Do Titles of Your Work Matter?

Is coming up with a good title part of your creative process? You may be like me and have found that coming up with a title is an afterthought or something you simply attache to the finished work at the end of the creative process. Years ago when I was more active in the art world from the creative perspective I used to run a simple e-mail newsletter with over 20 thousand subscribers. This was back in the day when people read most or at least more of their emails. It was also before Facebook, Twitter and no one had yet heard of MySpace. As a result email was the best way to connect with fans of my work and it led to a moderate amount of success in selling my prints.
The formula was simple. Each week or two come up with a new image to share. I was working in digital so all my artwork was computer generated which was kind of unique back then. The title of the work was the subject line of the email and the email was basically a hyperlink to the image I had posted on my website. I could track the results by looking at my hit counter (yes this was back in the 90s). One thing I eventually noticed is more people were going to the page when my title was "interesting". If it was kind of bland, the tendency was for less people to view the work and ultimately less sales. I was discussing this was another artist who I would correspond with by email. He reminded me that when my title was well thought out it sparked the interest of the people on my email list more than it might if it was a bland title. In most cases with the visual arts the artists is trying to tell a story and people want to hear a story. I failed to ask myself if the title was helping tell that story I wanted to tell.
There is not any sort of magical formula for the perfect  title but in researching this in the past some of the questions you can ask yourself when deciding a title are the following: 
  1. Will it help people remember the piece? In today's age where people might be Googling you or your work, you can see why this is important. 
  2. Does it reflect how you want people to perceive your work? If your artwork is more whimsical, a whimsical title might be in order. It is is more tranquil then…well you get the idea.
  3. Does it elude to a story? This is perhaps the most important in my book. As I cited above this was an area that when I did this it helped with attracting more interest.
Last I wanted to mention unlike a written story a work of art may allow the viewer to come up with their own story. While the artists may try to bring attention to specific subject matter in the photograph or painting, sometimes a peripheral may catch the viewers attention, especially if the title is too broad or not reflective of the artists intent.
For instance, I was looking at a well composed photo of park under the mantle of a fresh snow. The title was simply called "Snow". The title really did not reflect anything specific in the picture other than "Snow" so the obvious subject matter  was not mentioned. Obviously the snow was a big part of the image but there were too many details in the photo to justify just calling it snow in my opinion. A huge part of the picture and the interesting subject matter was how the pond reflected the bridge and the details of the bridge architecture itself. But while the main subject matter was a bridge and pond what ultimately caught my attention was a park bench in the corner.  I don't know why but it did and when I looked at the piece I was thinking about how pleasant it would be to view the scene in person sitting on that park bench. Then I thought how cold it would be to sit there. As you can see the story likely went a different direction than what the photographer might have intended. But that is okay. It is okay if it does that but if the photographer had wanted to make sure the attention focused more on the bridge he might have titled it at "snow capped bridge" or something more creative and specific rather than simply "Snow". On the other hand, even if he had intended the focus to be on the bench he might have titled it something like "Frosted Bench in the Park".
I don't want you to think I believe there is a rule that says your title has to follow some set formula. Hey, its art and you as the creator of the work is ultimately the decision maker. But there are some good examples on how to come up with a title. I would recommend reviewing the blog post Creating Titles for Your Artwork. It is by Jason Horejs, owner of Xanadu Gallery in Scottsdale, AZ. He has some great insight on coming up with a good title. 
On a related note we have a new video that tells you how to title stored JPGs you want to post in the gallery. If you want to view what some people are posting and how they are titling images check out our Members' Gallery. You will find some title's very good while others might…well you decide.
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