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Why Should I Title My Artwork?

Updated: Mar 22, 2021

Are titles important? At least every emerging artist at one stage or another has questioned what to title an artwork and whether if the title is even important at all. Well, in this blog I will be giving some thoughts on the effect that titles can have on artwork and give some contemporary examples.

Titles can help shape meaning.

Providing a title can help the artists shape the particular message that the audience receives. This choice may be better suited for artwork with a more politically driven message. Or perhaps in the occasion that the artists wants to influence the audience in a particular way. Titles can provide a certain context to the artwork, giving an insight into the themes and concepts behind it.

A great example is the painting I Love You With My Ford by esteemed pop artist James Rosenquist. This is a perfect example of a title that provides significant meaning to the artwork. It gives the painting, which at first glance appears to be a bizarre match of images, to something humorous. The abstract and intense concept of love is juxtaposed by the corporate symbol of Ford. The title enables the viewer to gage the themes within 1960's American: one that was overloaded with consumerism, sex and technology.

James Rosenquist, I Love You With My Ford, oil on canvas, 1961.

Image description: a square oil painting split into three parts. The top depicts the chromed bumper of a ford in black and white. The centre depicts a face, mouth slightly open. Below displays spaghetti in bold orange.

Why can't I just leave it untitled?

There is no reason why you shouldn't just leave your work untitled. Perhaps it is part of a series. Perhaps you want to bring more awareness to the image rather than the title, stripping it of all context. Many artists simply leave their artwork untitled. However, there is a great deal of criticism as to the importance of this. Some artists believe that not including a title enables the viewer to form their own opinion about the piece. Removing the need for a title allows the viewer a sense of freedom. They are no longer conditioned to take on a certain perspective. This can let the artwork speak for itself.

However, others believe that this is a sign of laziness, and leads to a unfinished sense within the artwork. On top of this, some speculate that leaving an artwork untitled may lead to audiences having a limited understanding of the artwork. That aside, if an intentional choice, the act of leaving an artwork untitled can be seen as a politically charged one. Many artists have adopted this convention as a way to break from the regimented formats of art galleries and catalogues, poking fun at the very conventions they are part of. This can lead to the artwork claiming its own identity, having the ability to be read openly.

Donald Judd, untitled, 1991, Gagosian. Image description: a bright red sculpture of a rectangular box with a curved bevel across the top face showing white inside. The box sits on a wooded floor in front of a white walled gallery.

So to conclude, it appears there is no right or wrong answer. There a many reasons why you may or may not want to title an artwork. You may want to control the way an artwork is read though a descriptive, humorous or obscure title, or you may want to leave interpretation open ended and leave it untitled. In the end the decision is up to you.

Jacob Carter



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