Titling an artwork can be one of the most difficult things an artist has to do. There are many things to be concerned about when naming a piece.
What if we choose the wrong one – the creation will be stuck with it forever after it is on display. What if the title does not bring more attention to the artwork? What if others think the title is unoriginal or uncreative.
In spite of all these concerns, a perfect title can be devised through a thorough study of your intent, and what you want the viewer to see in your artwork.
One thing artists should never do is call their gallery artworks “untitled”. Your title should say something about the content, and even elaborate on it. Sometimes it makes the artwork more understandable to the viewer, especially with abstract paintings and sculptures.
How do Artists Title Their Artworks
Here are a few tips, suggestions, and questions to help artists to title their art. It is advisable to write the answers out on a notepad or sketchbook and review them to help determine the perfect name.
- What is the artwork about? Try to write down words or short phrases for this part. The goal is to determine the optimal title, and you may very well do that in this first step.
- List a few words that describe your artwork. Listing the objects or forms, and general feelings you are trying to imply (happiness, anger, etc.) will help you develop a title.
- Once you have come up with two or three words, you may want to play with variations of words by finding synonyms. A great website for this is Thesaurus.com. Here you can type in your word and find several alternate words with the same meaning. Using unique words can help your title sound more original.
- What is the central, most important thing about the artwork, that you want others to understand or see? This may be the theme, an object, a feeling, etc.
- Do you want others to understand the artwork through the title, or do you want the title to keep the viewer in suspense? You may desire to not give anything away about the theme or underlying meaning, through the name.
- Why did you create the artwork? Who is it intended for? Answering these questions will help artists find a title that can be understood by the intended viewers.
More Advice to Name Art
- Make use of the online naming site for word combinations. Here you may insert one word to come up with different ones. These words are unique but you may have to be careful of being too cheesy.
- If you cannot figure out a descriptive title, especially for sketches, then simply include when it was produced, medium, subject matter, such as “Graphite Figure Drawing Study, Jan. 2009”
- Attempt to be original. If you choose a title, search for it on Google to find out how many other artworks have the same name. If an artist has found the perfect title, and don’t want to change it even though there are hundreds of other artworks with the same, even famous ones, then that is completely the artist’s choice. But, in doing so, the artist may have to be prepared to explain why the title is so cliche. Cliche may be fine if the intention is to be ironic.
- Try not to use big words that the viewer cannot understand. People should not normally need a thesaurus or Google search to find out the meaning… unless that is your intent. :-)
- Do not to give the whole meaning or intent with the title. Try to leave some room for viewers to explore the piece to figure out for themselves how the name relates to the piece. If you can successfully do this, then you have engaged the viewer.
- Generally, short titles work best. Names that ramble on and on, tend to bore the viewer.
- Many words people use have different meanings. Naming your artwork with such words can make your title ambiguous. If this is not something that you intend to do, then check on Thesaurus.com for different meanings for certain words.
- If you feel too close to the artwork to describe it, then ask an impartial friend to give you a few words and their feelings from the piece.
Naming art does not have to be challenging. With practice it can be part of the whole process of creating, and will eventually come naturally by use of these tips.