I’m guessing there are websites and tutorials and maybe even seminars that will lead you through the process of Finding a Proper Title for Your Art. This isn’t one of those. I have no idea how to find a title that will capture the attention of collectors and editors and gallery owners. And, oh, yeah: will express the idea/theme/emotion/concern/memory that inspired the work.
I can’t help you there.
What I’m thinking about today isn’t a title, but a name. You know, a name like what you have and what you’d give a car you love or a new baby or a family home or a companion animal, something that says, “This is important to me. I value it and want it to have a name that demonstrates that.” Think about what it would say if you had a baby or a dog who *didn’t* have a name.
I’m thinking about this because I’ve recently begun naming the clothes I make. Every time I think about that, I laugh: I’m naming my clothes. But it’s not as odd as it sounds: I’m creating garments completely by hand, following the patterns and some of the basic techniques from the Alabama Chanin books. Each one is heavily embellished and, somewhere in the process of my working on it, seems to take on a life of its own. For me, that’s the key: it’s not that I think of these garments as art that needs a title but as things that have value to me, value that I want to recognize with a name. I understand that it’s completely different for artists who are giving serious titles to work that will be shown, but what I’m discovering is that, even then, the artist sometimes has a name for the work before it’s finished and gets its Real Title. I know this because I asked about it on Facebook and people shared their process of giving names–and titles–to the work they create.
Some people, of course, hate titles and names and anything that labels the work. Melanie Testa says, “I can’t stand naming pieces. I name them when I am filling out the paperwork to get it shown! If they didn’t need names, I would do that. But I also can’t name them by numbers; that seems wrong, too.” Then we kind of got into a discussion about contextualizing your work.
Some artists, like Sandra McCall, use titles only. She explains, “I give them titles, mostly for inventory purposes rather than thinking about more personally evolved names.” Others, like Zom Osborne, use both: “I almost always have what I call a ‘working title’ for paintings. Often something kind of silly with the model’s name so I will know what I am referring to in my notes. ‘Jules with Rats’ or something. Then when it is finished and going to be hung I have to come up with a ‘real’ title.” Linda Teddlie Minton added, “Like Zom, I also keep a running list of enigmatic possible titles. When I need a title for a piece, at least I have a jumping-off point. I usually title a piece once it is *almost finished*, then I can fine-tune the artwork to fit the title, if necessary. Creating titles that are neither too obvious nor too disconnected is one my favorite parts of creating the art … it challenges my brain.”I love this, and it makes me think of the T.S. Eliot poem, “The Naming of Cats.”
Lots of people do give what they think of as names to their pieces, for all kinds of different reasons. Some, like Alice Hatter, say they can’t help it. “I name everything. It’s a compulsion. As to what I make, most times the names are something obvious. Sometimes, it’s just something random that popped in my head while I was making it. I’m working on a mixed media piece right now I’m calling Tastes Like Chicken even though the piece is actually about religion.”
Chris Adams says, “Naming the work is art of the fun for me. Sometimes it helps to explain the idea for the piece, sometimes it adds a little touch of personality. And as a printmaker, there’s that whole title/number/name thing we do after we complete the work. It’s just all part of the process for me.”
Barbara Hynes says, “I usually come up with the idea for a piece along with the name/title for it at the same time. Sometimes I don’t know what I’m going to name it until I’m done and the piece tells me.”
Angie Hall Platten adds, “And occasionally, the name of the piece comes before I ever create it.” In fact, quite a few people admit to working this way: getting an idea or a word or a phrase stuck in their head and then starting a piece of work inspired by that. Linda Berman explains, “Sometimes I have a name and then do the work to fit the name. Sometimes when I finish it I name it.” Sometimes, she says, people suggest names or titles that spark an idea. Pam Rubert says, “The name is always essential to the concept from the very beginning, in fact most the time it has a name before I ever begin drawing. I like naming things!”
Some names come at the end of the work. Lorena Angulo says, “Most of my work had been named after I finished it. When I look at the finished work the name comes instantly.”
Then there are the pieces that name themselves. Tanya Brown says, “Generally the art names itself, often as I’m working on it,” and Sarah Ann Smith says, “Sometimes the title comes to me as the idea is gestating in my head…the name clarifies the image. It’s not as if I am naming the piece; it is more that the piece is saying its own name out loud for the first time and telling me. Less often, the quilt is made and I need to muddle around for a title.” Glorianne Roccanova adds, “the piece usually names itself, while i am making it….when i was quilting it would usually be about a period in my life that i was going through……and with my journal art books….i guess pretty much the same….”
Cool, huh? I love how it goes, from no names to names-then-titles, from personal names to things suggested by friends. Now I’m curious about my own method. Where, exactly, do the names come from for me? I’ll be paying more attention as I work, seeing if I can pin it down.
I like what Alice Hatter said in summing up our conversation: “I suppose the question of naming things depends on many factors; what kind of art you do, whether or not you show/sell your art, and if you just like/dislike naming things. The reality for those who do show/sell their art is that you have to call it something. I find I am less likely to be interested in pieces simply labeled “Untitled.” It makes me think the artist is missing some creativity. That’s just my opinion because I’m a namer. Decorative objects in my house have names, my purses have names, and I call my favorite coat Esme. I adore puns and obscure references so a great deal of my stuff is named in that manner.
“I can see both sides of the naming quandary. On one hand, you may not want to ‘label’ your artwork thereby skewing interpretation by others. On the other hand, naming your work helps differentiate pieces and makes cataloging your body of work a heck of a lot easier. As most of the replies here mention, there are as many ways of naming as there are ways of working. Some have a clear idea when they start, others just let it ‘happen.'” And what Angie Hall Platten added, “This is an interesting conversation about title vs. name for work. I have 8 pieces going in a new coffee shop and when pieces were being chosen, I was asked about titles. Some already were titled and others not. Now that I think more about it, the ones with titles have a deeper, more personal meaning to them. I was ‘processing stuff out’ in those and they were named. Others that I was just painting because I enjoyed the process of painting, didn’t have names. So I got stumped when some of those non-heart related pieces were chosen and I was asked for titles. I was like, “Oh, uh… hmmmm” And some will just go untitled because I don’t have a heart connection to them. Weird… never thought of this stuff before!”
What about you: Do you name your work? How does that happen? We’d love for you to join the conversation~~
[Note: Click on each person’s name to check out their website or blog. To join future conversations on Facebook, find me there under my name.]
Ricë also blogs at The Voodoo Cafe.
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