What’s in a Name? To Name or Not to Name Your Artwork?

With more and more artists getting on line to promote and sell their art on the world-wide-web, naming artwork has almost become as important and ubiquitous as naming your child. You would not want to be lost in the virtual vacuum of the internet amongst millions artworks tagged as “untitled”, your creation un-findable by the tentacles of search engines that do not have eyes to differentiate - with the same ratiocination as you would not leave your child to fare in this world unnamed. 

But aside this technical outreach that we need, it seems nowadays, to universally adhere to if we are to survive in the art business, what is really in a name?  

Artists habitually use various methods to name their work (usually siting five  kinds of titles: Sentimental, Numerical, Factual, Abstract and Mysterious) - choosing titles tied to a specific source material that inspired a particular piece, based on the form the painting ultimately takes during the process of its creation or by the visual concept that it was set out to convey. 

Many are beginning to pull away from the sterility of “untitled”, trying to identify some elements that are significant to the works, just enough to give a starting referecne without stifling the viewer into a holding-pattern of a single direction or idea. Many artists see it as an opportunity to convey what they mean instead of leaving it up to everyone else, believing and maybe even hoping, that doing so would not stop viewers from taking what they may from the artwork.

In today’s expeditious and fast-paced world, it's prudent to assume that the viewer expects at least some information right up front; and the title can provide the immediate gratificatiotn, and can even be used to broaden the 'readership' of the work.

Gossip by Makeda Bizuneh
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Untitled 7 By Workneh Bezu
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The inherent risk in conventionally naming your work is that most viewers seem to judge an artwork based on how close it reflects the title - or at least the 'perception' of the title - in a sense, making or breaking an art-piece by enforced association. Art buyers also have grown weary of seeing “untitled” on the wall as it isn’t very informative and does not give much in a way to convey the thought process of the artist, especially if the work is abstract. Buyers often express a preference to have a starting point - and a title can often give that to the viewer. Some buyers feel that artists who don't title their work appear to be going through the motions of making art and that perhaps their work has stopped speaking to them mid way through the creation process.

On the other hand, some artists are concerned about applying titles that lead or direct the audience, when they want the works themselves to perform that task. These artists also want to leave the ‘what, where, when, why and how’ questions to the journalistic genre; not all questions need be answered in titling art.

Some artists also fear that titling their work pigeonholes the viewer into a preconceived subliminal allegory; finding that with time, many of their creations would benefit from a change of name if not of personality - arguing that despite the viewer's desire to 'know' the title, the title should only be vaguely suggestive and open-ended of what the artist intended the artwork to mean.

Still other creators let their creation grow into the title - having collections still unnamed - in spite of trying on several titles. And at other times - albeit it rare, works were 'titles' first - with the physical manifestation emerging next - particularly with whimsical and didactic art. 

At the end, to name or not to name seem to be a personal choice - although technological nuances of today’s social-media driven world seem to stir us away from the 'unnamed'.