Years ago, I participated in a local exhibition of colored pencil works. A fellow artist presented her carefully rendered flowers with a title that went something like, life unfolding as it reveals the mystery of existence (Not a quote by the way.) I found it to be pompous and off- putting. But, why? Why was I offended by a title? The artists owned the right to call her art whatever she liked. Yet her title caused me to walk away without looking any closer. Since then, I have considered the power a title has to influence the viewing experience.
So what makes a reasonable title? Each piece of art comes with it's own set of rules, its own set of circumstances. While photographing Wilie with his Jack Russel, the title Who Rescued Whom, came to mind and drove the concept throughout the creation of the painting. Sometimes a title evolves with the piece. Sometimes I label it one thing then change it to another. And sometimes I merely state the location I have painted because that is what it is. But, that doesn't answer the question does it?
Here are some of the things I think about when titling a piece:
1, Is it too esoteric? Does the title fly over the average person's head? Bring it down a notch so you don't spend an hour explaining it (unless of course you need an ice breaker.)
2, Is the title cute? In some cases a good laugh is helpful. It makes the art memorable. However, be careful that excellent one-liner doesn't undermine the value of serious work. You think you have the pun of the century, but what effect has it on the resulting perception, especially if you are hoping for a sale?
3, Is it open ended? In some cases the title can suggest your intent, gently leading the viewer in the right direction without forcing your message. It is more interesting if it allows interpretation. A title that spoon feeds is unnecessary if the art works.
To put it succinctly, a title should do its job then step out of the way.