How to Name a Painting: Do’s & Don’ts!

how to name a painting

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Today, let’s talk about one of the biggest questions that all artists will encounter in their careers:

“How should I name my painting?”

As Juliet said about her Romeo, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name would smell as sweet.”

BUT! It’s still very stressful to be the one actually giving the name. It lacks a sense of ceremony if you do it too carelessly, but fussing over it too much also makes it feel a bit cheap for some reason. Anyway, the process of how to name a painting is often very complicated and exhausting.

Fortunately, nothing is ever completely hopeless!

Continue reading below to learn all the do’s and don’ts of naming artwork:

How to Name Your Painting? | Do’s!

Just like when you sometimes can’t help but find yourself staring at a blank page before beginning to paint because of art block, it’s perfectly normal to get stuck sometimes when trying to find the right title for your artwork. Here are some ways to fix it:

  • Method #1: Capture the Essence of Your Art

One of the best and simplest ways to name a painting is to capture its meaning in words. That is, it’s best to choose a painting title that’s direct and to the point. One that doesn’t mince any words and heads straight to the core.

capture the essence of your art
“Christina’s World” by Andrew Wyeth

A great example of this is Andrew Wyeth’s “Christina’s World”. This art title hits directly to the core meaning of the painting — directly stating, this is what Christina’s world is like.

Christina is the main figure of the painting, and because of her disability, even though the flat ground in front of her shows no sign of any obstacles, it still seems like there is an insurmountable distance to be crossed.

In any case, having “Christina’s World” as a title makes it much easier for the audience to understand this point. As it directly states what the most crucial element of the painting is — Christina — and what the artist wants to convey — her world.

Main Takeaway: If you’re struggling to come up with a name for your painting, try to remember what you were thinking during your creative process. Those thoughts are a direct entry point to the essence of your work and should show you a way.

  • Method #2: Choose a Clever Abstract Art Title

The key of this next method is not necessarily about creating an intentionally vague title because it’s more mysterious or cool. No, it’s to choose a relevant abstract title that is thought-provoking and will lead the audience directly to the core of your painting

choose a clever abstract art title
“The Scream” by Edvard Munch

One of the famous examples of using symbolism to serve as the painting’s title is Edvard Munch’s “The Scream”.

This clever title hits straight onto the focal point of the story, hinting at the anxiety and distress felt by the original artist when he painted one of his own personal experiences whilst also describing the activity of the main figure in the composition.

Main Takeaway: What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you look at your painting? If you can figure it out, then you’re already halfway to picking out a good art title for your artwork!

  • Method #3: Use Metaphors

In terms of art titles, titles like the one we suggested above is not the end-all-be-all. You can also get a good title relying on metaphors.

use metaphors
“Cow’s Skull: Red, White, and Blue” by Georgia O’Keeffe 

An example of this method is the use of ‘Cow’s Skull’ in Georgia O’Keeffe’s “Cow’s Skull: Red, White, and Blue” painting. This abstract painting was painted in 1931, and during that period in time, Cow Skulls would often be found in the homes of many Americans.

It served as a decoration that symbolizes strength, resilience, and a connection to the natural world. Directly alluding to the sacrifice and honor owed to the horses and cattle that played a significant role in the lives of the people of that era.

Main Takeaway: If you’re having a hard time looking for a good title for your artwork, you can pick and choose some of the most relevant metaphors related to your artwork. In this way, you can craft a great title that is certain to be both thought-provoking and memorable.

  • Method #4: Find Inspiration from Music and Song Lyrics

find inspiration from music and song lyrics
“Broadway Boogie Woogie” by Piet Mondrian

Just like the abstract painter, Piet Mondrian, who is fond of integrating dynamic rhythm in his artwork, you can also find a good title for your painting with music as your muse.

Main Takeaway: If you want to take the easiest path for choosing art titles based on music, then choosing the title of the music itself is the best way to tell the audience or art buyer exactly where the inspiration for the paintings came from. Otherwise, you can pick out a phrase from the song lyrics.

  • Method #5. Consider the Key Elements of Your Work

Sometimes, art titles don’t have to be too complicated. You can directly use the key elements of the composition of your artwork; for example, color.

consider the key elements of your work
“Yellow, Red, and Blue” by Wassily Kandinsky

“Yellow, Red, and Blue” by Wassily Kandinsky

Highlighting the color scheme of your artwork can create good titles with little effort. Many artists, especially abstract artists, choose this method.

Of course, you don’t have to allude to just the general color scheme, you can also highlight specific colors, like in “Yellow, Red, and Blue” by Wassily Kandinsky, to serve as a visual reference that can guide your viewer’s eyes throughout the painting with colors.

Main Takeaway: Most artists stress about finding good art titles for their paintings so much that they overcomplicate it. Try not to make the same mistake. After all, great titles can be created as long as they accomplish the main task — provoke the interest of the audience or potential customer.

  • Method #6. Use Cultural References

Similar to using music titles or lyrics as art titles, you can also find art titles through cultural references.

There’s no limit when choosing this method.  You can take your title from religion, mythology, history, popular culture, etc. Again, the key is to pick a title that will lead the art viewer or art buyer to create their own interpretation on the basis of your chosen composition.

use cultural references
“Boreas” by John William Waterhouse

To give a good example, have a look at this painting from artist John William Waterhouse. Its title is “Boreas”, which is actually the name of the Greek God of North Wind.

Why choose this name? Because the title serves as an allusion to the actual painting! Boreas is the God of the North Wind, and in the artwork is a girl standing in the midst of a strong wind.

Main Takeaway: Your chosen cultural reference doesn’t have to be as vague as this particular example (e.g., “The Last Supper” by Vincent Van Gogh). Or it can be even vaguer if you want. It’s up to you. It just needs to be suitably relevant to the core meaning of your artwork.

  • Method #7. Choose a Descriptive Title

Sometimes, interpretation is not as important as what the viewer needs to see in a given artwork. This is similar to the first method, where the main idea of the painting is directly pointed out. The difference is that this method focuses on the visual aspects rather than the spiritual aspects of a given artwork.

choose a descriptive title
“Girl with a Pearl Earring” by Johannes Vermeer

An example of this is “Girl with a Pearl Earring” by Johannes Vermeer. Such a title is difficult to describe as ‘unique’ or ‘excellent’ when you first hear about it. But because it matches Vermeer’s painting, it manages to be just right.

Main Takeaway: Again, great art titles don’t necessarily need to be too complicated. They can be simple descriptions of your art — allowing the audience to grasp the most crucial visual keys and understand the true essence themselves.

How to Name Your Painting? | Don’ts!

The “Do’s” list above can be considered a general tutorial of sorts, allowing you to get a grasp on naming your paintings over time. As for the following list, it’ll be a little more specific so that you can avoid some of the more common pitfalls of finding an art title for your work:

  • #1 Don’t Name Your Artwork  “Untitled”

If you’re serious about looking for potential buyers for your art, naming it ‘Untitled’ is a real-deal stopper. It’s just too unprofessional and careless. It makes it seem like your work is not appreciated by you at all. And, if you don’t appreciate your own art, who will?

don't name your artwork "untitled"
“Untitled” by Ellen Gallagher

Of course, you have your own right to decide if ‘Untitled’ is a satisfactory title or not. It makes sense if it was used as a metaphor for your artwork, or to create some clever wordplay that other artists can understand. In that way, the title, ‘Untitled’ would match the meaning of the painting and would not be irrelevant.

  • #2 Don’t Use An Art Title With Numbers

Following on the same wave as the previous advice, it’s easy to make it seem like your artwork is underappreciated by you if there are numbers in the titles of your paintings.

For example, if you like landscape paintings and regularly add numbers to the titles of each landscape painting, it makes it seem like they’re all the same. Like it’s just some art practice you do on the side. Or, in other words, like it’s easily mass-produced.

don't use an art title with numbers
“Composition VIII” by Wassily Kandinsky

This rule does not apply if your paintings are representative of a series, like Wassily Kandinsky’s “Composition VIII”, which is a representative of a ten-part series that the artists created in his lifetime to push the boundaries of abstractionism.

  • #3 Don’t Give Your Art Long Descriptive Titles

We already mentioned before that titles that describe the painting are okay as long as they hit the core of the painting — serving as an aid for the viewer to see the essence more easily.

However, there are many pitfalls in using such a title. One of them is making it too long.

For example, something like, “Girl Driving a Boat in the Midst of a Storm with a Tall Wave on her Back” is not so much a title but an actual description. It’s just too long. So long that you don’t even need to see the painting in order to get a general grasp of the art composition!

  • #4 Don’t Make Your Art’s Title Too Confusing

Although it’s okay to make the title of your art a little more mysterious, it’s always best to leave room for interpretation by not being too bizarre.

don't make your arts title too confusing
“The Persistence of Memory” by Salvador Dali

The famous art by Salvador Dali, “The Persistence of Memory” is a good example of a painting with a too-abstract title. The title does match the meaning of the painting, so it can’t be said that it is a bad title. BUT, a lot of artists still refer to it as the ‘Melting Clocks’ painting because the title and the composition seem a bit too incongruous.

  • #5 Don’t Use Inflammatory or Offensive Language in Your Art Title

Generally, it’s advised that artists avoid using inflammatory or offensive language in the titles of their artworks.

Why not? It’s not that others have not asked the same question. After all, art has always been seen as something passionate. And anger, which is often expressed in curse words, definitely falls under the category of ‘passionate’.

The key here is not to tell you that there’s anything wrong with an offensive title. Maybe such a bold title matches your painting perfectly. It’s just a matter of being aware of the impact.

Unless you’re prepared to make a big statement, it’s best to avoid language that is easy to offend others, as it may distract the audience from the artwork itself.

Quick Step-by-Step Tutorial for Naming Your Artwork

Now that you know the general do’s and don’ts, it’s time to learn this quick step-by-step breakdown of what should be done during the naming process:

  1. Reflect on the Artwork: The first step is to step back and reflect. Try to remember what you were thinking about when you were creating this work. Also, reflect on the emotions and experiences you want to provoke in the viewer.
  2. Brainstorm Keywords: You don’t have to jump on creating titles directly. Write down some words that are relevant to the story you want your painting to tell.
  3. Describe Your Art: After writing down some keywords, briefly describe your painting through a short article. Try your best to convey the essence of the painting in your writing.
  4. Put Yourself in the Position of the Viewer: After having properly reviewed your art and it’s core message, it’s time to put yourself in the viewer’s shoes. How do you want them to interpret the painting? It’s best to choose a title that guides them to the core of your artwork.
  5. Experiment with Different Titles: After coming up with a title, don’t stop there! It’s best to write down several at a time. That way, you’re not just stuck with one option.
  6. Get Feedback from Other Artist Friends: After coming up with some title examples, get some feedback from other artists to see which one they think is most suitable.
  7. Trust Your Gut! After everything is done, it’s time to stop and choose. Ultimately, you should trust your own instincts. It is your creation after all, so you have full rights to choose which title best resonates with your painting.

Final Thoughts: How to Name Your Artwork?

Although there is no easy answer to naming your artworks, the process itself really isn’t all that complicated. It’s just a little awkward at first.

But as long as you don’t overthink it, you’ll find that it’s really not that serious! It’s better to focus on improving your art skills instead. For example, why not check out some online art classes to brush up on your drawing and composition skills?

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