What title should I give this post?

Mike of destructivetesting commented on an earlier post “I’ve always thought that any ‘art’ should be displayed without any name, title, description or anything else that wasn’t actually a part of the ‘art’. That it should be able to stand on it’s own merits without any other baggage. “

As Juliet said “What’s in a name? that which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”. But how important is a title to a work of art? The photographs produced by Cindy Sherman are usually Untitled.

Cindy Sherman “Untitled Film Still N0.14″ 1978

I have searched for an explanation for the lack of titles in her work but as yet without success. I did find one quote though: “Early in my career, a critic said that I needed to “explain” the irony in my work, suggesting that I needed to add text next to the images to help people understand what I was trying to say. At first I was dismayed that I wasn’t making work with a clear enough message. That’s when I realized that that was the exact opposite of what I wanted to do – that I wasn’t responsible for a misinterpretation of my work, that there should be some ambiguity to it. They either got it, or they didn’t.”

Damien Hirst, on the other hand, always seems to have obscure titles such as “The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living”, the “real” name for his famous shark in formaldehyde sculpture. His spot paintings are often named after drugs.

“The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living”

In a TV interview Hirst said “[A work] is either titled or it’s not and Untitled – what’s that? It’s like calling your kid Untitled. ‘Untitled Number 1, dinner’s ready!’ It doesn’t really work.”

Hirst went on “[The title] is just a device to take you out and push you back into it. The whole experience of an art work is you have to be pushed back into it. The title should give you a feeling, may be, that you’ve got an answer, but actually raise more questions and push you back to the art work.”

Alyson Stanfield in her Art Biz Blog “5 Reasons to Title Your Art” gave four reasons which were purely business-based and not aesthetic, such as “Titles make it easier for reviewers and critics to write about your art”, “Titles help you distinguish among numerous works”, “Titles look great in books” and “Search engines find titles.”

However she gave one similar reason to Hirst “Intriguing titles are cause for contemplation. Untitled or loosely titled works allow the viewer more freedom to interpret, but most people need and want guidance. An interesting title might be enough for a viewer to stop, think, and look back at the art.”

In a chat at Hot Bed Press the other day I heard the view that to leave a work of art untitled was “arrogant”.  Is this so? Or should a work “be able to stand on it’s own merits without any other baggage” as Mike of destructivetesting says? Or should the title “take you out and push you back into” the work as Hirst says? Sorry, no answers, only questions!

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About notes to the milkman

I'm a printmaker based in the North West of England, living in Bolton and printing at Hot Bed Press in Salford. Please visit my website johnpindararts.weebly.com
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33 Responses to What title should I give this post?

  1. Drew Kail says:

    It’s an interesting question, for sure. Personally, I give ambiguous and often fantastical titles to my prints in order to lay some groundwork for the viewers imagination to run wild with the images, but not make my intent transparent. I feel that art should be open to interpretation, and my making it is not the end to what the piece “means”. That a personal and unique relationship forms between each work and the viewer discovering it. Giving strict descriptive titles forces my perspective into the equation and somewhat diminishes this interaction.

    • Titles of two of my prints come to mind. Firstly, I recently printed “IWM North” since it is the Imperial War Museum North, at Salford Quays. (You can see it on my site, ) The fact that the title stated what it was doesn’t detract, as far as I am concerned, from the fact that it is an amazing modern building which lends itself to an almost abstract image. Secondly as my contribution to Hot Bed Press’s 20:20 print exchange last year (there’s a flickr site somewhere with all the prints on ) I produced an abstract print made up of golden yellow rough vertical stripes which I called “Weird scenes inside the goldmine”. The colours were gold and the rough stripes could have been pit props, but the main reason was I liked that line from an old Doors’ song – some people even recognised the reference!

  2. barbaraelka says:

    I think it is up the artist to be titled or untitled…
    I could care less…I will bring my experience as a a viewer and make the viewing of any piece my own.

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  4. Deanne says:

    I love this post. Made me laugh out loud thinking on variations of “Untitled No 3 – take the garbage out” etc, and reconsider my own lame titling efforts. I like titles, so vote in their favour.

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  9. Anarty says:

    What a great discussion! I agree with Hirst in that it can add to work with a great title. Sometimes art doesn’t need an explanation because there isnt anything intellectual behind it – it’s just striking or aesthetically pleasing. As an avid art observer I like an explanation if there is one.

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