5 Tips for good titles for art

In my day job I’m a communications professional. I see it all the time – people need context. They need to understand. Many find abstract art alienating because they don’t know how to interpret it and the story often isn’t obvious. For others of us, that’s OK – we get off on the relationship of objects to space and use of line or colour…we don’t necessarily need the story. But we’re in the minority.

Tradition and probably other reasons have trained our brains to believe art is something you need to understand – not just feel. Except that’s wrong. But it is what it is.

So what is the abstract artist to do? I think we need to help people to connect with our work if that’s what they need. And the title is one way to do it.

5 Tips for titling your art

  1. Give the viewer a clue. People like to be intrigued – they just don’t like to feel lost. So use words or phrases that could mean many things. Let the viewer find their own story.
  2. Give the viewer insight into what it means to you, the artist. Many people love to talk to the artist about why they painted something the way they did. Name the painting something that aligns with how you understand the work. It all helps make the connection. Relationships are based on connections. Sales are made when people connect!
  3. Align the title with the name of your series. If your series tells a story, then make your title related to your story. Look at my series, Crossings + Intersections: that series is inspired by earth’s formations through layering, weathering, tectonic shifts, lava intrusions – basically geological stuff. The titles are all geological terms. Very few people will know what they mean but I chose them by their sound and the fact that each title actually does match one possible story for each painting.
  4. Never use “untitled” as a title. What a waste of an opportunity. A title is an opportunity for the artist to say something more or to support the viewer to connect with your work.
  5. Don’t serve the story on a plate. Be subtle. If something in the painting looks like flags or if you intended it to be flags, don’t call the painting “Flags.” Call it something related to flags like “Allegiance” or “Patriot” or “Free in the wind” – get the idea?
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