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How to title your artwork so it sells

Olya Losina
February 21, 2019

Let's play the name game.

Titling artwork is a necessary part of the creative process for any artist. Some artists treat this process as a secondary aspect of drawing or painting, others see it as a crucial step to finishing their art. But where do you start? Should the title be funny or sad, poetic or nostalgic, laconic or wordy? Real and descriptive or off the wall and totally invented? Silly or philosophical? Simple or extravagant?

A good title can help sell your work.

Titles bring a new quality to an artwork that, without it, would be less interesting. A title can be connected to what you see literally, but it can be suggesting another story, other than what is depicted. Titles are a great way to add another layer to an art piece, without having to illustrate it on the piece itself. Conceptual pieces are typically very good at adding more dimension to a seemingly unimportant piece. If a well thought out title can contribute a story, it’s also possible for a title to “deflate” a good painting, making it a cliche.

Titles can make a huge difference in how viewers (and buyers) will interpret a painting, so take the time to try titles on a piece. A great way to do this is by going through song titles. One college portfolio student of ours, Zach, cleverly titled his painting that made viewers take a double take. It was a huge painting of items falling, among them cinder blocks and glass cups, on a dozen hands. What first comes to mind is what you literally see - a bunch of cinder blocks falling from the sky onto a crowd of people. That’s until you read the title, “Paranoid” which is the name to a popular Black Sabbath song. Everything changes - the items falling from the sky aren’t real. The viewer feels a sense of relief because at least the items aren't actually going to land on these people. The title is what creates this internal shift within the viewer; titles are powerful accessory to any piece.

Another student of ours, Bob,  was working on a series of self portraits. Bob said about the naming process, “I despise this game. It’s too superficial to search for word combinations to see if one of them sticks.” However, during the naming process of his series, he asked for help. One painting was of himself in a shirt with vertical stripes, so someone proposed “Prisoner.” Bob loved the title, responding with “I really am a prisoner - of my left brain.” To give some background on Bob, he’s a scientist and can be very meticulous. We now know a little more about Bob than what he looks like.

With both of these examples, you’ll see that artists don’t always know what they point of their series is at the time of creation. The art came first, and the title came second. People will ask artists, “where did you get this idea from?” Funnily enough, it sometimes comes after the painting is completed.

Picking a title for artwork is such a fun process, albeit time consuming. It’s definitely worth it, as you can see from the examples given how much of a difference it makes.