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Should I Title My Painting?

Updated: Mar 5, 2019

Hey, look, a blog post! I don't blog very often, but once in a while, something begs to be blogged. Today, let's talk about naming or titling paintings. Should you name your painting? Is it ok to call a painting "Untitled"? How do you come up with a name for your painting?

First, let's consider what the purpose of naming a painting is. Giving a painting a name gives it an identity, and can be a useful way to distinguish between specific pieces of art, particularly if it's part of a series of similar paintings. It can also help you give the viewers some insight as to the subject matter, or help you lead them toward what you want them to see or feel. So does that mean that you should always title your paintings? No, not really.

The way I see it, the decision to give a painting a title or leave it untitled is completely up to you. There's no hard and fast rule. In fact, sometimes "Untitled" lends a work an air of mystery. It can cause the viewer to have to look at the artwork a little longer and consider what they might be seeing. Maybe you decide to leave a painting untitled because nothing comes to mind, or because the painting isn't really about anything at all. In fact, Wassily Kandinsky, one of my favorite abstract artists, left most of his paintings untitled for that exact reason; they weren't about anything in particular.

So, yes, it's perfectly ok for you to give your latest creation the moniker "Untitled" if that's what you want to do!

But, you've decided to name your painting. Now what?! Just like the choice to name or not name a painting, this is a personal decision. You could give your painting an obvious name, like Johannes Vermeer's "Girl with a Pearl Earring" ...

... or go with something a little more abstract like Grant Wood's "American Gothic" ...

... or take your naming convention straight off the deep end, like "The Snail" by Henri Matisse.

Sometimes when I paint, I start with a title in mind (either from a song or poem the painting is inspired by, even if [especially if] the subject matter in the painting doesn't seem to match), but sometimes I let the title come to me as I paint or decide on it when I'm done. Either way, I almost always pick something that really doesn't give any more information to the viewer than "Untitled" would. Why? Well, I personally don't like to tell the viewer what they're looking at. I want them to draw their own conclusion, and take meaning from their own experiences and perspectives.

I called this one "Another Place Like This."

I try to find words that give me the feelings I get when looking at my painting. I try to stay away from descriptive words. If I feel like a title is too descriptive of the image, I'll pick something else. This image with that title could mean so many things, and I like that each person can use their own feelings and associations when viewing it. I feel like that makes the experience more personal. But maybe that's just me.

However, when choosing names for paintings I teach on my YouTube channel, I try to find a happy medium between the way I typically name paintings and giving descriptive names. After all, no one would be able to find this video if I'd've called it "Reflection," which is what I would have called it if I didn't call it "Rainy Day."

Now the next time you're trying to name a painting, I hope that you know it's ok to give it a descriptive name, an abstract name, a contradictory name, or no name at all. Naming a painting is just as personal of an experience as creating the painting itself.

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