I’m visiting an exhibit of an artist I don’t know yet. The artist’s work is powerful and moving to me. I read the label beside each piece. Many of them read Untitled or Untitled No. VI.
I kind of feel cheated. I want to know what the artist was feeling and thinking to motivate this person to create such a stunning work of art. Since I am not at the opening where the artist would likely be attending, I have no way of asking.
That’s the trouble of leaving artwork designated as Untitled, dear fellow artists. It’s a bit like not naming your children. You spent the time and energy creating the work, yet do you care enough about your art to give it a name?
I will say for many artists naming their work is painfully difficult. The “right” title refuses to present itself. If an artist commits to a name for their piece, they may develop different feelings and interpretations towards the work in the future that would require a new title. I can understand the desire for an authentic connection between the work and its name in an artist’s mind. As an artist, it’s important to me, too.
Perhaps I can be persuasive in asking, dear fellow artists, to name your work. Titling or naming your work is just one of many vital touch points you have with others and your work. A title helps make the work relatable and gives the audience a deeper connection to your work.
On the flip side, titling helps artists form a story around their work. We, as artists, all need to talk and write about our work. Again, I will acknowledge this is painfully difficult for many artists.
I consider myself incredibly lucky on this front. My love of stories and pictures starts with the art of children’s picture books. For a picture book to be a success, words and illustrations must dance together, creating a page-turner. I use this same mindset when titling, writing, and talking about my work.
That wasn’t always the case. When I ran my graphic design business, I did my art practice on the side whenever time and energy allowed. I drew lots of birds and watercolored fish and potted plants. I drew sheep, cows, and the occasional toad. My artistic skills improved, yet my work wasn’t saying anything. The work didn’t hold any real significance or meaning other than being “nice.” It didn’t give me enough meat for a compelling artist statement, nor did my work get me accepted to show in juried exhibits.
All this is to say, if your work has meaning to you, name it. Jot down your thoughts about it. It’s fodder for artist statements. It’s valuable content when you have the opportunity to talk about your work, either in an artist’s talk or with individual buyers and collectors.
Today, when I am working on a piece, a title will come to me well before it’s finished. The title may not have much to do with the subject matter but leads into the story I am formulating in my head. It’s a process that has become part of my art practice.
For my first solo show, I created story labels* to display next to each piece. People attending my exhibit told me they enjoyed the stories I had written about my work. My stories gave them a deeper understanding of my work, a chance to learn something and appreciate the work even if they didn’t particularly like it. (For example, insects of all kinds fascinate me with their designs, colors, patterns, and the mechanics of their legs, eyes, feet, and wings. But most people do not like seeing “big bugs” on the wall).
So, dear fellow artists, if titling your art and writing and talking about your art feels daunting, do not despair. Your art is a practice, and so is this. It gets easier each time you do it. Research how other artists name, write and talk about their work. I most appreciate it when an artist is genuine, speaks, and writes in plain language and from the heart about their work versus the esoteric prose I have come across. Frankly, I have no idea what that artist is talking about. Talk about a disconnect.
After all, I believe art can change the world. Artists are creators of culture and community. Generation of this is made possible through connecting with others through your art. And that starts by naming it.
ABOUT STORY LABELS: Because I wanted my solo exhibit to have a professional “museum” quality to it, I designed story labels using Adobe InDesign and the typography I use to represent my studio. I printed these story labels out on Professional Photo Matte paper (for Epson printers, mine is a WorkForce Pro 4630) and mounted the story labels on to .25” thick white foam core. (I have mentioned before I am not good with glue so this exercise had its moments). In the end, the story labels looked and worked beautifully. The trick was to keep weights (lots of big books) on top of the glued story labels until the glue was thoroughly dry and set. A lot of work for twenty-four pieces but well worth it.
OK, your turn. How do you feel about titling your artwork, writing about it, and talking about it? Has it gotten easier over time? Do you go it alone or do you ask for help when it comes to titling your work, etc?