For many Artists, this is NOT even a question. They would feel incomplete to display a piece of sculpture, paintings, even jewelry, without some kind of title. They might decide to create a series and add numerical values to each piece, but somehow, they end up with a title.
Titles have many functions. They can create a sense of “place” or illicit a mood. They can project your persona. They can illustrate a specific point of view. They can also be totally irrelevant and create a sense of the “artsy fartsy” side of our industry. Or they can be profound, political (caution required!), and some can even make people laugh out loud. A good goal to have whenever possible!
Titles can “sell” the story and – very importantly – a title can sell the piece. This happens a lot with my jewelry line and it was integral to my abstract art photography business. The two pieces in the above photo, “Cliff” and “Yin Yang” were from the same piece of ancient copper flashing. My “perspective” is easily “illustrated” because of the titles.
Let’s not forget that art through the ages, the most collected, romanced, and famous, are known by their titles. If I say “Mona Lisa”, “Guernica”, or “The Scream”, you probably know who the artists are behind those titles. And in each case, we might even have insights into the artist when we view the work and know the titles. Titles make the pieces come alive.
Another example of titles that “make the pieces come alive” would be from one my favorite artists, Judy Hintz Cox. She goes crazy with titles and they add so much. Some add playfulness. Some add serenity. And some (of my favs) add deeper connections to our social consciousness.
Of course, it helps that she is a brilliant artist working in my favorite genre: large abstracts with minimalist tendencies in mainly monotone palettes.
What a title! Stage a Sit-in for Peace! Can it get more real? Can it be more evocative? Maybe my mind is just ready for a smiling moment, but so many of her titles just make me smile. This one did.
Connect to your target audience
One of the most important parts about creating titles is “speaking” directly to your audience’s expectations of you, your brand, and your personality. A title can extend your persona and educate and inform your collectors.
Titling your art brings your insights & mindset front and center. It humanizes your oeuvre. Click To Tweet
Of course, there is an elephant in the room. I can hear some of you saying, I am a ceramist. A coffee cup is just a coffee cup, isn’t it? Or maybe you are a weaver, leather artist, or a milliner. It’s rare that I see anything artfully constructed that won’t benefit from a title.
Maybe you paint florals and have many dozens of tulip paintings – in all varieties of colors. So, how many names can you come up with for a painting of red tulips?
It’s easier than you might think. You just need to grab a thesaurus and look up red. Here’s a section (about a third of the two-column list) for red.
When it comes to paintings or photographs, it gets more exciting. Just look up every color! Then use this formula. It can apply to an image of a tulip or an old barn. Here’s one for tulips. Just fill in the blanks:
(Color) ______ Tulips (verb)____ in the (noun)_____.
Here’s a sample of a filled-in title: Crimson Red Tulips Lavishing in the Morning Sun. Or Scarlet Moments Standing Tall in the Light of Dawn. For those who love a more stark message, imagine using just the word “dawn” or “daylight”. Red Dawn? Crimson Daylight?
And take some time to go look at titles of other artist’s work. Look back in history. Look at as many sources as you can. Then, find your voice. Find your rhythm. Find your niche and style. And invest in a thesaurus. My favorite is here on Amazon.
Sidebar: a decent thesaurus will come in handy for all your business writing needs. (Or just hire me!)
Be enticing with your titles
Dig into your artful center and find the descriptive word or words that will inspire a reaction from the viewers. Imagine your buyers and collectors. What will be enticing to them?
What is it about your work that is most appreciated? What kinds of unsolicited praise does your work tend to receive? If people love your choice of colors, or the subject matter, or the techniques, you can highlight that in your titles. If you throw unusual sized or shaped clay vases, then you can name them accordingly. Very fat shapes might be the Pot-bellied series or Blimp series. Very thin might be the Skinny or Stick series.
Some of my clients actually create work based on a title that they come up with! I do that sometimes with my jewelry. You can also take a word or concept and expound on its genre. Take a word like Rock from my well-worn thesaurus. It will yield a lot of names: stone, boulder, pebble, river rock, gravel, sand, shale, slate, limestone, lava, flint, crystal, marble, cobblestone, cornerstone, keystone, whetstone and of course the ever popular, tombstone.
Do any of those names make you think of your art? Do you have a glaze for your ceramics that is slate colored? Do you work with patterns in your weavings that conjure up a lava flow? Could you imagine a series of watercolors that celebrate river rocks?
Clearly, this is a very personal experience. And yet it is one of the few things we can create that can forever be copied and used by others. I am sure that many thousands of paintings exist with names that are similar if not the same.
The two titles for my photographs, “Cliff” and “Yin Yang”, are likely adorning hundreds or thousands of other pieces of artwork. So you never need to worry if you have a title that is “common” or already used by others. When it is used to title your work, it is in a new context.
Clever is not always the goal. It may not be “original” or flashy, but if you have painted a still life with white flowers and you want to name it, “Still Life With White Flowers”, go for it. The only thing to steer clear of is using that title again for your own art. The next still life using white flowers might need to be called, “Still Life With White Flowers in Morning Light”. Or, as is common, you can name it “Still Life With White Flowers #2”.
Frankly, you could go on to paint nothing but a series of still lifes with white flowers forever. Although that sound tedious to me.
Hey, I have a great idea: Let me know in the comments what tricks you use to come up with titles and what medium you use. If you aren’t using titles and don’t want to, I would love to hear your thoughts, too.
Of course, if you are stuck, contact me anytime for help with titles. It’s one of my favorite things to do! But I really encourage you to spend some time looking at art online – especially Judy’s art – and breath new life into the very next art piece you create.
PS: A coffee cup can have a name, too. It can be based on the glaze colors or shape or size. I know of an artist who calls her extra large cups, the “Start Your Engine” Cups because they are super-sized. And she points out that they are great for cereal, too!