Add Focus to Your Art With A Spectacular Title

A question mark with the copyright symbol.
Image via Wikipedia

Which is the more compelling title between “Abstract no 4” or “Ravines of the Heart”? I would certainly opt for the latter. It appears more memorable from the onset and says a lot more about the work and the artist’s emotions when painting it.

Sometimes a good title for an art-piece comes early on, perhaps before you even start painting the work or taking the photograph. The title itself may be the very inspiration for the work and at other times we finish the piece and search long and deep for an apt name.

Finding a gripping name for your artwork is just as important as a novel title or an eye-catching headline in a newspaper is, but even more so, for it should not only serve to get people’s attention but it relays the state of mind of the artist and may evoke a deeper sense of emotion to the viewer too. It also goes a long way to adding energy to the piece and excitement to the viewer. You want to sell your art, and if you can capture the intrigue of the potential buyer at the name, you’re already half way there!

A title should accomplish several tasks. Ideally, the following characteristics should be in your title:

  • Relays what’s happening (Tip: try not to disclose the entire meaning)
  • Be Distinctive
  • Be Memorable
  • Arouse one’s curiosity
  • Satisfy the Artist themselves that they’re on target and that their chosen title can stand the test of time.

Like a movie or book title, one gets the gist of what it’s about from the name and this also assists in selling artworks, especially abstract work. What does the painting/photograph say? Is it Romantic? Or Shocking? Is it Peaceful or Inspiring? Whatever the work’s message relays is a good starting point in choosing the title for it. Once you have ascertained this, you should then assess the other characteristics. Is it distinctive? Could it be said more briefly or more powerfully?

Some guidelines for choosing a title for your paintings and photographs.

  • What is central to the work that you would like the viewer to understand? The theme? Or is there a special emotion evoked in it’s message, or is it simply portraying the state of an object? Try not to reveal the entire meaning in the title…a little suspense works wonders and doesn’t leave room for the audience to think you are preachy or fear the viewer is not clever enough to get your intent. Allow them some room to interpret it the way they wish.
  • Avoid cliché’s: – unless of course that is the nature of the work, or it is portraying irony.
  • Select the strongest words possible  – view examples in a thesaurus to make the selection of the synonyms to any given word.
  • Avoid “Cheesy” titles or vulgarity. These won’t help sell your art.
  • As in book titles, Oxymoron’s (opposites combined) e.g. “Simple Abundance” or “Intimate Strangers” work well.
  • Single words can also work well and exude power e.g “Chaos.”
  • Words with dual meanings and Metaphors are also a consideration. E.g. “Lying on the Couch”
  • Don’t be afraid to be outrageous! Sometimes over the top titles are the most unforgettable and sell the most paintings and prints.

In my painting which I entitled “Juliette Awakens,’ I was lucky enough to come up with the name early on and it still worked for me once I’d completed the piece. I considered other names but found that this one should captivate its audience by introducing the moment the story starts – and I wanted the viewer to wonder if Juliette has seen Romeo yet or not, as we know what pursues in the rest of the legend tale after this instance.

Answer these questions for yourself.

1) Who is my target audience (who did I paint this for)?

2) Do I want the viewer to understand a little more of my artwork through the title?

Write down as many words or short sentences you can to start brainstorming. Even ask your friends to brainstorm with you. The challenge is also fun when you narrow it down to the most powerful, the most distinctive and ultimately the most memorable title possible. You’ll feel the value of your own work intensify a hundred fold when it’s got a great name.

We cannot copyright titles, so you have the freedom in this regard to use whatever you choose, but originality is always better. Lastly, remember that an artwork is ultimately more valuable to be called “Untitled,” or “Anatomy Study in Charcoal” than to have no name at all.

You’re an Artist – Be creative in coming up with an original title – as original as the work itself!


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