordial Pools”. Since my work is generally functional and I work on commission usually, I am not often faced with this dilemma.

  137. I often have a difficult time coming up with titles that sound as fresh and unique as I want my art to be. Sometimes a picture seems to name itself, with no huge effort on my part. Most of the time the opposite is true.
    Unless you are a conceptual or a political artist, I don’t think that titling something with a negative connotation works. I think it would be a turnoff to many potential buyers. A Monet reference doesn’t seem appropriate either.
    I think a title should somehow match the type of work, the emotion of the piece, and help the viewer make a connection.

  138. As a plein air landscape painter, titles come fairly easy for me, as there always seems to be a direct connection with the underlying reason I have selected a particular site, time or place to paint. What I try to avoid (not always successfully) are hackneyed old titles with physical descriptions (how many time have we all seen “After the Storm” laced onto an otherwise good painting?) or titles that give a locale for no good reason, or titles that describe objects in the painting, etc., or far worse “Homage to (fill-in famous artists’ name here)”, as it usually shows a lack of any thought and looks like a cop-out.

    A little humor can go a long way, or not . . . I recently titled a piece “Outstanding in their fields” ( it was of a group of fellow painters working en plein air) which sold to a dentist who later said “I never even looked at your title – I just liked the piece very much.” So much for my tongue-in-cheek title there, but it was fun, and the painters portrayed at their easels, where it was done, were all very accomplished artists. C’est la vie!
    I do keep a few poetry books around, just to re-read and find lines that might suggest something I’m looking for in a title, but it all really boils down to giving the piece an “afterlife” that reminds me of the why, when, what and where that compelled me to give my full visual attention to any painting. If you happen to err with a title, always better to be on the positive side.

  139. Thanks to Jason and all the other commenters for getting me thinking, again, about titles. I like those pointing out “it depends” on who your audience is; I leave it even broader – do you want to be rich or famous. A controversial title might help with fame but put off the buyers. I have a piece “Knowing Who Will Die” that is currently up in the local Hospice office waiting for their art auction. I accept it’s a hard title for a personal space.
    That said, I put in my bid for titles that suggest a story or the artist’s inspiration. People love and remember stories. (Research shows that they’ll remember that a person is a baker more easily than that their name is baker; our brains just fill in the setting, props, smells, and plot!) I also experience people buying more when the artist is present, telling their story. Ciao to all. D.

  140. Most of my paintings “title themselves”. Sometimes this happens before I begin, sometimes during the painting process, and rarely, at the end of the painting process. A title gives the viewer a bit more information about the piece and a sense of comfort as well. Not all viewers have strong visual vocabularies, so as artists we can assist by offering our musings and titles as a guide.

    1. Not only do I title my paintings, I sometimes accompany the piece with one of my own poems written long hand on an 8×10 sheet of paper, signed with my pen name (an anagram of the signature on front), and varnish it to the back of the painting.
      My Sea Siren Series depicting sea nymphs washed ashore is a good example of paintings accompanied by an appropriate title & poem:
      Sea Siren Rising
      Sea Siren Storm
      Sea Siren Dawn
      Sea Siren Specimen
      Sea Siren Insane…..
      The title & poem adds additional mystery to the work, an extra splash of the exotic.
      And judging from the comments the consensus is ‘to title’. Absolutely.

  141. While I can see “negative” words like “contamination” and “scum” putting people off a bit (although Pond Scum to me is not very negative — just descriptive), I will say that I have a house full of original art — fiber, paintings, sculpture, ceramics, glass, basketry, etc. — most of it made by my friends or acquaintances, and I have never once been asked by anyone what the title of a piece was. Nor do I remember the titles of most of them! They live with me and I live with them, and what the artist was thinking about or intending is no longer (if it ever was) the point.

  142. I land always on the side of “Give it a Title!” A title does several things – gives the viewer a place to start relating to the painting (my paintings are abstract), gives me something to talk about, helps me distinguish the painting two years later, or can give me a hook for a series. One of my gambits with viewers is “what does that painting suggest to you”, opening the door for a dialogue. A title also helps me clarify my process – sometimes the title directs the piece, sometimes it comes after.

  143. I agree with titling my artwork. I paint what I call organic, neo-expressionist abstracts, and titlingy work gives ea h piece a unique personality. I also try to name them something serene or inspirational because, as Jason pointed out, I believe people want peace in their home; naming a piece otherwise could cause a sale to not happen. I’ve seen works with ‘negative’ titles, and I must say that they have turned my attention away from an otherwise attractive
    Sent from my new slimline black iPhone.

  144. I agree with titling artwork. I paint what I call organic, neo-expressionist abstracts, and titling my work gives each piece a unique personality. I also try to name them something serene or inspirational because, as Jason pointed out, I believe people want peace in their home; naming a piece otherwise could cause a sale to not happen. I’ve seen works with ‘negative’ titles, and I must say that they have turned my attention away from an otherwise attractive piece of work. Sometimes I’ll even ask my friend what he sees in the work, which will help bring a title to mind if I’m stuck.
    Sent from my new slimline black iPhone.M

  145. My paintings are primarily landscapes with occasional florals created in pastel. When I complete a painting that I feel is ready to exhibit, I tell my wife what was in my thoughts as I was painting. I give her key words regarding the piece. She then studies the piece and comes up with a name — usually descriptive of the work. I believe it’s important to name the work. When I attend exhibits, viewers always seem to want a story that goes with the painting and I find it helps to sell my work.

  146. I title my work, sometimes well after I have painted it, if I am cataloging old work. I have had customers and potential customers ask for the name of a painting and I like to be able to give them a name. My practice is usually to call a painting something simple and descriptive, perhaps because I am regularly publishing paintings on a food blog and I want readers to know what they are looking at. If I did a painting of pond scum. I would most certainly call it pond scum so that others knew what it was. A series called “Contaminated Water” might contain political or environmental references and some people might value the series because of that. Other artists might use “negative” words in a humorous way and strike a patron’s funny bone. If I am in a gallery and see work called “Untitled #4” I would tend to think the artist is lazy, unimaginative or unclear on what his or her work is about. A title, as many have said, is a chance for the artist to say something about a work, perhaps to begin a conversation.

  147. i think titles are very important to an art piece. i often wonder why an artist would work so hard at making art and choosing not to title it, leaving it ‘unfinished’.

    when i see an art piece that is titled “Untitled” – several thoughts go through my mind – none of them are good:
    1. the artist is mass producing work, without giving any of it much thought
    2. the artist got bored with the piece, and decided to not title it
    3. the artist is not finished with the piece and want’s it back

  148. I always name my work, but usually start with a descriptive term. The names or titles generally spring to mind as I’m creating the piece. I’ve had many compliments on the titles I’ve given them. When I struggle for a name, I’ll sometimes ask my Facebook fans to help me name something. They become a bit invested in the piece at that point, which is always fun.
    I do think names are important… perhaps almost as important as the creation of the piece, and most certainly, a part of the creative process.
    When I saw this post, I posed the same question to my FB people. We’ll see.

  149. My experience is that titles flow very naturally out of the creation of a painting, and that a couple candidates often pop up around the beginning. They are a wonderful opportunity to pass along something of the essence, the inspiration, or the reason for creating the piece of art to begin with. I agree with the comments of others that if one is encountering a struggle with a title, that it can good to revisit the starting point of the piece, and not try so hard. Try easier.

    I find that funny and punny titles can detract from the dignity of paintings, and that unrelated titles can be alienating. When a landscape carries an unapparent biblical verse, or a charming painting of a grapefruit is titled: The Day my Heart was Aching for You, it feels like the artist is portraying a strange world where ideas and expressions are very disconnected.

    One phenomenon that makes me chuckle is the nude that is titled: The Red Kimono. I know I’m not the only one noticing that the subject of such a painting is actually the lack of a red kimono, and it seems that something like The Red Kimono Off would have more integrity.

  150. I am a fiber artist who creates mainly abstract images in an attempt to bring emotions into a visual context. I’m just starting to dabble with printing my photographs on fabric and working with those as well. I had a great shot of some ice melting in a local ditch in the spring – gorgeous glittering columns of ice sandwiched between plates of ice. My sister thought I should title it: “Winter Magic”. I did for a while and it didn’t get much response. I decided to rename it simply what it was: “Ditch Ice”. Bingo. People were much more responsive to it. SO – I do indeed think titles are important. I agree with the avoidance of negative words, and also agree that it’s best not to over-glamorize or try to get too creative with your titles. The art is the creative part – but the title can be a lovely hook.

  151. Why not just use titles that do leave the abstract work open for interpretation by the viewer, yet still identify each piece from the others, such as “Abstract Water Series #1” and “Abstract Water Series #4”. This lets you and the viewers know which series and which number the piece is from, but the content is kept completely neutral, and up for interpretation.

  152. I think titles are important and I love putting them on my paintings. I like lyrical, poetic titles. I am often told by people that they like having a title on a painting. And I know that certain pieces of mine have sold because someone loved the title! Some of the longest ones are “She Built Her Nest with Flowers and Bits of Sky” or “She Pinned Things to The Earth so They Wouldn’t Follow Her Around” or “Red Dog Sleeps Under the Light of the Moon”. The titles in themselves tell a story and when paired with an image, leads the viewer to deeper contemplation.

  153. I agree that works needs titles–not even the artist can easily catalogue his work, Untitled #1, #2, etc. A simple title is best. “Green Apples” or “Blue and Green” sometimes will be enough. Too specific or long may not be so good. I agree “contaminated water” sends a bad message even if that was the inspiration, I’d couch it in something else–something less negative. But I don’t like the reference to Monet. I think the work should stand on its own and should not need a reference to a commonly known artist or famous work. That sends a message to the client that we don’t expect them to look beyond the easily recognizable and appreciated–but we want more from them than that!

  154. Wyeth’s piece “Christina’s World” would not have had the same impact if he’d called it “Cripple in Field”. That said, I think that half of an artist’s creativity is in coming up with titles that remain true to their vision without alienating the art buying public. It’s fun to brainstorm ideas from the sublime to the ridiculous. Instead of “Pond Scum” perhaps “Environmental Fallout”. This suggest a connection to the very world we love, is vague enough to be interpreted in many different ways, and may engage the viewer in asking you more about what you are thinking. Just this past week, in one of the watercolor classes that I teach, a student was dutifully blackening over a painting she did not like, to be able to see the transparent quality of the watercolors that shine through underneath. I stopped her before she covered the whole paper, because the bottom portion looked like lovely sunlight on the grass. Another student suggested it looked like a black out shade, and yet another, when looking at it from across the room said, “That’s how you see when you have a detached retina.” As a class we decided that the best title would be “Detached”. That leaves lots of space for the public and the buyer to interpret it according to their own visions. Yes, I do think that titles are important.

  155. I have an artist friend who claims that artists who do not title their work are selfish. My own works title themselves, then let me know their names. Most frequently they are puns or double entendres, such as “Bean There, Done That” for a print of the famous bean sculpture in Chicago or “Bad Hair Day” for an image of a wind-blown white heron. I once did a series I called “I Can See Better With My Eyes Shut #”, etc. Many people tell me they love my titles. However, I did miss selling a work to a Christian Women’s Group one time, because the title of the work that depicted Lock and Dam 19 on the Mississippi River was “ A Dam Good Site.”

  156. Oddly enough I sold a mixed media collage piece that was title “Pond Scum”. I actually used dried pond scum in part of the composition It looked like handmade paper with tiny roots exposed. I really didn’t think of this pond scum as a negative material. I do find that people are intrigued by good titles. Some come easier that others. I think title should be thought provoking, not too silly or too negative.

  157. Titles are important to help the viewer understand the painting, but they also serve as a marketing device. As Jason commented, it only the rare person who wants to bring “Pond Scum” home. While artists would prefer to be au dessus de la melee, if they want to sell their work they do need to be mindful of the impact of their title. They can be elliptical, indirect, lyrical or mysterious, for example, but they should not distract the viewer from the beauty of the painting. From “Looks Deceive” to “Surface Beauty” to “What Lies Below”, etc., the title can give a hint of negativity without actually skewing the viewer’s first impression.

  158. Titles and words are extremely important. Words and titles create images our minds. Some thoughts invoked by words and the mental images associated may be unpleasant and an art collector may not wish to be reminded of such things. (Such as *contaminated water* –what if a buyer had gotten ill while traveling from contaminated water. They would not wish to be reminded of that by the artwork hanging in their home.) The collector will hang an artwork they purchase in their home or office, friends family, colleagues will ask the title of the painting. Think about a fairly conservative person having to give a strange title like *contaminated water* over and over when asked, and the odd reactions they would have to contend with. A strange title may well stop a purchase. Also, the collector will have to list the title with insurance copy, in their records.

    Any painting of a water surface brings Monet’s water lily paintings to mind. So the Monet reference in the title seems like over-kill. So, IMO, do not use false titles as hooks to try and get a sale. Give the work a real, meaningful title that makes sense to you and your process. Find synonyms to words that may be off-putting. There are many other words that could be used in reference to the meaning for the work.
    If the title *contaminated water* is important to the artist and process, then keep it.

  159. I always title my paintings. Sometime the title comes first and I create a painting from that. All of my work will eventually start talking to me and basically start telling me what to do and how to make it into a better painting and the title can come from that. Titles are very important, the tilte introduces and helps tell the story, helping the viewer and the artist connect to the piece.

  160. Not only do I title my work but I also tell the story about the piece and attach it to the back of the work. I am Native American (Kumeyaay Nation) and all of my work is rooted in Native culture and has a spiritual element to it. I have been working as a full time artist for 26 years and early on discovered that purchasing art is a very personal thing, and people emotionally connect with it. When I began telling the stories behind my work my sales took off. The better I am at conveying the story the easier it is to sell the work. In fact, I seldom have to ask a customer if they would like to make a purchase because before I have a chance to ask them, they have already said “I want this one”. And on top of that I would say that 1/4th of my customers will purchase a piece as a gift for a friend, and tell me that that piece is perfect for their friend. I love doing my work because I have touched people through my creativity.

  161. I usually have a title as I am working on a piece – most of the time because I am an abstract expressionist does not make sense to the average person, but they also refer to them by the names I have given them eventually in conversation.
    I have been known to change a title as time goes on if the original just didn’t seem to fit. I feel that is the artists prerogative and it doesn’t matter if it was in a previous exhibit as a different name. Stand Tall & Name your pieces- I totally agree that an unnamed art piece has a very dull imagination from the creator.

  162. Titles can give the viewer a opportunity to look more closely at the work. It should engage and introduce the artwork to the viewers. Evoking thought an a connection to the artwork

  163. Three categories for titles:
    1- the inventory title such as “Red Table #14”
    2- the Poetic title, such as “Meanwhile”
    3- the descriptive title such as “Dog with Boat on Lake Havasu”.
    the problem with poetic titles is that, when I used them, I changed my mind (my interpretation) which made lists of works very difficult to alphabetize, and caused other problems as well. The inventory type title is easiest for artists but Collectors seem to like a title that is all three- (easy to remember or find, descriptive and poetic all at once)- such as “Starry Night”.

  164. I have have a very direct experience with a bad title. I had previously worked with a research institute that primarily studied parasites. They are really very beautiful and I included a couple in an abstract painting I did several years later. (my paintings generally have some scientific content) In an exhibit a woman had her check book out and said she really loved the “angels”. Then she asked what the title “T.Cruzi” meant. When I told her it was the name of a parasite she literally gasp and backed off in horror. Six months later I sold the painting to an infectious disease physican and it now hangs in his office….where it belongs. It was a lesson to me that I need not be so direct with titles. I try to use a word or phrase that relates to the work in a general way. The work needs to stand on it’s own; apart from the title or wall tags. If she loved the angels who am I to dictate what she sees. After all parasites are tiny, floaty ethereal creatures also.

  165. Yes, it’s a pain to come up with titles for paintings sometimes, but it’s well worth the effort. I got advice once from a very respected and successful artist in her field; namely, that the right title can occasionally help sell a piece of art. I took these words to heart and firmly believe people love to know there’s a story behind a painting – the right title can help spur the imagination!

  166. Having curated well over 300 shows/exhibitions and juried/judged another 150+, I have a long established opinion about titles. They are important but many artists are woefully inept at creating them. The title need not “verbally explain” the piece nor should it seek to compensate for weakness in other regards. When serving as judge or juror, I now completely avoid looking at the titles as they are so often more liability that asset. Even trite and overdone titles are preferable to those academic – chicken shit -minimalist non-titles. IE: “Symphony in Color” or “Composition #5” (or #2573) or the New Agey ones like “Manifestation of the Woman/Man’s Spirit Guide Sunset” — Ooh my cynicism is showing. Not making an effort with titles is akin to bad presentation or framing. For my own work, I take title creation very seriously. A good title can be an effective complement to the piece. A bad or mundane one speaks to the artist’s disdain for the viewer – “But my work speaks for itself.” = Lazy. A good title can not only add information but mystery and additional levels of thought and feeling; not supplant them. “The job of the artist is to always deepen the mystery.” – Francis Bacon. To not deem it not worth the effort is a snub to those that are viewing the work and perhaps even are considering adding the piece to their personal collection. It is in part a matter of mutual respect; not to mention professionalism.
    “That’s my opinion and I sticking with it but….. hey, I could be wrong” (my apologies to Dennis Miller).

  167. What a wonderful discussion! I also believe titles are important and do not care much for the idea of incorporating “Monet” in the title; it might work well in a description of the artwork and help to offset any negative vibes.

    Commenting on Jean’s issue of having used “Contaminated Waters” on previously exhibited work, I wouldn’t think it necessary to backtrack and re-name. That would be daunting and confusing. However, it might make an interesting blog about how the series has taken a new direction and is now being called (“new name”).

  168. I also find that people love an interesting title which surprised me at first. My pieces are figures so they lend themselves well to titles and because I view them as narratives, perhaps a title then is essential. I used to feel that the piece should speak for itself but with time I see that the title actually helps me clarify how to represent an idea. I think the is your ‘personal stake’ in the piece and helps the viewer respond more personally to what they see? Maybe. maybe not.

  169. I have always titled my paintings – and given them a sequential ‘catalog #’, which is useful when I accidentally re use the title a couple years later. They acquire a name somewhere between the blank canvas and numbering them, based on the inspiration, usually. I have lost sales based on the title – recently I had painted from a selection of a friend’s vacation photos from Uruguay and Argentina. Not knowing where the photo was taken, I titled the piece ‘Uruguay Lake’. That wasn’t where it was. Oh well. I have probably lost some other sales over the years too, as someone asks about a ‘sunset’ only to find it is named Dawn, because it is a dawn. But I know others have not been bothered by this and purchased anyway.
    I do know people who live by their art and do not title their pieces. For some of these it crosses the subtle barrier between an artistic creation and a piece of decor.

  170. Naming a piece of art for me is essential and most of my customers also want to know the name of the work. I did a mural for a customer who wanted a 6′ piece high on the wall of his stairwell, but the possibility of it falling was a major concern. So I painted it directly on the wall. Once it was finished, the customer asked me what the name of the piece was. It took me a few hours, but I finally thought of a very appropriate name for the piece and the customer was thrilled. As with Stephanie’s comment, people DO love to know the story behind a piece and I personally do not think it appropriate to add Monet’s name in your work titles. They are your work and should be titled as you see fit. Once the story is told as to why you named your pieces as you did, I think if a customer really wants it, the name will not hinder the sale.

  171. I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with naming my images, but I finally called a truce and take the time to come up with a good name. It can be just as hard as writing an essay or book. What I do is think about the story I tell people about the image. From that a common theme arises and I come up with a name. Sometimes the image just says the name. Often the image could have several names that apply and then I do a survey of my friends to see what they respond best to. I have an image of poison hemlock taken at the end of summer when the plant was dead. It looks like small bamboo and has a magenta/purple color to the stalks. I named it “Socrates Dilemma”, as when he was convicted to die, he was given a choice how he would die. He chose poisoning from the poison hemlock plant that slowing numbs your nerves from your feet and hands and works it way to your heart. I like names that cause the viewer to think and be more curious about the image.

  172. The title in my artwork is quintessential to the way in which I’d like my audience to interpret my peice. If the artist wants to provide insight into the interpretation of the peice then they should include a title. For me, I like titles because I want my artwork to be as accessible as possible to the layman. I don’t care what the critic thinks. I might come across as being pedantic but I’m okay with that.

  173. A title can definitely sell a painting or not. I never put place names or similar, after losing a number of sales by doing so. Each buyer is attracted to a painting usually based on some emotion or a memory. If the title doesn’t fit that emotion or memory, often the buyer backs away. I usually keep titles short, somewhat generic, or use a play on words. I always try for a positive connotation rather than a negative one. I keep a running list of possible names that I can use as they come to mind. One might not find the exact title for the painting but perhaps it gives an idea for one. I have never lost a sale since.

  174. It can be really hard to find a good title, but nevertheless I think it is very important.
    I strongly dislike the obvious title. With the title we can lead the viewer in the direction we want, it can give insights, lead the way.
    The ” Contaminated Water” has a very negative connotation, and unless you really want to say something specific in that direction, I would try to avoid that. I would also avoid the Monet allusion, in my opinion for obvious reasons.
    Personally a title has never kept us from buying, but it has definitely happened that it caught our attention.

  175. I think titles are very important and should not use any wording that has a negative connotation.
    Jean Judd’s paintings are absolutely beautiful; but I feel she could come up with a nice title and perhaps on the reverse expalin that it is really pond scum or contaminated water, perhaps in a fuuny way. An example may be a photo of an oil slick on a black roadway. It could be very beautiful; but I wouldn’t call it “Oil Slick” or similar. No matter how true or real an image is, I think the title is the first thing a viewer looks at after the image. I wouldn’t want to give any kind of negative feeling.

    Don’t forget, people love a story. I did a show once and put little stories next to the pieces. I want to do this more. Trouble is – will the Gallery let you.

    I keep a file of words or phrases that I like and often compose the art with that as my starting point.
    So I already have a title. Or after creating something, I take a long time to try to find the right words.
    I also had a piece I titled; but wasn’t really happy with it and put a note near it to ask viewers to come up with a new name.

  176. Yes, I’m one for a good title. I’m trying to bring more feelings into the titles. I’ve had the personal debate going on about naming a landscape with the actual name or location. I’ve done this pretty often, but after listening to folks viewing art, I’m thinking this is not always a good idea. Many times I’m hearing people say, “That looks just like my hometown, or that looks like where I grew up.” Or, “That’s just like my favorite fishing site”. In those cases, I think the more general title works best. The other side of the argument is the typical tourist town or area. Then lookers seem to want just the art of scenes painted right there. Then the title is more specific to the tourist sites. I’m curious to your view on that Jason?

  177. All my paintings have names, which usually develop as I am painting. Sometimes the perfect name just springs to mind, and if it doesn’t I give the painting a descriptive title and rechristen it when the perfect name comes to me. The painting is mine and I feel free to name and rename it as I see fit. I had a professor who gave me good advice about titling work. He said that it is good to give a title that gives the viewer some room for thought and (hopefully!) ownership. I have found his advice to be sound.

  178. “Titles” may seem to us as artists to be either totally inconsequential (After all, ‘the work speaks for itself’, right?) or we may consider them as helping enlighten the viewer/purchaser as to our intent with our creation/design. And we are ‘right’ both ways!

    However, if we are interested in ‘connecting’ with the viewer and/or making a sale, titles actually become VERY important! Purchases of art are made two basic ways-by ‘head’ or by ‘heart’. Purchases by ‘head’ are usually because a buyer believes in the financial value of the work (or because it matches the sofa! Arrgh!) A purchase made by ‘heart’ can be due to an immediate visceral connection with the piece itself. In these economic times, if the price of the piece causes wavering, the buyer needs additional support for their selection. Savy gallery personnel can assist the artist here, as can discussion with the artist. But we cannot always rely on someone else to help us make that sale, and many artists are uncomfortable with the money aspect of art as a business or simply do not wish to connect personally with their audience. This is where the right title comes into play! The title can actually be THE selling point of the piece when the right connection is made. It can also be a ‘deal breaker’ if the words chosen for the title evoke a negative response in the viewer.

  179. At first I did paintings I thought would sell: still life, landscapes, and nature studies. I call these now, “my lesser works,” and remember being irritated with the naming process. I still do them, (but have become more selective in what I paint), and usually just slap-on a title, like, “Pheasant One.” Then I found my “voice” with figure studies, and with that, the naming process became a pleasure and titles became integral parts of the paintings themselves… “Besides the image the viewer sees on canvas, (which may be open to several layers of interpretation already), I’ve found that the title of a painting can add yet another dimension to the viewing experience… ” It’s worth noting too that during the few times my work has appeared in public, I’ve found that the titles with more symbolic meanings — rather than those of more literal or obvious ones — tend to be conversation starters. People want to know why I’ve named a painting, e.g., “Blue Hunger,” (or need to know the meaning of a title), and they’ll make their way over just to ask. This has led to some wonderful interactions with people I may not have otherwise met.

  180. I read this article with some thought. I title my work. I agree that artists who do not title their work are either lacking and had nothing to say or are lazy and have not completed their idea. I personally do not like untitled as an explanation of a work. I have had another phenomena happen and that is the title grows into being shorten by the viewers and the new title seems to just stick… It intrigues me when I see people really look at a work and kind of identify with the title and look at the work a long time. I have a painting that has a long title 90% of the time people will stop talk about it and make the comment, “I really like your Ghost picture”. I still have the original, but I have sold all the reproductions- now I just refer to it as, “The Ghost.”

    I would be reluctant to name something after a work done by another artist or even imply that it was a growth off another’s work. On a negative sounding title –in this case—I really think that it depends. Maybe the painting needs an explanation added- rather than a title change.

    I enjoyed this discussion.

  181. I agree with all of the above. A title is very important if it is the right one!
    I choose my titles during the creative process; it is usually during the phase one of the art work that the painting begins to “talk” to me; as I establish a “dialogue” with it, it will talk to me in a poetic manner. At that point, I listen carefully to the “artist within” and his dialogue with the color; there is magic in their conversation and I swiftly write down thoughts and feelings that come up. When I finished the artwork, a short title springs naturally from the same inner dialogue during the creative process. To make sure I do not lose it, I write it in ink on the back of the artwork.
    My collectors seem to be equally attracted by the dynamic of colors as well as by the titles.

  182. The title is part of the piece. This also goes for untitled work. It’s part of the communication with the viewer. If you give the viewer of a semi-abstract piece some extra information such as “Pond Scum,” you are increasing your direction of the viewers interpretation. If you leave the piece untitled, you’re leaving it more open to interpretation. If the only goal here (which I honestly doubt) is selling as much as possible, you can probably find some research somewhere about which words people will readily pay for. Or you might try titles that allude to sex and food, etc.

  183. Might I add that the curator has as much business telling you how to title your work as hes has telling you how to paint it.

  184. I really appreciate this conversation. I love to title my work and occasionally have conversations with people about it. It is refreshing to hear everyone’s comments about this great subject. I think it is important that the title have the same frequency as the work – that the two resonate. The title is a window into the artist’s perception of their own work. When making an environmental statement, about global warming or contaminated water, or whatever, I feel it is important to present it in a way that the viewer can digest the message and take it into themselves.

  185. TO ME, the name is important so I do name mine. If you don’t think the name is important, that’s cool too. It helps me to inventory and also identify work when talking about it to people. Often, I have the working title running through my mind as I am working or think of the name months before I start. Sometimes, I finish and ask my witty daughter for help titling. I think the only thing that matters is what is important to the artist. If you are an urban industrial artist, you wouldn’t use a floaty flowery title. Any title may carry a negative connotation OR positive. Every negative connotation could promote a sale OR block it. You cannot worry that church ladies won’t buy work that says dam. Name it what you FEEL, that is what will promote sales. If someone names their work “untitled,” how is that less creative than naming it something that their facebook “friends” chose? Your work should be YOU as well as your titles or untitles. I think I gotta make something now and untitle it to be a jerk. I’ll say I used up all my creativity in the piece. BLAM.

  186. Titles do make a difference! I had one very clear experience of this. A woman contacted me a few years ago and was interested in coming by my studio to see some work. During her visit, there was one piece that she was clearly drawn to but left saying that she wanted a couple of days to think about it. I followed up with her a few days later and she decided to purchase the piece. When she came by to pick up the painting, she shared that her hesitancy had to do with the title of the painting, “drown.” She had had a near drowning experience when she was younger and she had to figure out if she could reframe the meaning of the painting in a way that would allow her to feel comfortable living with it. She obviously did because she made the purchase, but the title clearly had an affect on her thoughts about owning the work.

  187. It can become difficult to keep coming up with names when you paint certain types (I do mostly lake scenes in my landscapes). I usually name the lake in the scene. Most of my sales are local/reginal so people know the place I am painting and they like having it names. (Many of us enter shows before we know which painting we will bring, and there the titles are generally not so hot, as they are required to be very general!) I also do abstract expressionist work and I title all of them usually with a feeling or mood. If I make a title specific, it causes the viewer to see something in it. I prefer to let them do that. The other day one saw a hummingbird in one, another saw a cat in another. That lets them get into the painting – I tell them it makes them interactive – .It’s a good way to get into conversations with visitors at shows or fairs, by asking what THEY see in the painting. I use names like “determined”, “feelings,” “color patterns”, “red hot,” “luminous” , “patriotic”, “blue montage,” “organic shapes” to name a few. I really am turned off my artists labeling theirs “#1, # 2, etc. It does seem like they are painting on an assembly line!

  188. My work can be quite whimsical and I try to come up with catchy puns for my work. I will relay two short stories about selling art work with titles. The first was at a local University show. My would be client told me when she contacted me to buy the painting, that the minute she saw the painting (of two cows) that she fell in love with it. She then told me that once she read the title, she knew she had to buy it! (The title was Milk Duds). The second was at an outdoor art festival and as I was wrapping up a significant sale, the wife of the purchaser asked me for the “tag” that titled the piece. She said she found it very interesting what artists named their pieces and kept track of the titles of their purchased art work. I’ve concluded, at least for me, that titles are important to sales. It also can break the ice when people chuckle at a title, enticing them to stay a little bit longer.

  189. I sell most of my paintings through eBay, and I keep very careful track of my sales, the prices the auctions ended at, the titles, who bought them, and out of curiosity, I track where in the world they get shipped to. My findings have shown very clearly and decisively that when the painting had a cute name, or one that tugged at the heart-strings, the bidding nearly doubled in almost every case. My titles are a part of the listings, and as people scroll down, the title comes before the photo, and gives everyone something to expect and look for in the painting that follows, and since I only paint birds these days, coming up with a new name for each of the 3 paintings that do every day can sometimes be a headache. And when I allow the headache to get in the way of taking the time to find a good name that gives the painting a “personality”, my sales truly suffer. Big time.

  190. The key thought here is “Titles matter if you are producing the work to sell”. But like all art the degree of importance of the title is based on your target audience. For Example:
    1. A quote from a purchaser: : ” I don’t know why the artist painted the picture but I just like the colors and it goes with the decor in my room”. Conclusion; They could care less about the title.

    2. A quote from a juror on why they gave the painting a first prize: “That painting won because the artist did an outstanding job of presenting the visual image of his subject. Conclusion: The title puts words to what the artist is trying to convey.

    3. A quote from a person that bought a painting as a conversation piece for quests in his home:
    ” The artist speaks to me emotionally about the old west and the artist made the buffalo seem so real. Conclusion: The buyer wants to be able to talk about his purchase and the title verbalize what the artist had in mind. The title might have read. (The west before the white man came).

    This may seem very commercial but , in my opinion, the importance of the title is based on the audience the artist wants to reach.

  191. The degree of importance of the title is based on your target audience. For Example:
    1. A quote from a purchaser: : ” I don’t know why the artist painted the picture but I just like the colors and it goes with the decor in my room”. Conclusion; They could care less about the title.
    2. A quote from a juror on why they gave the painting a first prize: “That painting won because the artist did an outstanding job of presenting the visual image of his subject. Conclusion: The title puts in words as to what the artist is trying to convey.
    3. A quote from a person that bought a painting as a conversation piece for quests in his home:
    ” The artist speaks to me emotionally about the old west and the artist made the buffalo seem so real. Conclusion: The buyer wants to be able to talk about his purchase and the title verbalizes what the artist had in mind. The title might have read. (The west before the white man came).

  192. For me, titles are usually very important. I too have had direct experience with images (I’m a photographer) not selling well because of their title, especially if the image is in the form of something like a greeting card.

    When titling I try to incorporate:
    1. Something that hints of what the image is.
    2. Something that suggests my what my intention or interpretation of the subject is.
    3. Something that does not alienate the viewer and has a poetic quality.

    I definitely don’t always stick to this. To a certain extent it depends on who I think my audience is going to be for the work or my own feelings about the subject matter.

    When I’ve encountered work from other artists that has no title at all, not even the words “Untitled”, I tend to interpret that as saying they don’t care about the pieces all that much. I think a buyer might too.

  193. I definitely agree with those in favor of titling. It is an extension of the artwork and the artist’s ‘voice’. I love Martin Webster’s cautionary tale what can happen if you don’t title and the significance of a title in Nolan Haan’s example.

    Interestingly, most comments on the title words ‘Contaminated Water’ and ‘Pond Scum’ were perceived to be negative and, well, disgusting. I respectfully disagree. I think most are responding to the slang meaning of the term pond scum. Pond scum is a naturally occurring alga growth in still bodies of water and can be very beautiful. It doesn’t have anything to do with pollution. There are all sorts of natural ‘contaminants’ in ponds. Ponds are full of living creatures performing all the usual bodily functions. It’s all part of life and it’s all beautiful. Again, not necessarily to do with manmade pollution. But, speaking of pollution, we all know how air pollution is responsible for some of the most beautiful sunsets we see today. So, to say that these words are somehow discordant with the beautiful artwork I feel misses the point entirely. Jean, I don’t have a problem with these titles at all. They are an integral part of the artwork. To alter the titles, to prettify them would, in my opinion, reduce the work to decorative art.

    And just look at all the discussion of your work they have created! Both on this site and at that exhibit. I say, stay true to your vision and to your message. They will sell to someone who understands and appreciates them.

  194. I think it is a ‘No Brainer’…why would you NOT title your work???

    It’s like “to be or not to be”!!


    When an artwork leaps it’s emotions,it gives itself the title;i don’t give a title;the artwork informs me;i listen because an artwork is a question.’Art defines itself’.The ‘spirit’ permeates the pores of my concepts and each image ‘reads’ exact emotions that relate them to the given event so, I don’t marry to the ‘content’ of my art;only to the ‘spirit’ of the ‘content’. Some lessons in art cannot be taught,they ‘MUST’ be ‘lived’ to ‘LEARN’ them.A title describes.However,i cannot describe it,its too ‘spiritual’ to express,it is the same expressive ‘ENERGY’ as the work itself,transfused between energies.A ‘title’, is an inspiration,evoked from an awakening reality in which the visible world and the interior reality interpenetrate and fused.The ‘ACCENT’ should be placed on the ‘POWER’ of the ‘EMOTION’. To give an a appropriate title,you need to see the ‘INVISIBLE’; only if the viewer can ‘LISTEN’!!!

    By John Powell

  196. In my experience, titles can really add the the work. A plain title like “Horse “, or “Iris” tends to make people look and say,” Oh, it is a horse, or it is a flower, ” then move to the next painting in the gallery. But if the title is intruguing, they pause longer at the work to try and see if the title fits or leads them to parts of the painting. Anything that can make a potential client stop and take a second look at the painting is great. I had a friend that did a close view of bittersweet. Instead of naming it “Bittersweet”, she titled it “The Race” because it reminded her of a childhood memory of racing through the woods with her friends to see who could find the most bittersweet. I can’t tell you how many people asked about the title and really looked at the painting. It sold in two days.

  197. I worked in a gallery for a number of years. Over time I saw people fall in love with a piece until they looked at the title. This happened a number of times. In each case the sale was not made and the comment was “Why would they name it that?” It has lead me to be very careful about naming my pieces.

  198. Hi Jason – This is an intriguing subject and I’m glad you’ve brought it up for comment. I’ve had times when I didn’t want to title a work, but looking back, I realize it was because I wasn’t entirely satisfied with the painting. I simply wasn’t proud of the final product. But I do feel if an artist is satisfied with a piece of art it should be given the artist’s seal of approval – a title, and borrowing from your illustration of not sending a child out into the world without a name, the title will serve as confirmation of its worthiness as the piece of art goes out the door in the hands of a buyer.

  199. I agree with Jason’s advise. L love your work. When I’m creating a new piece I keep a running list of potential titles. I also solicit title ideas from all who see the work in progress. I like titles provide a little humor or might give the viewer a second way of looking at a piece.

    Many decades ago as a high school senior I did a series of photos on water pollution. My art teacher asked to show the slide series in the cafeteria during lunch to make a point. But, high school kids love grossness. I’m nought it inspired them to fight for clean water.

  200. A painting to me is a labor of love, just like motherhood; I spend nine months nourishing my body, envisioning what my child would be like and what name will I give this special human being growing inside of me. That name will follow him or her for life. When I create a painting and sell it, I can only hope it will find a new home that will give it love and enjoy what I have created, a name only seems appropiate for this special creation.

  201. In my opinion titles are extremely important. I have closed many a sale based on the relationship of title and work. Primarily, the work will speak to a customer, but if in addition, the title also makes a connection to that person, I find it’s almost a guaranteed sale.

  202. I have never sold a painting without a name. Names intrigue, entice, encourage conversation. The art is always connected to its name. Often I write a poem or name the work before I even start it, making it more memorable. Trust me… your work.

    Love, Jennie

  203. I began painting dogs and bears at an early age. I admired the works of artists such as Robert Bateman, John Seerey-Lester, Terry Issac and other wildlife artists. One painting by Carl Brenders of a polar bear and her twin cubs has always stuck in my mind because the title, “Mother of Pearls”, was so perfectly in tune with the feeling depicted of her cubs as precious gems. Every time I think of polar bears, it’s Carl Brenders’ beautiful painting that comes to mind, lingers, and inspires me. That’s what a title should do for a painting; it should bring back all the emotional impact it evoked when it was first viewed.

  204. I think titles are essential and, yes, it’s not always easy to assign the right one. For record-keeping, and purchase requests it just makes the identification of the correct piece easier. I try to keep the titles simple and if I can manage something that can be interpreted several ways, all the better.

  205. I agree that titles are important. They are important from the perspective of the viewer because they enlighten and help them to tune in with what the artist was saying. They are important to the artist because of essentially the same reason – they assist in making whatever statement the artist desires. That said, I agree that they are touchy! They can definitely impact a sale if they make a statement the viewer doesn’t want to hear, such as with negative words. However, if the artist has painted a piece in which they are wishing to make a strong statement, do they really want to dilute that by not being honest in the title?
    I personally struggle with this because many of my paintings are of a spiritual nature although they are often abstract enough or suggestive enough that the viewer might not know they carry a Christian message. I know that if I name it honestly, some will be turned off and not buy, yet if I don’t name it honestly, I have diluted the message I am impassioned to deliver.
    So, I guess how I title it comes back to whether I am trying to say something with my painting and, if so, why not say it with words as well as paint?
    Regarding the specific instance that raises these questions, I am very uncomfortable with inserting another artist’s name (such as Monet in this case) in the title unless, of course, Monet’s work was truly part of the inspiration or message being painted.

  206. My titles themselves are easy, since my paintings are of places. What I don’t know yet is how much potential buyers who have not actually seen the location that I painted, would be interested in them.

  207. Yes!i have seen a few artworks that wasn’t given a title.However,all artworks has their own titles,whether it is literally given or not;It takes some time to give an artwork a title,while at times it just flow right in your face while creating it.The process of giving a title is a creative dialogue as like creating art;It is not as easy as people may think it is.I just recently changed a title of one of my paintings,which fused better with the piece.NB.But Jason,i think the next BIG topic is an (ARTIST STATEMENT);what it should be,how one should write it…?

  208. Titles are important! But words not only illuminate, they also limit so it’s tricky. I try to stay relatively general to keep the interpretations open–sometimes I really struggle and just hope the painting will speak for itself–the true goal.

  209. I am always disappointed when I see “Untitled” on a label. How I title my photography can vary from the emotion I feel to the location to what is being photographed. I use a thesaurus a lot in titling my pieces or even show titles, especially in a case such as the one we are commenting on where the word in my head may not be inviting or sometimes in my case just sounds boring to me. It helps me get the point across with a more creative name and stay true to the roots at the same time. In my condensed thesaurus the word contaminate comes up with: adulterate, befoul, corrupt, debase, defile, sully, taint. They all mean the same thing but take on a more Shakespearean tone. I have fellow photographers who have commented on how disappointing it is to see a great abstract photo and then look at the title and have it titled “Pear”. They felt it was just too blunt and took all the wonder and intrigue out of the piece. That has always stayed with me especially when titling an abstract piece.

  210. Artwork should be title for two reasons; first, as an artist I want to attach my thoughts, feeling or emotions to the piece and second, as the viewer I want to understand the artist and what he/she tried to convey in the work, in this way the title plus the visual together allow a glimpse into the artist’s soul, sort of speak.
    If the artist approaches this with honesty, it will most likely have a positive impact regardless of the title chosen, therefore, changing the title after the fact in order to be more appealing to some audiences puts the honesty of the piece in question.

  211. I can’t read 217 comments, but I will add a comment of my own, anyway. I am a sculptor, and for forty some years I have made tree sculptures- lots and lots of tree sculptures! After about 1000 pieces one tends to run out of titles. So, I generally just title a piece, “Aspen grove in October” or some such thing, over and over. At least it is an identifying tag. But here is a story. Many years ago, when I was sculpting desert animals, I decided to put on not only titles, but a descriptive narrative on each piece. For example, I would write: “Wiley coyote. As I was inching my was down a desert wash a few weeks ago I came around a bend and there right in front of me was a big coyote. I don’t know who was the most surprised- me or the coyote. But we each kind of turned aside and walked non-chalantly out of opposite sides of the wash as if we hadn’t really seen each other. A few yards down the wash I dared to turn to see if he was following me, and, sure enough, there he was, not forty yards off, peeking out from around a creosote bush. Again we each looked away and sauntered off alone. “Well, I’ll be!” I thought. ” I bet that critter saw me coming and will track me all the way back to my car. I didn’t see him again, but he shadowed me, no doubt. Tricky old dog.” Well, let me tell you, those personal touches added a flourish to the sculptures that opened a conversation- a conversation that I always steered toward a sale. We can learn a lot from Coyote the Trickster.

  212. I title my work because I have to–if I was honest about the titles, I would always title them something like “Study in contrast”, or “Flowing curve”, because that is what I was concentrating on, but that would not reflect the subject matter which could be an orchid, or a landscape. The comments have given me a lot to think about with my next work. I will approach naming them with a different viewpoint, and see if it increases sales. Thanks for giving me a new challenge.

  213. After many years of trying to come up with the most evocative and resonant titles possible, I have finally given up. People have their own context, their own frame of reference for the work, and they will name it what they want no matter what titles I choose. This fact has been made evident repeatedly in my conversations with viewers of my work. A title is one more distraction that prevents the viewer from dealing directly with the object sharing their space. It is a literary imposition, a small vanity thrown out like a livesaver in a sea which can only be navigated directly by the senses. Although there are still titles on some works on my website, the works in my recent exhibits have been identified only by inventory numbers or sequential numbers tied to thumbnail images. Why not allow the viewer the pleasure of naming to go along with the pleasure of looking?

  214. After I have compledte over a thousand paintings, titles were more of a challange than before. However, some artist use numbers instead of titles. I don’t like this either. When I see a photo of a nice painting with a number, it reminds me of prison mugshots and inmate number. No matter how lovely the art is.
    We put a lot of blood sweat and tears into our atr creations, so as with our childern, we must choose good names along with names appropiate to the art. Treat all your art with love and dignity with titles and hopefully thay will reward you in return with honors and sales.

  215. Words are powerful. I hate a bad title, and it can discourage as much as a good title can encourage a buyer. An example of using a title to make a stronger statement: I rendered a calf standing next to a crate about it’s same size. The piece was titled “Veal”. For many people it was acceptable until they read the title; just like it’s acceptable to eat veal until you see how those calves are treated. The viewer is always part of the art you can manipulate their emotions and thoughts about your work through the title. I also did a piece with an idyllic lake scene and a boat with a man rowing with a burlap bag hanging over the side of the boat. Its title is, “Sack of Puppies”. In this case painting and title are essential elements in an over all impression of the work. I’m totally fucking with the viewer. I sold one of those pieces immediately the other I hold onto. I will not compromise my art for a sale and that’s what a collector wants from an artist. All anyone wants is some truth.

    Decorative art has a huge market and who gives a shit about the titles as long as it “fits” with ones decor. If you love paint then paint and sell your heart out and title it red#1 red #2 etc. it really doesn’t matter.

    My current work has the same sort of sneakiness. If you don’t know the language to describe your work ask your friends to help you. Titles are tools just like paint brushes and facebook. Be soft, be outrageous, be creative, but don’t tell the whole story. A viewer owns a piece once they figure out it’s meaning before their friends do. It’s a privilege, like knowing a secret. The title is just another level of your art and the first thing a potential buyer looks at after they’ve decide they like that piece. Why would you fuck it up?

  216. I have a very difficult time with titles, and honestly, most of my buyers see a painting as a visual experience and don’t focus much on the title. They are either drawn to it or they are not. If they allow a title to influence their decision about a painting, then I don’t really consider them serious. It become an excuse or a deflection from purchasing. That said, I have always titled them anyway because in school it was emphasized that not titling the work meant it did not mean enough to the artist. I really don’t believe that and sometimes I am so spellbound by the final result of a painting that I am unable to title it right away. I finally decided to wait until I photograph them for my inventory and then assign the title so it gave me some space from my initial reaction. That seems to work the best for me. I do agree that the title can become a distraction and I have sometimes spent way too much time explaining the titles during an art fair when I should have been selling or addressing other potential buyers. As far as keeping accurate records are concerned, if they are numbered the record keeping is easier. I also think it would be fun to be able to say to the viewer, “What do you think the title should be?” I have had purchasers turn my paintings upside down when framing so obviously it becomes theirs the minute they pay for it and I have learned a lot from that experience.

    I think what it really comes down to is that each artist has to do what works for them. You can’t put it in a can and put a label on it. Art is just too subjective for that!

  217. I find titles to be very important for my work and sales. I agree with all the comments above that were positive about people taking a longer look at a work that had an interesting title. Titles come to me as I work on a piece or may be on my list of subjects to paint. How about this title for a self portrait ???
    “My Mother’s Daughter” I still get comments for that!!! Or ” The Day Between Yesterday and Today”
    Makes you think, doesn’t it ??? Rosalie

  218. Naming a piece is simply another way of communicating insights about the art and the artist. To leave a work untitled, in my opinion, is unhelpful. Creating a title for a piece can be just as challenging in creating the art, however, I often ask myself if I want the viewer to “wonder” about my emotive intent, particularly my abstracts. Buyers and observers of art look to the artist to offer some form of communication, and naming a piece is one aspect that helps the viewer approach the work.

  219. Hi Jason –
    Good question. I do ‘abstracted figurative’ paintings; I like having (indications of) people in my paintings. Because of these two attributes, I believe it helps to title the painting. While my paintings can often have several interpretations, at least it suggests my own view. As for the actual title, yes this can be difficult. I am one of those who allow the painting to suggest it’s own title – sometimes it comes easily and sometimes not. I have sometimes indicated to buyers that they are welcome to invent a ‘sub-title’ to help make it more their own.

  220. Absolutely titles are important. They can help clearify a subject for a viewer in understanding the artist thoughts or vision in creating the piece. Clients often ask me, “What were you thinking when you painted this piece?” A clue might be in the title. I think it is the final cohesiveness in creating any art.

  221. That is not really the question, it has been my experience that everything gets named, either for bookkeeping/ inventory purposed or by eventual owner. If you don’t title it, it will become something like “the blue painting in the guest bathroom”.
    The question is, does the artist title or live with whatever evolves (and they may well ignore your title anyway)

  222. I only receintly understood the importance of a title. I have painted in a photorealistic style for over 20 years, and have always “labeled” each piece by the still life subject. For my upcoming show at the Red Door Gallery I have given the latest pieces a title that captured what feeling that I have about the subject. I now feel the title should evolve, almost like a nick name for someone you are very fond of. For example, I painted a large stick of lipstick and I have called it “Lip Candy.” If you listen the painting it will tell you it’s name!
    I really think you also should find an artist friend that you respect, and after nameing the piece, ask them if the paintings’ name represents the piece. This will help artists truely traslate the essence of the painting to the viewer. If the name of the painting does not connect to the artwork the client will feel they are stupid and “don’t get the piece” and simply walk away. Noone will buy a piece of artwork without having an understanding of the piece, and the title is part of the piece. I have been told this time and time again.

  223. Well, folks whether we like it or not it seems that we must be able to articulate our intent and process regardless of what media we choose to work in. The title of the piece seems like a good place to start. I really liked Richard Bell Smith taking this to another level with his back story on his coyote sculpture. I recently hung a show of vintage motel signs and historic buildings and I did a similar though more abreviated version by either giving a little history about each place and if I couldn’t find anything on it then my experience with it. I see a whole new possibility opening up for me as continue to seek out these disappearing landmarks.

  224. Words matter in everything we do or say. Sometimes it’s tedious, but if you’re positive about it, it can be fun. A title should come from what you were trying to relay with a piece of art. A title can broaden the effect of the painting, sculpture, etc. And, how would you keep an inventory of or keep track of your work if you didn’t have titles? How would you know one painting of yours from another? I realize that it’s difficult for some artists to think in terms of words, but they are important in order to convey your thoughts to people who come in contact with your work. And, when it’s possible, it would be good to have a name for the series of paintings, etc. that you’re working on. This helps to identify what your work, in general, is all about. Then, there’s the artist’s statement, and the importance of the right words that convey why you do what you do. Once again, some artists may have difficulty writing an artist’s statement. Then, find someone who loves to write and is good at it, start w/your thoughts and passions, and then work with the writer to come up with the best artist’s statement ever. And, don’t pay attention to any non-artist who tells you what the title should be. Just smile, and say that that’s something to think about.

  225. Titles or not?
    I always title my works. There are a few reasons that I believe in this. Firstly it helps you tell the intended story in the work. I find when I use a title that hits the mark so to say, it gives the viewer a reference point to understanding what the piece is all about. It sort of allows a person to search a little more into the work. Secondly a great title will stick in someones mind and even if they have a hard time verbalizing a discription of the work to someone else, it is often the title that will remain forefront in their memory. Then they can go to your website or catalogue or gallery and ask for a specific work.
    In these times we are reliant on labels of all sorts. Insurance companies also like to see a title on work that they need to catalogue for their own purposes. A title just adds to the piece being more easily identifiable to more people.
    That being said, a poorly thought out title can confuse the viewer and take away from the story in the work. If you can’t think of a good one, then make it a fun thing for the viewer to do. I had a sculpture once that I did not name before its first show, so I placed a suggestion sheet beside it and was amazed at how many people returned over and over to see all the names in the list. We chose a title from the list and I gave the winner a print and a big thank you. It made for an intersting show addition!
    Diane M Anderson
    Tymarc Art Studio

  226. I sold a painting to a customer because she loved the title. Another painting I had for years called “GASP” I changed the title to “BAPTISM” and it sold quickly. Then I started selling prints of it. It was a woman and her hands coming out of water . A title really does matter. I put more effort now into trying to come up with one to help the viewer relate and hopefully see it in a positive manner.

  227. I love choosing titles for my paintings. Sometimes they come to me while I’m working on them and sometimes I have to find one after I finish. If you have trouble naming your paintings, go to a music dictionary, mythology, Shakespeare anthology, or the Bible. Then on the other hand, some of my looser non-objective pieces go by the names Improv #1, Improv#2 and so on. A friend did a very droll picture of a frog complete with crown. When she asked me what I thought a good title might be, I immediately thought, “KISSED BY THE BEST”.

  228. love this question as it strikes at the root of what most of us seek to do with our work : relate, inform, question and ultimately, connect with the receiver of our “message”.

    i have given “names” to all of my pieces but one. i left her “untitled” because i didn’t want to push my feelings for creating it on anyone else. it has been magical too because everyone responds to her in a different way. i love hearing what she represents to them and i am often moved by the depth of feeling she evokes in others….feelings completely different than my creative intent.

    so i don’t believe there is a “one size fits all” answer to this important question. as your pieces evolve, titles will either present themselves or should you choose otherwise, not at all.

    best wishes….

  229. Art will or will not resonate visually with the viewer. If the viewer is interested, he/she will step forward for another glimpse into the artist’s soul generously provided by the title.

    “Untitled” is always a let down for me.

  230. I partly agree with Jason. The title should fit. This work is beautiful and the title does not seem to fit. However, it seems that the artist is trying to convey a part of her own personal life experiences into the work and therefore it seems to work with her personal overall views. Thus it does fit …as long as she is consistent in her art; meaning all the artists [art] paths lead to the same message then it works. And people will get it. If this message by the artist will stimulate sales………well that is a different story and intent.
    breathe and smile

  231. We bought an abstract that we call Pond Scum. The actual title is on the back, but no longer have any idea what it is without taking it down.

  232. I was excited to see an article about whether or not to title artwork. However, the article should probably be “Whether Gene Should Retitle Her Artwork.” About that, I’m not as focused. Just my thought.

  233. My titles are not particularly creative in most cases as I work primarily in portraits so the name of the person in the painting is the logical thing to put there. But, when I’m working on more “anonymous” pieces like children playing on the beach, then my titles are more creative (at least I hope so). Back in 2018 my local cooperative gallery had a member’s show that featured abstracts. I did a small, piece that was a swirl and splashes of various colors including red and black and lots of gold and called it “The White House: 2018”. I got lots of eye rolls from several members of the gallery because I live in a very Red county. Ironically, that piece was the ONLY one to sell out of the whole show. It went to a couple visiting from out of state.

  234. Sometimes the piece IS the title. I can write a poem consisting of a series of disjointed images that makes little sense all by itself, but is tied together by a title. I guess that’s the title’s main job. The question is do I want to hand my reader that interpretation, or have them get there without me. Will they get there without me? Will they care enough, if they have to wade through thick, verbose couplets and concern themselves with every word, every enjambed syllable? naaah, not even a student of poetry does that all the time. I can say “well to hell with those readers then” and go to the grave feeling misunderstood as an artist. Or I can meet the present moment, and admit that it’s not only “kids today” who are lazy readers and thinkers – they have always been! a title can hold their hand and gently guide them into your meaning. They’ll be fooled by that line space that the title isn’t just another bunch of words in the piece, that it is somehow “meta” and speaks ABOUT the piece. Really, it is like a jealous god that wants no other god elevated above it. Is a title then artistic tyranny?

  235. I travel outside my state very little therefore I paint my beautiful state of SC. Since my paintings are locally recognizable they can be easily titled with either location reference or a creative expression of representation. People will ask if the painting is a certain location which generates conversation. Even if their suggested location is wrong I can usually jumping in there and initiate a convo about a comparable scene in my state. I am always looking for an open door. I am not a good sales person so I’ve learned to rely on titles and excellent scenes to sell the artwork. I would much rather be painting than marketing but they have to coexist.

  236. I have been, up until the last couple of years, quite ambivalent toward titles.
    The reason is that for all of my work, as I work through the image-making, I think about where I started and what has happened along the way.
    Each piece for me has a personal journey attached and titles were sometimes insurmountable obstacles until-
    I realized the title is kind of a personal observation and not necessarily an indication to the other viewers as to what frame of reference to look for.
    James MacNeil Whistler was also concerned about how his paintings appeared. He was adamant that the viewer should see the paint and the effect of composition. His titles ended up like “Arrangement in Grey – the Artist’s Mother”, or “Nocturne in blue and silver – the Cremorne Lights”.
    By pointing the viewer away from the subject matter, energizes their interest to explore their relationship to the image rather than the narrative presented as I see it.

  237. i believe a painting should have a title and often today, the buyer wants ” the Story” behind the painting. By the time I finish a painting I am brain dead so I often put it up on social media and ask my followers to name it. I have gotten some really good ttitles by doing that.

  238. Wow! So many insightful and thoughful comments…I’ve enjoyed reading all the perspectives. As a gallery owner, I know first hand that a great title can sell a painting far more than a bad one, or one with no meaning. Often times, I help artists come up with titles when they’re undecided on one when they bring new work into the gallery. Sometimes they’re surprised with what I come up with because I’m basing it on my first impression of the artwork. They either say, “You nailed it!” or I get, “Geez, I’ve been working on this so long and I never thought of this piece that way.” This often leads to a discussion and a back story about the piece and the journey they have taken as an artist during their creative process. I learn so much about the artist and the artwork in these moments that are invaluable in helping me sell the art piece to a collector. Even a landscape of a popular painted national park can turn into a vibrant story about an artist scaling up a cliff with their easel and waiting until the light over the horizon cast upon the mountain at the perfect moment and they captured it. The feelings and emotions that they felt in that moment that helped them create their piece is the story I need to connect the collector with the artwork to help them fall in love with it even more, and that can lead to a wonderful title.

    So please, dear artists, give some thought to your titles, if you need help with the title, share your stories with your gallerists, no matter how personal they are…we want to hear them. We care about you and your artwork and are so excited to share you with the world. We wouldn’t have you in our gallery or less we believed in you and your work. The biggest compliment I hear from visitor’s to the gallery is that how much they enjoy my enthusiasm for my artists and the artwork, they love the stories behind the titles and the work itself, and they often buy because the experience was so pleasant and personal for them and they really have connected and fallen in love with the piece.

  239. Took a look at the Contaminated Water series.

    What struck me immediately about the series is that they are all about patterns dancing across the canvas surface. Agree you can’t change the titles now, but also agree that you locked in what the viewer WILL see AFTER learning the title. (The words “pond scum” makes me think about mosquitoes, not natural or man-made scum.)

    Your work invites the imagination, just as looking up at clouds invites the imagination. I think your titles might do better to allow the imagination more room to wiggle in?

  240. I am glad that you decided not to rename your work. I think that a title may be important, but it is only one way in which your art is speaking to the viewer. If the title has a hint of negativity, I don’t think it always layers the piece with negativity or hides the beauty within the piece. I also think that beauty can be found within things we might deem “ugly” so as the creator you may want to title your piece from what inspired its creation. The title then allows viewers to recognize the dichotomy that is represented in the piece.

    I have a series of abstract barns that I have simply titled Barn 1, Barn 2, etc. It wasn’t for lack of imagination, but that each barn was derived from the same subject (our barn in Michigan). I simply changed the color palette, style, medium, or other characteristic of the painting. Now that we have moved from Michigan. and we no longer own a barn I may be forced to title my barns based on geographic location. The barns are designed to be colorful, abstract, nice to look at. Peaceful and not overly complicated. So a numbered system for the series seemed to work.
    Otherwise, I typically title my work based on the feeling, emotion, or message I am trying to express.

  241. I would not dream of not titling a work. I don’t title for sales/marketing but to further express the raison d’être of the piece. A title says something about the artist’s POV as much as the work does, and my collectors collect my work because of that very something both (piece & title) say to them.

  242. there are thousands of collies and german shepherds …all beautiful, but everybody remembers Lassie and RinTinTin ! they needed names !

  243. Your thoughtful analysis of the pros and cons of titling artwork are truly enlightening. As an experienced artist myself, I couldn’t agree more with your point that a title can help to provide context and depth to a piece of art. A well-chosen title can add an extra layer of meaning and interpretation, allowing viewers to engage with the work on a deeper level. That being said, I also appreciate your acknowledgement of the potential drawbacks of titling artwork. Overall, your post offers valuable insights for artists grappling with this decision, and I think it’s a topic that many artists will find thought-provoking. Great job!

  244. I’ve only been painting for five years, and I haven’t sold any of my work yet, so take what I say with a massive grain of salt.

    I prefer paintings to be named, and the more interesting the better. To me, it’s a way into the painting—especially if it’s non-representational.

    I can understand, though, why some people might find naming difficult, or even hate it—especially after having to do it for years.

    I haven’t named many of my paintings, but I did have some fun naming some experimental pieces I made at a workshop a few months ago:

    I even cheekily named a piece ‘Turner’s Lost Masterpiece’. So, maybe ‘Monet’s Pond’ isn’t so bad. 😆

    My feeling is that, depending on the piece, a name like ‘Contaminated Water #2: Pond Scum’ probably would put many people off buying it. The reality is, most people want art to be an uplifting experience, and that name doesn’t communicate that at all.

    Having said that, Jean has to be happy with the name, and, in my opinion, it has to come from an honest place in her. So, I don’t think she should change it if she believes that’s the right name for the painting.

  245. A painting that I love even more because of its title is the New Zealand artist Colin McCahon’s “Tomorrow will be the same but not as this is”:


    The painting, by itself, is intriguing, but the title adds a whole other level.

    I keep coming back to it, trying to understand what it means. But every time, it’s more of a feeling that I get.

  246. Wow! So MANY responses. This is clearly an important topic – and a difficult one for many artists. Most artists think visually, not in words, yet a painting is always seen through its title, whether we artists like it or not. The solution I’ve found and passed on to the artists with whom I consult is this. Get a poetry book – from a poet you like, if possible, or a collection, if not. And use a few words, or a line or two from a real poet as your title. Credit it, of course. But this way, you have a title that comes from a source that is lyrical and yet “speaks” to you and to your art. And you do not have to struggle to get it. I’ve found that artists and clients both respond warmly to this solution. Afer all, poetry and metaphor are the literary bridges between prose and visual art…..

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