Today as I prepare for an upcoming exhibition at Carpe Artem Gallery in Oklahoma City, I feel a discussion on the often over-sighted topic of art titles and the importance they play in selling art in a gallery setting is pertinent.
If you go to an art gallery and observe those who are in the market to buy art, you may see that they study a piece intently. A novice in the art world probably wonders what they're doing. It can be fascinating watching enthusiasts as they take in the art and search for meaning. What might elude the untrained observer though, is the fact that these admirers often take notice of the white label next to a piece with the title and other pertinent information about the artist.
The primary point of connection for a buyer will always be the visuals, but the piece's title can also bridge a gab for a collector who might be undecided and uncertain of the purchase. A well-conceived title can strengthen the underlying meaning. But what if the artist precisely chose to negate the title with an ambiguous, "Untitled?" What does that mean and why would they do this?
Pablo Picasso was a Spanish painter, sculptor, and print maker who is regarded as one of the most influential artists of the 20th century. He is best known for co-founding the Cubist movement. Picasso insisted he had nothing to do with the titles of his works as he preferred the work to speak for itself. "What good does it do, after all, to impart explanations?" he once asked.
Philosophical reasons aside, it’s simply not practical to omit the title of an artwork. Keeping track of untitled pieces would quickly become a logistical nightmare. Plus psychological studies suggest that viewers have a lower understanding of untitled artworks. So why do some artists continue?
"Untitled," can subtly jab at the high-brow institutional system and emphasize a non-conformist's desire by evading artist representation, or perhaps they prefer the viewer to come up with their interpretation of a work? Either way, I must say, I disagree with the practice.
As an artist, art writer, and sometimes art curator and marketing consultant, I have learned that how you title your art is an important part of how you engage and communicate with potential art buyers. It also impacts how you develop relationships with other members of the art community, such as curators, art consultants, and gallery owners. It is for this reason that I advocate using titles. The majority of artists I know prefer titles and put forth a lot of thought into their pieces as well as their series.
When collectors purchase a piece of art, they often like to indulge in the "story" behind the art for those who admire their acquisitions. Titles are often a point that helps define, delight, or perhaps even challenge a viewer to look further into a piece than just the visuals displayed prominently.
I enjoy the process of coming up with titles for my work. An example from my "Famous Faces" series would be, "Elegance" as it simply means the quality of being graceful and stylish in appearance or manner. Something Audrey Hepburn not only captured on-screen but off-camera as well. Elegance is a dominant trait of her personality and style.
"Sweet Chemical Angst," is a play on words from one of GNR's more popular songs, "Sweet Child Of Mine." The song is derived from a poem Rose was writing at the time about his girlfriend, Erin Everly. She is the daughter of Don Everly of the Everly Brothers. The Everly Brothers were an American country-influenced rock and roll duo known for steel-string acoustic guitar and close harmony singing. The chemical angst part of my title is for the delirious effect of Rose's drug use during the eighties and the inner anger issues that seemed to be prevalent from him, especially during interview sessions.
Titles conjure in viewers an image of what lurks inside the mind of an artist and perhaps what inspires them to create the way they do. More importantly, it opens the gateway to a unique expression. As an artist, I’m impressed by other artists who take time to select titles for their art. As someone who has stepped into the curating shoes, it tells me they understand the market they're in.
When I attend gallery showings, I get frustrated when I come across a piece titled something like series "3X, No. 07." What does this mean other than it's a great catalog system to keep track of perhaps a very large body of artwork? I consider numbers to be cerebral, and yes I also realize that was probably the artist’s intention. But personally speaking, I'm more in-tune with descriptive words that conjure emotional reactions to a particular piece.
My other piece that will be available at the upcoming show at Carpe Artem in Oklahoma City in June is, "Rebel Soul." "Rebel Soul" is my depiction of actor, James Dean who is known best for his idealistic role in the 1955 film, "Rebel Without A Cause." The film follows a trouble-making teen, Jim Stark played by Dean. Like my Hepburn piece, this title fits into the straight-forward category. By connecting the feeling of the piece to the title, you'll identify the key experience you're aiming to convey. Well until next time, keep it savvy with encouragement, The Savvy Artist