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How to Find the Best Title for Your Artwork

The paint is still drying on your latest artwork and the time has come to give it a title. How do you pick a title that will make a lasting impression? The title of an artwork may seem like an afterthought, but in reality, it should carry equal importance as the artwork itself. After all, it is the main identifying feature that will be used to reference your work. To pick an intriguing and original title that will enhance the artwork and thus boost the probability of selling, Singulart has compiled the best advice of do’s and don’ts when naming an artwork. Follow these top tips to ensure that your artwork and its title are as professional-looking as possible.

Brainstorm Themes Associated with the Artwork

To start, compile a list of themes and words associated with your artwork. This could include abstract feelings such as “friendship” or “nostalgia,” or more concrete themes associated with the subject matter, such as “the lake house” or “Marilyn Monroe.” Once you have written down the general ideas, choose one that speaks to you the most and expand on it by writing ten more words or phrases that spring off of your main idea.

Let’s take the Marilyn Monroe example. You have painted a pop art style portrait of Marilyn Monroe and want to avoid the trap of simply titling the work Marilyn Monroe, as there are probably thousands of paintings with the same name. German painter Kristin Kossi found a unique and succinct title that adds some flair while remaining true to the content: All Stars Marilyn. Keeping it short and catchy is a good way to go.

Kristin Kossi, All Stars Marilyn (2013)

Skip the “Untitled” and Duplicate Titles

Too many artists give up altogether on finding a name and settle on the ever mysterious Untitled. This is perhaps the biggest mistake you could make, not only because there are thousands of artworks with the same name, but also because it doesn’t add anything special for your future art collector and client. Imagine your art being beautifully hung in someone’s home, and when guests inquire about the piece and it’s name, the new owner has to break the news: “Um, it’s called Untitled.” Titling your work is necessary to make your mark in the contemporary art world.

On a similar note, a common error artists sometimes make is using the same title for multiple works. If the paintings are in a series and they absolutely need to be grouped under the same name, add numbers to each one to distinguish them from each other- Moonlight in Havana No.1, Moonlight in Havana No.2, and so on.

Avoid Oversimplified Titles and Clichés

In avoiding cliché titles, you also must avoid oversimplified titles that merely categorize the artwork, such as Still Life or Self Portrait. In the painting below by Igor Barkhatov, a cliché and oversimplified title might be Landscape, but instead he chooses Last Days of Autumn: a simple yet evocative title that stirs notions of nostalgia and the change of seasons in the countryside.

Igor Barkhatkov, Last Days of Autumn (2019)

Don’t be afraid to choose the quirkier route over the cliché. For example, a cliché title for this painting below by Vincent Gautier might be Road Trip, but instead, we are surprised and delighted when we read the title Good riddance. It adds a voice to the painting that is both corresponding and unexpected. What might the characters in your paintings say? Choosing a title that is colloquial can strike a nice contrast with the more formal and technical aspects of your art practice, while adding a distinct flavor to the work.

Vincent Gautier, Good riddance (2015)

Choose a Title that Adds Something New to the Artwork

Instead of describing what is already present in the work, try choosing a title that adds something new, enhancing what is already there. For example, in Arno Bruse’s painting below, an obvious title choice might be Black Cat. Instead of stating the obvious, Bruse chose to title the work Nighthawk, referencing the stray cat, but also alluding to the style of Edward Hopper in which the painting is made. The title thus brings a new element to the painting, giving the viewer more insight into the influences behind the work.

Arno Bruse, Nighthawk (2012)

Check your Spelling

Last but certainly not least, make sure to check the spelling of your title- especially if you have chosen something not in your mother tongue! Nothing looks more unprofessional than a misspelled artwork title. As far as capitalization goes, it is always more professional to capitalize the first letters in your title, but using all lowercase letters can be a stylistic choice. Some of the most distracting artwork titles I have seen are when they are written in all capital letters, like the artwork is screaming at you. Try to avoid this, unless it is absolutely necessary for the overall reading of the work.

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