the untitled dilemma

Most visual artists I know struggle with titling their work.  I’ve thought a lot about this recently and up to this point, have assumed it was because we lack words to neatly mount alongside of our visual work.  Visual artists are inherently driven to visual things, and to ask us to slap a word-driven label on the side of our work is a bit like asking a word-driven preacher to paint instead of preach to his congregation.  A fish out of water is bound to flop around.


There are, of course, many dangers to bad titles:they can

1) oversimplify a complicated concept



Title Option #1: Friends

[net result: glancing quickly at a title can become a crutch for a viewer uninterested in engaging at a deeper level and the artist runs the risk of becoming nostalgic and grossly naive to the power of art]  Downfall: too broad


2) or isolate the artist from the viewer


Title Option #2: Having a Good Afternoon at The IMA (Indianapolis Museum of Art) With My Best Friend Named Kathryn

[net result: with too many specifics outlined in the title, it could seem isolating in that it's all about the artist's experience and the viewer isn't invited to engage more critically]  Downfall: too specific


If good art asks questions (rather than handing us prepackaged answers), then I believe a title should be the lead in.  Maybe it would be helpful, in fact, if the title WAS a question, or something that generated interest.


Title Option #3: Koinonia

[net result: possibly generate more interest in the art itself.  The logical starting point would be to ask "what in the world is koinonia?"  And from there, a process of discovery ensues.]  Downside: engaging with art takes work and some may not be up for the challenge!


And with that, I leave you with two pieces of artwork I rediscovered this week.  (stored away at my parent’s house)  They are about 2 years old, gathering dust and yes – untitled.


Untitled, 2008  encaustic, mixed media on panel  38 x 38 x 3″

Untitled (detail)

Untitled, 2008  encaustic, mixed media on panel  26 x 12 x 3″

Untitled (detail)