Changing titles

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Dear Artist,

This morning, BJ Adams of Washington, DC, asked, “What are your thoughts on changing the names of artwork to fit a venue, exhibit, or buyer? For example, is it okay to modify my often generic titles to more specific places, particularly when sending things off to shows? Is this wrong or deceitful? And, if changed, should new titles stay that way?”

Framing The Landscape free machine embroidery over painted canvas 23 x 32 inches by

“Framing The Landscape”
free machine embroidery over painted canvas 23 x 32 inches by BJ Adams

Thanks, BJ. Let me first commend your insight on the importance of titles. Very often a title is the bridge that carries the viewer into the work and helps provide a significant “Aha” moment to make the connection. While you have a wide range of styles and media, you generally opt for direct titles. Yours are often the “factual” type. Your title “Teapot triptych,” for example, is pretty obviously three teapots.

Wide Load free motion machine embroidery on canvas 35 x 31 inches by

“Wide Load”
free motion machine embroidery
on canvas 35 x 31 inches
by BJ Adams

 

Artists need to select titles with the most punch — titles that give added value to the work. As discussed in my book The Painter’s Keys, there are five types of titles: Sentimental, Numerical, Factual, Abstract and Mysterious. Matters of locale can be added to factual titles to beneficial effect. I would not recommend renaming a mountain or a river to build appeal or garner localized sales. Truth in provenance and respect for your history are too valuable.

On the other hand, if the subject matter is fairly obvious, a mysterious title can do no harm. Conversely, mysterious works of art often benefit from the simple disclosure of facts — what, when, where, why and how are all questions the artist may consider. Sentimental titles are the last bastion of scoundrels, and can add significant barf to an already barfy work.

And, yes, if further insight dictates what you think is a more evolved title, go for it. But let that title stick with the work for posterity.

Seasonal Spectrum machine embroidery on hand painted canvas over silk, quilted

“Seasonal Spectrum”
machine embroidery on hand-painted canvas over silk, quilted by BJ Adams

Best regards

Robert

PS: “When exhibiting in Washington, DC, I would like to change ‘Contemplating Chaos,’ where the Washington Post is shown, to ‘Contemplating the Post.’ Okay?” (BJ Adams)

Esoterica: Okay, but stick with it. In my experience, the world is made up of two main kinds of titlers — those who name their work before they start and those who try to figure out a title afterward. Further, even though a title may not be written on the back when the work is started, a title may already be chosen in the artist’s mind. As you have suggested, the better titles give greater specificity, without letting the whole aardvark out of the sack.

 

 

B.J. Adams
Isolated Permanence -- machine embroidery on various manipulated fabrics 24 x 30 inches
Isolated Permanence
machine embroidery on various manipulated fabrics
24 x 30 inches
Catching The Moment -- machine embroidery on painted canvas 30 x 26 inches
Catching The Moment
machine embroidery on painted canvas
30 x 26 inches
Defining The Line -- machine embroidery over painted canvas 20 x 20 inches
Defining The Line
machine embroidery over painted canvas
20 x 20 inches
Variations on H (HANDS) -- free-motion machine embroidery 58 x 18 inches
Variations on H (HANDS)
free-motion machine embroidery
58 x 18 inches

 

 

Not enough punch
by Karen Snider, Aiken, SC, USA

 

Gothic #1 original painting by Karen Snider

“Gothic #1”
original painting
by Karen Snider

I have been painting in oils for the past 5 years. I find that I had a problem then, as well as now, of coming up with a title for each of my works. I find that I’m excited in the process of creating the painting, working in my mind in images as I go. I don’t get around to naming it until completion and then it’s a struggle. Maybe others have this problem too. It doesn’t matter if I’m painting scenery or figurative. I think it might be due to the fact that I’m right brained (left handed) and not strong in transferring images into verbal descriptions. When I finally get around to naming a painting it tends not to have much punch and to be lukewarm as a hook. Maybe someone out there can give a good suggestion for overcoming this.

 



There are 8 comments for Not enough punch by Karen Snider

From: Dorenda Crager Watson — Jul 08, 2009

I have always found it helpful to ask friends to look at the piece and give me a one-word description, and ONLY one-word, of what stands out to them in the work. I write them all down and can usually come up with some pretty interesting titles from this collection of words.

From: Penny Otwell — Jul 09, 2009

Since this is also a challenge for me, I usually title paintings even before I start painting. I try and keep them short and direct, but sometimes they are descriptive. I run a title through my head as I’m actually painting or looking at the subject. At times a title comes to me even years ahead. I like the process. If I’m stumped, I usually ask a friend who is a good wordsmith for an idea. I write down title ideas and keep a running list. Words can be quite powerful!

From: Jeannie — Jul 10, 2009

Viewing the attached piece, I think your work has awesome “punch”, so keep on titling it what you wish.

From: Karen — Jul 10, 2009

Thank you Dorenda and Penny for your suggestions. I will certainly try them. And Jeannie, thank you for your wonderful compliment.

From: Maxine Price — Jul 10, 2009

I keep a list of possible titles on my computer. Often I get phrases from musical lyrics. When I’m stuck for a title I go to this list and often something will jump out that really fits the painting.

From: Pia f. Walker — Jul 10, 2009

I found that simpler titles allow the viewer/collector flexibility – the more personal and complex the title, the less someone else can claim it theirs or become attached to it.

Yet the simple and most fundamental rule of journalism applies here to: Title is the catch and hook to everything else.

Sometimes, however, the drawing/painting sells itself and the title becomes irrelevant and forgotten.

Pia f. Walker

Contemporary pastel drawings inspired by everyday life

www.attainingcreativity.com

From: Pat McDaniel — Jul 12, 2009

A few years ago I deliberately took a college class in creative writing so I would have new words to title my paintings. Now most titles come to me immediately when I start a painting!!!!

From: HH — Jul 14, 2009

How important is a title ? – it is not going to influence my decision to like or buy a piece of visual work. To me a visual work’s title is just a way to identify it, no more – each viewer will have their individual take on each piece anyway.

 

Title-change by gallery
by Amanda Jackson, Lincoln, UK

 

Queen of hearts oil painting by Amanda Jackson

“Queen of hearts”
oil painting by Amanda Jackson

I have found over time that galleries will often change a title they find puzzling or specific to one which is more obvious, or to which they feel a larger range of potential buyers might relate. I’m certain this is the reason for the profusion of paintings entitled “The Red Dress” and “Sunday Morning.” Often I never get to know about it until an invoice comes in which I simply can’t match up. I am generally pretty laid back about the practice though; viewers see an image first and have made all sorts of decisions about it before the title comes along. Like a frame, the title should enhance, augment, but never usurp the image.

 

Influenced by book, film titles
by Caroline Simmill, Morayshire, Scotland

 

The remains of the day original painting by Caroline Simmill

“The remains of the day”
original painting by Caroline Simmill

Titles for paintings have always been an important part of the creative process for me. I am not sure what people think of the titles I give to my paintings but I do search for an unusual name that is descriptive of the general feel that the painting has. I sold a painting last year called Storms of Silence as I am always interested in naming my paintings after a great story I have read. I have no idea what the buyer thought of the name but he certainly loved the painting. I have changed the name of a painting to fit an area on two occasions but they were not the paintings that sold at my exhibition which is interesting. My favourite name for a painting has been called Remains of the Day. It was influenced by the book and film of that title as it illustrated the great peace of acceptance of one’s life’s journey after making an attempt to try and change it. The painting is a warm-coloured seascape of calm and peace.



There are 2 comments for Influenced by book, film titles by Caroline Simmill

From: Janet McHaley Burns — Jul 10, 2009

I love random associations and am also very influenced by words. Was listening to some music and the line ‘turns three times and settles down’ was perfect for a dog collage. Love your Remains of the Day, very appropriate title!

From: Dorothy in Ontario Canada — Jul 14, 2009

Caroline – I could look at your painting forever! Beautiful!

 

Title relative to the experience
by Sheila Psaledas, ME, USA

 

Morning rush pastel painting by Sheila Psaledas

“Morning Rush”
pastel painting by Sheila Psaledas

In response to your letter about changing titles, I sometimes change a title because I never liked the title I arrived at to begin with. Often, the subject is a rural local landscape. Recently I painted the historic stone bridge and falls near my home. Originally I called this Gleason Falls but later, rather than stay with the Gleason Falls title that others have used, I changed the title to Morning Rush. I realized that I did most of the piece during morning hours on location. I’m now happy with the title and won’t change it.

 

Award for the best title
by Lyn Cherry, Maryville, TN, USA

 

Is It A Bird, Is It A Plane, No, It's... acrylic painting 14 x 11 inches by Lyn Cherry

“Is It A Bird, Is It A Plane, No, It’s…”
acrylic painting 14 x 11 inches
by Lyn Cherry

Titles! One of my favorite things to do is choose titles for art work. In fact, I won a painting on WetCanvas! for choosing the name Bull Market Mayhem for a wonderful abstract piece in which a bull’s head had emerged from a chaotic background! I did a small watercolor of a nest of baby robins, which I painted a red wool thread woven through it, and chose the title Thread of Life, which appealed to many viewers. (Particularly to the patron who bought it!) The title for the painting attached escaped me for a while, but as several people who viewed it couldn’t identify what it was, I decided to go with a version of the question about Superman. By the way, youngsters under 18 can tell you what it is immediately; it takes adults lots longer and sometimes they don’t “see” it at all!



There are 15 comments for Award for the best title by Lyn Cherry

From: ben — Jul 09, 2009

I could easily create an image that nobody under 18 would recognize but all of us oldies would ;-)

From: LR — Jul 09, 2009

Since I don’t have access to youngsters under 18, and my usually very imaginative brain has still no clue what it is….Could you please give a clue at least? Is it macro or micro? Is that blue air or water? Is the curved thingy distorted? Could it be superman’s underwear in a washing machine? Is it only seen it at a certain location? An aging, inquiring mind wants to know!

From: Anonymous — Jul 10, 2009

I would say it’s a fish’s eye view of a ship, with distortion??

From: Anonymous — Jul 10, 2009

not under 18 but to me it is a dog’s tail wagging.

From: BJ Wright — Jul 10, 2009

A lighthouse…suggestive of the waves crashing below.

From: Ed — Jul 10, 2009

I know the secret

From: Angelica — Jul 10, 2009

I think it’s a cat’s tail !! I’ve been seeing them alot since the neighbor put up a new bird feeder

From: Sue — Jul 10, 2009

I’ll go with BL. A lighthouse?

From: Jacque B — Jul 10, 2009

It looks like somebody skateboarding on one of those curvey flip things in their skateboard parks.

From: Suzette Fram — Jul 10, 2009

I say a skateboard.

From: LR (again) — Jul 10, 2009

Still stumped, If it’s a flag pole or lighthouse (which I favour), what are those 2 little dangly, loose or falling things? Fish? Flags falling off? Why 2? and what is the brown lumpy part, looks like a bit more than shadow?

Hmmm…

From: sittingbytheriver — Jul 10, 2009

OK I give up. What is it?

From: Lyn Cherry — Jul 10, 2009

Someone has guessed correctly; and has been informed. Thanks for playing, folk, but I’d like to leave it a little longer to allow later readers the fun of guessing!

I PROMISE to post the answer, etc. later today!

From: trudy h — Jul 10, 2009

I also think it is a cat’s tail swishing back and forth.

From: Lyn Cherry — Jul 10, 2009

B.J. was right! It’s a lighthouse. It is located on Sea Pines Plantation on Hilton Head Island. I took a photograph of it, and as I looked at the photo, I thought of the waves around lighthouses and thought of painting a skewed view. I did not paint this with a view of confusing anyone. And did not realize how difficult it would be for most adults to identify it until it was exhibited. Kids would walk right up and talk about the lighthouse. I was sitting off to the side and adults would come up; look at it; and only 1 or 2 out of about 100 adults were able to identify it as a lighthouse. Thanks for playing with me!

 

Influenced by Dali’s titles
by Henryk Ptasiewicz, St Louis, MO, USA

 

Olivia oil painting by Henryk Ptasiewicz

“Olivia”
oil painting by
Henryk Ptasiewicz

It is rare that I change the title of a painting, and it usually takes a couple of days after it’s finished before I settle on a name. I was influenced by Salvador Dali’s titles, Giant Flying Demi-Tasse with Incomprehensible Appendage Five meters Long, for example: witty, pretentious, but attention grabbing, which made me realize that the title is a large part of the painting, specific and not interchangeable. There is always an exception though. I have to tell you the story about a quick-thinking gallery owner. I had an exhibition about jazz, and one of the pieces was 36 squares of glass which, when assembled, was an angel. It was based on Joe McPhee’s LP of the ’70s called Tenor and the track Fallen Angels. Someone came in buying art for a hospital and showed interest in my piece. The owner instantly changed the name to Guardian Angel and sold it on the spot. I wasn’t arguing and everyone went home happy.

 

Be a little cryptic
by Linda Dumas, Kingwood, TX, USA

 

A Tuesday Thing mixed media painting 20 x 24 inches by Linda Dumas

“A Tuesday Thing”
mixed media 20 x 24 inches
by Linda Dumas

I love the process of coming up with a title. I’m kind of a wordsmith, so it’s usually pretty easy, but if you do have trouble, invest in a copy of the works of Shakespeare, a music dictionary, a Bible, and a book of mythology. You will have material for quite a while. Don’t be obvious, don’t use clichés and don’t be schmaltzy. Be a little cryptic: Tango for Trees, Medea’s Regret, Crimson Sonata, Tamar My Sister, Tomorrow and Tomorrow or Struts His Hour.

The attached work is called A Tuesday Thing, because that’s when I made it, and that day my words weren’t smithing so well, so I punted, and it seemed appropriate. It’s mixed media and 20″ x 24″.



There is 1 comment for Be a little cryptic by Linda Dumas

From: Virginia Wieringa — Jul 10, 2009

Your Tuesday Thing is wonderful. I can’t wait to see your Wednesday Wonder!

 

Naming no names
by Bill Hibberd, Summerland, BC, Canada

 

The Orchardists original painting by Bill Hibberd

“The Orchardists”
original painting by Bill Hibberd

After coming off a five month burn, painting fifty-odd paintings in preparation for two shows this summer; I just can’t name any more art. For those of us who are prolific, naming every piece seems a bit much. I just name larger studio work like the attached The Orchardists. All the rest will be date-coded. Also I think naming a painting deprives the viewer of an individual connection. A skyscape done from my South Okanagan yard has been “recognized” by viewers as many diverse places around the world.



There is 1 comment for Naming no names by Bill Hibberd

From: Jan Ross — Jul 10, 2009

The ‘Orchardists’ is a beautiful painting. However, I’d name it, “Wait for Me!”. My reasoning is that the image is remniscent of times when not only my children have been involved in an activity like those in the painting, but also my own childhood with 3 brothers always rushing ahead of me. Anyone with siblings can relate!

 

Generalizing titles
by Dennis Marshall, Paterson, NJ, USA

 

I find that when it comes to titles for my landscapes I prefer a more general reference than a specific one. When I began a series of paintings back in 1992 I entitled them Hackettstown Trees to note the place where I first became inspired. As I continued with the series I kept that title. Now I title paintings with this subject matter, North Jersey Woods, since my paintings are the result of observation and memory based on a few particular locations that I go back to draw or certain areas that I usually drive by. Titling the paintings North Jersey Woods allows the viewer to be drawn into the painting and even though there is no specific geographic reference the general title helps to make a connection with the painting. I do write though the location of the place on the stretcher bar of my plein air studies. With abstract paintings there can be more latitude given to the title. One should be careful not to make it too “personal” since viewers have to find their own reference point that will enable them to engage with the painting. Reading poetry is a wonderful way to help generate ideas for titling abstract paintings by helping one create connections by playing with words and phrases. Referring to a geographical location provides another source for titles. Additionally, besides not being too personal, I think that an artist should not be too artsy when titling an abstract. It would seem to me that an artsy title means that the artist probably thinks that I am too stupid to deal with abstract art and therefore I do not get it. If one has to be a snob, it is better to do so regarding wine than art.



There is 1 comment for Generalizing titles by Dennis Marshall

From: Mishcka — Jul 10, 2009

I agree. There’s a well known prolific still life artist, who will remain nameless here, who is a very good painter but the titles of her paintings make me crazy. They are very “cutzie”, anthropomorphizing the “characters” – plums, apples, etc., which I think devalues the painting because still life is most wonderful (in my opinion)for it’s color and form relationships which cause the viewer to value the abstract qualities in all that we look at.

 

Spontaneous titles
by Jan Rosgen, Sointula, BC, Canada

 

Montague Memories oil painting 20 x 24 inches by Jan Rosgen

“Montague Memories”
oil painting 20 x 24 inches
by Jan Rosgen

A few years ago an incident involving renaming a painting brought home to me the importance of trusting the titles that seem to be “given to me” intuitively without my having to think much about it. Often, a title would pop into my mind, along with the strong feeling that this is what the title needed to be. Sometimes I wouldn’t even understand what it meant. Take, for instance, Medieval Contemplations. I didn’t have a clue about that mouthful. Nevertheless, that is the title I gave to the painting. Not long after, being represented by a commercial gallery, I was told the painting needed to have a title the public could relate to. For instance, something like Spirit of the Forest. That made sense; so I changed it. During a public exhibit at which this painting was being shown, I happened to be within earshot when two ladies were pondering my work. One said to the other, “You know, there’s something medieval about that painting.” I was astounded, it verified for me that when titles arrive in that mysterious but strong manner, they need to be trusted just as much as the visual matter that was also given to me—through me.



There is 1 comment for Spontaneous titles by Jan Rosgen

From: Anonymous — Jul 10, 2009

Beautiful painting

 

Marinating the title
by Lesley White, Prince George, BC, Canada

 

Nonconformist original painting by Lesley White

“Nonconformist”
original painting
by Lesley White

Titles often roll around in my head like marbles in an empty jar and from there, a suitable image may surface. Kind of putting the cart before the horse but there are times I’ve received more comments about the title than the work and I’ve decided that this is not necessarily a bad thing. Titles matter. I understand BJ’s desire to change a title to fit an exhibition/location etc. but wouldn’t recommend it for the reasons you suggest and because it would throw cataloguing records into chaos. How would one keep track of the changes without creating confusion? — it is commonly the title that identifies the artwork being discussed in all areas of communication.

My preference is to allow a finished artwork and its title to marinate a while. At this stage the title may change two or three times, but once the piece leaves my studio, it sticks, regardless of twinges of regret that may come to haunt later on. Western Art is my genre and often domestic animals dominate my work. If, in the title, I can suggest a similarity between the animal and the human viewing it, the connection to the work is strengthened.

I have attached the painting, The Nonconformist, which could metaphorically relate to the viewer, and would make no sense at all without the title.

 



There are 3 comments for Marinating the title by Lesley White

From: ginny in Florida — Jul 10, 2009

I think your painting would indeed make sense without the title…it has a whimsical and delightful appeal. BUT, having said that, the title adds a huge amount of interest as well. Anyone who paints mostly the “behinds” of cows is instantly a nonconformist also so there is obviously a double meaning here. I am especially drawn to double meanings. I wish I knew the medium and size of the painting which I think adds a great deal to viewers.

From: Hugo — Jul 10, 2009

I go along with you title marinating, and only want to add something I read a while back (forgot where) that resonated with me: Would you publish a book without giving it a title? I’d go further, you owe it to the viewer, in a way similar to an introduction or preface in a book. Yes, finding the title is often not easy – but compared to the work put into the artwork to get it right, getting the title right is just – required.

From: Gail in NC — Jul 10, 2009

I think a title can finish a ‘thought’ – such as the above painting called “Nonconformist” which so easily could have been called “Cow Sticking His Head Up First”. Even if the artist had simply done a painting of a herd of cows, he maybe later added the bit of philosophy to it. It’s happened to me just painting a picture of fruit and then I notice something about it that is un-fruitlike. A painting by any other name is a different painting?

 

 

World of Art Featured artist Susan Downing White,  

'Places East of here, No. 5 by Susan Downing White,

Places East of here, No. 5

oil painting 32 x 32 inches
Susan Downing White

 
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.

That includes Brad Greek of Mary Esther, FL, USA, who wrote, “If all works were untitled it would be like all of us without names. How would we know which one we were talking about?”

And also Jean Stromnes who wrote, “Titles can be humorous or ironic, too.”
 

 

Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for Changing titles

 

 

From: Vivian A Anderson — Jul 06, 2009
From: Raymond Mosier — Jul 07, 2009

I listened to a presentation by a young contemporary artist who titled his works in a way which really didn’t, at least to me, have anything to do with the ordinary, realisticly rendered, subjects he painted. My conclusion was that the titles probably sounded better in the original Klingon.

From: Suzette Fram — Jul 07, 2009
From: Jennifer Nilles — Jul 07, 2009
From: June Raabe — Jul 07, 2009

What a subject, titles! I enjoy titling, often have one before the picture is painted. I like “different” titles, something that will grab the observer’s interest. I have yet to paint a successful “Will the real egg please stand up”, one of those occasions when the title was far better than the painting! Rather than just label one “Iris” I looked up the Latin name and called it “Iridacia”. I think the artist has every right to change a title if they wish, buit not too often! They should keep track of the title in their files as well, so they know which painting is being discussed. A recent painting of mine, I called “Not Niagara”. It so happens that I discovered half way through the painting that I had already painted it twice before. The miniature version sold, the large version was still under the bed. So I pulled it out dusted it off and looked to make sure it wasn’t better than the new one. nope. It was called “Summertime 2”. I am hoping that version 3 is a winner at a local show, but won’t find out for a couple of days. Why? Because I reached “the zone” while painting it, and have to believe it is a winner, even though I know it is not “perfect”. If I get no awards, it will still hang, and I will (and am already) spurred on by that wonderful feeling of being “in the zone”, and know if I rush off and start painting NOW I may just achieve it again! Your forum provides a wonderful stimulus for artists like myself who are for one reason or another “Sunday Painters”. When someone’s letter irritates me, I realize we need a variety of opinions. I don’t like all the pictures people send in but cannot state “nothing” inspires me as the French reader did a short while ago. As artists we need to experience as much as we can of other people’s views, styles, ideas..it’s part of our “education”. Thanks again Robert for all you do.

From: Janet Toney — Jul 07, 2009

My titles often vary but they are always descriptive. So I never thought much about it. They are all similar to each other.

Only time I titled art “cleverly” was when I had an art gallery and the artist asked me for help. Some titles did help sell the work.

Probably proof I was much better at selling the work of others than I am at selling my own!

From: Nancy Standlee — Jul 07, 2009

quote “Sentimental titles are the last bastion of scoundrels, and can add significant barf to an already barfy work.”

I forwarded this article to my painting friends and said ouch..he’s talking to me but after emailing back and forth I’ve decided I like my barfy titles ’cause I get a lot of them listening to country music and I bet you think country music is pretty barfy too. I liked your other comments on titles as they always give one pause. The next time I title something like “I Can’t Let Go” I’ll think of your disapproval.

From: Russ Hogger — Jul 07, 2009

Dear Robert

It’s frustrating at times dreaming up titles for paintings but once I’ve got one no way am I going to change it for any reason. I do get annoyed with artists who conveniently title their paintings, “Untitled”. I don’t know why but maybe they just couldn’t be bothered especially when their next painting is “Untitled #2 and so on.

From: Bev Hanna — Jul 08, 2009
From: Jackie Knott — Jul 08, 2009

I rarely remember the title of a painting even though I vividly recall the work. We tend to refer to the artist rather than the title of a specific work. “Oh, that’s a Vermeer.” Or, “Georgia O’Keeffe painted that.”

Titles are important with iconic works by historically significant artists. I can’t imagine buying a contemporary painting just because it has a clever title. It’s the work itself that speaks to me, not the title. “A rose by any other name …”

For all that, I really dislike “Untitled” works. What inspired the artist to paint it in the first place? If it demanded a painting surely it deserves a name, however mundane.

From: Ann — Jul 08, 2009

Here is one thing you can use the barfy remark for. Next time you create a barfy painting (and we all do from time to time), give it a barfy title and show it to your family. Chances are that your average spouse or relative will love it. Then the next time he/she cringes at your good work, remember the barfy one and smile to yourself.

From: Kelly O’Keefe — Jul 08, 2009

I loved this discussion and it’s something I think about a lot myself. Please add my ‘two cents worth’ if the discussion is still open.

In many cultures, at the end of a martial novitiate, the novice is turned out into an unsympathetic wild with only a few items at his disposal, to undergo a survival ordeal, so that everything he or she has learned might be put to the only test that really matters. I’ve found this reductive logic can be successfully applied to many creative blocks and bottle-necks; it is necessarily devastating to give up your toys and tricks, to disable your technological crutches, to limit yourself to a single room, a single subject or material- demand creative survivalism from yourself. There’s no faster way to discover the unvarnished truth about your own gifts and limitations.

Once you’ve regained some inspiration, the best advice I ever received from any tutor was the simple directive to ‘take up the whole page’ with whatever you are doing. Force yourself to expand the execution- hidden elements are often revealed this way. And if you want to know how someone else sees your work, hold it up to a mirror for another, impartial perspective.

From: Lynda Kelly — Jul 08, 2009

I finally found something to disagree with you on after all these years! There are so many variables to this- e.g Mona Lisa to Susan Brown-no, no, But a painting that has not been out there- why not? We are at liberty to go back and make a few improvements or changes on our work as we see fit, why not a better title if it is more fitting? I think you were cranky when you wrote that, I noted your reference to “barfy work” you usually find kinder ways to reference the awful!

From: Gail — Jul 08, 2009

I love your newsletters. I have even purchased your book and another book based on your newsletter.

I have been an artist my entire life, but it has not been my business. I have worked in advertising and other industries.

Nevertheless, this morning I received an email from a friend and at the bottom she said, “I think about you everyday because of that beautiful portrait of Lily (her Yorkshire terrier) that you did for me.”

I would have loved to have made a real mark in the world, but instead, I have made a few marks in individual peoples hearts.

I have had three grown men step up to see their surprise birthday present portraits and watched them come to tears.

They are able to connect with their dog, child and horse with dogs etc. in a way that touches their heart so deeply.

So I will never be famous. But at least I know that my paintings have brought a special gift into some people’s lives.

One lady even gave me a horse because she was so touched. Before he passed away I was lucky enough to visit with Orren Mixer, famous horse artist in the Western Horse world. He painted the most famous Quarter Horses in the country (USA) from around the ’40s till his death last year. He told me he had horses everywhere, because he couldn’t bring them all home to his ranch, the people who gave them to him (on top of paying for the paintings) kept them for him.

What a funny world.

I so love your newsletter. Never stop. I am inspired, I am saved from the thought that I might never have time to paint and then I go paint! Recently I finished a portrait of a Russian horse breeder as a present from his American friend. I had terrible photos with that redish light from the interior of a cocktail lounge. The man was painted on a bay horse in Arizona. A place he had never been but in his mind the place he would like to be. I did it in acrylics in a record 9 days!!!! It was 20″ by 26″ and my friend took it off the stretchers so that he could fit it in his luggage and had it restretched and framed in Russia. Now that is a first for me.

From: Oliver — Jul 08, 2009

Sometimes venue’s will title it for you – without your knowledge.

I am a believer in NOT biting the hand that feeds me. In the same vein I will supply a title if someone really wants something more than AB0012 or SV12 – which are really portfolio and piece in the portfolio.

I don’t keep records of what others or I have called pieces, so I am guessing that it is inconsistent. Which is fine by me the work is what it is and I want people to develop their own impressions of it. If they have more than one suggestion to think about, we great, but this presupposes that someone someday will put all the titles and the piece together and care about it.

Today, I’m just trying to survive and make art that people want to see and live with on their walls.

From: David Allio — Jul 08, 2009

Interesting that your current letter arrived as I was naming a dozen new works…

May I offer the following:

When I feel the need to re-name an artwork, I keep the original name and “sub-title” with any alterations. This way, both names are available for accurate reference…

From: David MacSmith — Jul 08, 2009

In my opinion, the art of titling is part of the total creative process of doing the art (painting for me…fill in the name of your medium here). Sometimes, it comes at the front end of the process, other times during the process as the painting evolves, or even after the paint has dried. Personally, I find that most of the time, the title comes to me as I am thinking about the painting, when I am seeing the “perfect” image in my art mind-zone. A good bit of my work is skyscape oriented, and generally (not always) I find myself naming the works with a time-place-feeling title. After looking at your titling catagories, like any list or set of rules, there are other options, or even combination of options. But your condemnation of the “sentimental” approach appears to be more revealing of a fairly strong personal bias, especially the comment about the “barf” quotient/ratio equating title styling to quality, even personality (“scoundrels”…!?!?). Seems like a pretty broad brushstroke to me. I’ve seen, in my judgment, some fantastic work that carried a pretty schmaltzy title, but it did not diminish the work itself–not like a bad frame does. On the other hand, I’ve seen some pretty lame art (again, IMHO) with a really cool title. So, there you go…hey, it’s your blog — you can say whatever you want! Everyone has an opinion, just like everyone has a…..uh,… nose. I happen to like word-play titles. Some would call them puns and others would call them creative use of language…again, with the opinion thing…but I’ve included one of my favorites. The piece, titled “Hay Ewe”, was bought at a show by a gentleman who has evolved into a collector. His name — John Lamb. You just never know… Just please don’t label me a scoundrel, at least until you know me.

From: David Houlton — Jul 08, 2009

I write on the canvas frame the title ,my inventory number,and sign again. What I wondered is if anybody out there provided a label to record the provenance. Such items as to when and where the painting was bought even what was paid for it. I note some experts can trace a works history through auction labels or even chalk marks. On paintings I buy we put the sales transaction material on the back in an envelope but even this has a habit of sliding out if moved and they yellow with age.

From: Jim van Geet — Jul 08, 2009

It is true that some titles are preconceived whilst others reveal themselves in the process.

Last year I agreed to a life-size portrait of an author/poet/playwright for an upcoming portrait exhibition. We knew each other from a long time ago and became re-acquainted on one of his lecture tours.

When he disappeared from the radar I put it down to his eccentricity but was surprised to be called three months later to hear he was being released from ” The Clinic ” and would I still paint him.

He stayed with me for a while and whilst I painted him he commenced writing an autobiographical account of his enforced stay at ” The Clinic ” ( the book is due for release in August ).

Upon proof-reading the manuscript I felt it necessary to completely alter my original portrait concept and title.

He was unable to see the completed portrait until the exhibition and I had some misgivings as to his reaction to the title as it had received a lot of press coverage but my concern was unfounded as he loved it and wholeheartedly agreed.

From: Tatjana Mirkov-Popovicki — Jul 08, 2009

I used to have a boyfriend who always said about everything “there are X types of…” or “there are X ways to do…”

After a while I found myself wondering how many ways there are to murder a boyfriend – finally opted for dumping.

He used to say that there is always an “other” category – I hate to admit that actually makes you think creatively.

From: Rick Rotante — Jul 08, 2009

Titles are the hardest thing for me especially after thirty five years of work. It seems to get even harder when

I work in a series of paintings. The first one has the title of the initial idea, after that, well, it gets harder.

Some titles over explain what is being viewed and therefore seem redundant and superfluous. I’ve tried numbers but they don’t seem to take full advantage of what can be added with a real title. I’ve seen titles that confound and confuse me more and elucidate. Some titles contain what the artist tried to accomplish but needed the title to explain. It has been made clear to me that the owner of a piece changed my title to suite her needs from the painting. She obviously saw something completely different than what my title suggested which is okay with me as long as I know what the new title is.

I change a title when I can’t remember the original title and didn’t record it on the back. To help prevent this lapse in memory I now jot it down on some masking tape and attach it to the back. I have changed a title after the piece has not sold and sat around for awhile thinking maybe a change in title will help make a sale next time it views.

From: Dan (the elder) — Jul 09, 2009

Back when I was less productive– and some folks find that concept unlikely– I used my date as reference and title. That was fine as long as I produced only a single work in a given month of any year. Then, seeing my 10/3 (10/2003 in sloth shorthand), someone said, This doesn’t look like a print. Anyway, how can this be impression 10 of 3. (“Is this what they call a gickle?” I kid you not!) Then I came up with venue or subject related titles, such as “Beach” or “Farm.” Eventually I had to elaborate and used “Beach 10” or “West Road Farm”. Someone might get the impression that I don’t care about titles. That would be correct. Perhaps I’m missing out on something. This week I’ll probably produce half a dozen plein air pictures. I’ll probably call them “Laid Off Again” 1 thru 6. I can’t wait until I produce “Finally Retired From My Day Job”, 1 thru ? On second thinking, that’s too long. I think I’ll just create the Freedom Series. Should there be an archivist with sufficiently week professional instincts to be interested in my oeuvre, he’ll just have to intuit the dates.

From: tatjana m-p — Jul 09, 2009

Dan the elder, that is hilarious! I guess I am presently painting the series “Still in the Cubicle Dungeon” and “The Mortgage Backbreaker”.

Tatjana

From: Jan Ross — Jul 10, 2009

Sometime during my years of studying art, an instructor advised using no more than 3 words to name a painting. Whether this is because the viewer remembers no more than 3 words, three words fit neatly on the name tag or in the programme,the reasoning was never disclosed. However, I have found having that limitation has forced me to be more clever/creative in naming a painting and has been a successful approach.

From: Erica Kane — Jul 10, 2009

What an interesting conversation with some excellent suggestions! I’m pretty much a title-dolt: as a landscape painter, I tend to name the painting from the general location, then move on to version II,III, etc. Boring! Since I make my living as a writer, this is a curious disability indeed.

From: Gail Caduff-Nash — Jul 10, 2009

I wish there would be more honesty in naming. I actually appreciate titles such as “Study #3” instead of some esoteric bunch of rubbish. I liked that “Tuesday Kind of Thing” (misquoted) because the artist did the work on a Tuesday and I can relate to doing things on Tuesday as opposed to Monday or Sunday. But, as an art appreciator, when I go to a gallery as a viewer, I make myself look first at the work and then (or never) at the title, description and artist (and price). I want my own experience of the work without getting ‘instructions’ on how to view it. Every once in awhile I’ll get more from a painting once I’ve read the title. but rarely.

From: gail again — Jul 10, 2009

p.s. this is a good website. thanks, Robert.

From: Kirsten Barton — Jul 12, 2009

I have one of those resources that can be invaluable to artists: a spouse who loves to write. For one painting of mine here are some of the titles that he suggested: “Green Filter,” “Verdical,” “Standing for Sunrise,” “Welcoming The Sun,” “Shafts of Light,” “Bamboozled.” (The subject matter was bamboo.) I just go down the list and pick the one that I think describes the painting best.

From: Arja Palonen — Jul 28, 2009

Giving a ‘proper’ title to your work is sometimes really difficult, especially if you have painted in the same location several times and in the same season too, but somehow, when I’ve finished the painting I keep looking at it a bit and usually the feeling in the piece gives me the idea for the name. We have run our gallery Studio 737 with 60 artists for over 20 yrs. and it’s interesting to see how different artists have different approaches in naming their pieces. Some are ‘cut & dry’ to a point, and others more descriptive. It seems though, that in case of the sceneries, that most of our customers want to know, where the painting was done, so we have asked our artists, if possible, in addition to the title give us the location for it, so that we can answer these questions and satisfy their curiosity.

Personally, I feel that the paintings should keep their original titles, especially, if they have previously been displayed in a show or a gallery with that title and it has been written on the back, as it would look rather suspicious if title has been ‘erased’ or painted over and then renamed. I think anyone thinking of purchasing the said painting and noticing this would be a bit hesitant and suspicious, why it has been done.

From: Bill Redondo — Jul 28, 2009

I know quite a few artists that seem like they are serious about marketing and selling their art. However it seems like they are not aggressive enough and I wonder if that might be a fact in their lack of sells? Robert please comment on this topic. Do artists need to “wine and dine,” and be aggressive to make sells or should they trust their art to sell itself and attract customers?

From: Cay Denise — Jul 28, 2009

I purchased a piece of fiber art that had a unique title/reference, and I understood right away what it was. Unfortunately, the artist decided to rename it for display on her website. The displayed name doesn’t do justice to the concept and execution of the work as it was originally referred to, from my perspective. I’ll be interested in what responses you get to this especially from artists who have changed names of pieces and whether they found the new name(s) more satisfactory/representative.

 

 

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