Let’s cover a simple but important question:
“How should I name my artwork?”
- Simple and Descriptive
- Hints About the Subject
- Feelings, Emotions, and Ideas
- Artistic Elements
- Making a Statement
- You Don’t Always Need A Clever Title
- Want to Learn More?
- Thanks for Reading!
(Before diving into this post, make sure to download a free copy of my Beginner's Guide to Painting.)
Simple and Descriptive
For most artworks, a simple and descriptive title is sufficient. In a few words, describe what the artwork is about. Who is depicted? Where is it? What is it?
This is how I title most of my artwork. This naming convention also helps to remind me of what I painted in previous years. After a few hundred artworks, the details can get a bit muddy.
Below are some examples.
Hints About the Subject
The title could leave hints about certain aspects of the subject. Perhaps there is a subtle but important detail you want to draw attention to. Take Lilla Cabot Perry’s Lady With a Bowl of Violets for example. Had it not been for the painting’s title, I might not have noticed the bowl of violets. Though it’s odd that Perry pushed the violets all the way to the corner of the painting, despite referring to them in the title.
Vincent van Gogh’s Self Portrait With Bandaged Ear draws attention to his self-inflicted wound. A detail that might have otherwise been mistaken for some kind of accessory or garment.
Edgar Degas’ L’Absinthe draws attention to the pale-green drink in front of the lady. An important detail in the context of the melancholy painting.
The title could suggest some kind of symbolism in the artwork. Much of Salvador Dalí’s work is a great example of this. Such as The Persistence of Memory or The Burning Giraffe. In these cases, symbolism is expressed through the artwork; the titles merely introduce and frame the ideas.
Andrew Wyeth’s Christina’s World is a more subtle example. The painting depicts Anna Christina Olson, who suffered a degenerative muscle condition and refused to use a wheelchair. As noted on MOMA’s website, “The title Christina’s World, courtesy of Wyeth’s wife, indicates that the painting is more a psychological landscape than a portrait, a portrayal of a state of mind rather than a place.”
You could take a story approach. Name the artwork like you might a book or movie. Use it to introduce or frame the artwork’s story.
Frederick McCubbin did this with many of his paintings. Below are three examples. The Pioneer: A triptych painting that follows a family through different stages of their lives. Down on His Luck: Tells the story of a struggling swagman. Lost: Tells the story of a young boy lost in the dry Australian landscape.
Feelings, Emotions, and Ideas
You could use the title to reiterate the feelings, emotions, or ideas that you are trying to convey. Edvard Munch’s The Scream comes to mind. In this case, the title really drives home the idea of the painting.
The title could draw attention to the major artistic elements of your work. This is effective when one of the artistic element is the focal point of your work. Below are two examples: Minnippi, Green, Contrast and Fraser Island, High Key.
This one is more for landscape paintings. Use the title to describe the conditions. Is it bright and sunny or gloomy and overcast?
This is a particularly helpful naming convention when painting the same subject over and over again under varying conditions.
You could be intentionally vague or mysterious with your title. For example, you could leave a figure unnamed or the place unspecified. Take Girl With a Pearl Earring. Who is the girl?
Making a Statement
In rare cases, you could use the title to make a powerful statement, as Joaquín Sorolla did with his And They Say That Fish is Expensive! Sorolla draws attention to the true cost of providing fish to the people.
You Don’t Always Need A Clever Title
Whilst a title can play an important role in relation to your artwork, it doesn’t need to. Most of the time, a simple and descriptive title is more than enough. You can then let the visuals of your artwork do most of the work. You could even leave your artwork unnamed if you prefer.
Think of the title merely as one of the many tools at your disposal to convey your ideas. It’s there if you need it.
Want to Learn More?
You might be interested in my Painting Academy course. I’ll walk you through the time-tested fundamentals of painting. It’s perfect for absolute beginner to intermediate painters.
Thanks for Reading!
I appreciate you taking the time to read this post and I hope you found it helpful. Feel free to share it with friends.
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