Untitled - Flor de Pascua, 1921
By MC Escher
For those setting out on their journey of a lifetime and have made the commitment to start a family, imagine for a moment, spending 9 months preparing for a transformation from person to parent. Being on the precipice of the most joyous moment of your life, looking through tearful eyes into the eyes of the fruit of your labor and whispering, “Welcome to the world little… Untitled.” Even those pretentious asses that don’t want to know the sex of their baby until they give birth, have names picked out for whatever the gender.
Untitled - Les Demoiselle d'Avignon, 1907
By Pablo Picasso
Oil on Canvas, 7'11" x 7'7"
My point being, in regards to art, why spend hours on creating the fruits of your intellect only to cop out on a title for your work! Truth be told, this is an epiphany at 51 years old, because up to this point of my lifelong artistic trek, I hated coming up with titles for my pieces. The thought being, you’re guiding someone’s interpretation of the meaning, perhaps looking back, it was a false premise. Although Picasso felt the same way, he never titled any of his works. Leaving that responsibility with buyers, critics and curators to decide what to call his finished work. I still believe that titles do alter someone’s perception and subsequent appreciation of a piece. One could be totally turned off by the title of a painting and not
care to dive into that painting’s meaning or narrative. In the end, I choose to take on that challenge. The final creative decision in the completion of that particular piece. A decision no less important than composition or color or medium. Personally, I may question the whole concept. As tangent thoughts and emotions pass through me in the course of the day, maybe a word or phrase comes to me first. Then, the challenge at hand is building an entire painting on that word or phrase. Thus, reconfiguring the whole creative process. Perhaps, I’ve been watching to much Jeopardy, where you start with the answer and you need to come up with the right questions.
Untitled - the Arnolfinin Wedding, 1434
By Jan VanEyck
Oil on canvas, 32" x 23"
Now, at this stage of my life, if I’m working on a piece for weeks, if not months, at a time, why would I choose to fumble at the goal line. This thought process was required when I developed the catalog for Roc Paint Sip. A customer needed to differentiate between paintings for what they wanted to paint for their event. I suppose I could’ve simply numbered the 100 + pieces in our catalog, but that’s just not “artful”. The same applies to book titles or song and album titles. Even brief or instrumental songs need their unique identity within the context of a collection of songs.
Untitled - Las Meninas, 1656
By Diego Velazquez
Oil on canvas, 10'5" x 8'9"
Untitled - Mona Lisa, 1503
By Leonardo DiVinci
Oil on poplar board, 30" x 20"
Artists aside, I know the average person can’t name many famous paintings or other works of art, other than The Mona Lisa (which is technically known as untitled), The Last Supper, Starry Night, or The Thinker, thus how would one reference an historical masterwork? “Hey you know that painting with all the swirly stuff by that guy who cut his ear off?”, or “that famous ugly chic looking straight at you!” Imagine if Fur Elise by Beethoven was untitled, everyone would have to hum the first 8 bars, so that you knew what they were talking about. Even undeveloped pieces of a larger work can simply be titled a “study”. Now, I’m not putting myself in the category as Di Vinci or Beethoven (just the same sentence), but I am saying that the fruit of my creative endeavors are worthy of a name. it’s kind of fun too!
Usually, half way through a painting I start that process. As the placement of elements are composed and the palette is formalized, I begin to think of how I will refer to that work when it’s finished. How will others identify it? Because I use many symbols and surrealism in my work, it’s almost a necessity for that piece to have a name. Perhaps, not to the degree that Salvador Dali or Marcel Duchamp, whose titles were absurd for affect, but I tend to style my titles more in the vein of Freda Kahlo, more to the literal side of what is actually being depicted. I contemplate titles for paintings while doing the mundane parts of my day, like going to the gym, going on my walks or doing yardwork. Sometimes, it’s the last thing I think about when I go to bed. Plus, it’s has meditative properties that relieve the everyday stresses of life.
Untitled - Portrait of Artist's Mother, 1871
By James Whisler
Oil on canvas, 56" x 63"
The sharing of a finished piece through social media is also benefited by an artwork with a functioning title. I have been wondering lately about what does “finishing” a piece actually means. Is there more to it than just my little insignia in the bottom righthand corner? I know I’m not a world-renowned artist, but I do take my craft seriously and if I want the world to take my work seriously, shouldn’t I do what’s essential in the documentation of finished painting? The provenance of an artwork might be the only evidence of my thought process going into a particular work left after I they left this earth. Seldom do we get the meaning of a work right from the artist themselves. Who knows who will find your artwork valuable in the future and will want to know your mindset or story behind that artwork? I guess in 2021 that process is far easier than it was 100 years ago. Once, where maybe a torn page from a sketchbook or a grainy black & white photo or perhaps a page out of a journal or handwritten letter, is now replaced by Instagram videos or Tik Toks shot in real time as one is actually creating a piece. The numerous social media platforms in which one shares their work is just as valid now as a well-articulated artist’s statement. Blogs and podcast can provide a record of one’s art; before, during, and after the fact.
Going forward, I take this to heart. Moreover, I’m considering reevaluating all my previous work. All the what, when, and where’s and why’s of a piece I may have done 25 years ago. One of my chief faults is thinking no one gives a shit about what I do or what I paint. But what if someone does? What if a lot people do? Obscurity is the cancer to all artist and the creative process as a whole. Art is created to share and to be seen, and hopefully discussed to a minor degree. I’m trying to change my thinking about this whole thing, but it’s a tough cycle of to brake.
Untitled - Fire Color Painting, 1962
By Yves Klein
Mixed media on canvas
Just something to consider as you go forth with any future artistic endeavors. Titles and names aren’t the beginning and end all to all things creative, I get that. No one titles a crocheted sweater “. The Ocean’s Last Wave” or a triple layer cake baked from scratch “Reaching for the Heavens”. But for a poem, short story, song, movie, or even a painting, it’s nice to have an element identifiable to that specific piece. As human beings, we have a deep-rooted need to feel a connectedness to not just other people but inanimate objects. We name our cars and appliances and have names for hurricanes, it’s what sets those elements and objects apart, in turn setting humans apart. Remember your first car, “The Orange Menace”? Do you remember Hurricane George? Probably not, but I bet you remember Hurricane Katrina.
Whatever the medium or outlet, just know that the final product of your intellectual venture just might be worthy of distinction by title, in turn, might be remembered for generations.