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What’s in an artwork name?

November 17, 2022

The Colourist Skylark Galleries blogger Helen Trevisiol Duff

“Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.” Edgar Degas 

Here at Skylark Galleries we have artists working across different mediums and practices. They all have something in common … deliberating about the title of their artwork! When the varnish is still drying on the canvas, the kiln is firing and the time has come to give the work of art a name, all of a sudden the mind goes blank! Or does it? It can be tricky to make this decision as too obvious a title can be dull and some artists feel, "If I could say it in words there would be no reason to paint," Edward Hopper.

Sarah Knight describes her beautiful work through colour names.

Seascape in Lismer Blue by Sarah Knight of Skylark Galleries

Seascape in Lismer Blue £240

How does the artist pick a title that will be meaningful and stand the test of time?  Many of us brainstorm, write down lots of ideas, muse over them and then decide. Others are inspired by a saying,  a rhyme or the name of a place or feeling. It’s an individual, personal choice but one which is important as it can lead to discussion about the artworks. 

Amanda Gosse uses humour in her title ‘Fly guy’ inspired by 90’s slang.

Fly Guy by Amanda Gosse Skylark Galleries wildlife artist

Fly guy £50 

Smita Sonthalia says, “I title my artwork with Spanish names.  My daughter is learning Spanish and I fell in love with this language. When I create a piece of work I go deep in the process of making it and feel something about it when it is almost done. I keep looking at my completed piece and feel for it ...then suddenly I get the title for it.”

 Cantando by Smita Sonthalia Skylark Galleries artist

Cantando £250

Vivien Phelan plays on rhyme, humour and the English language. She says, “ My favourite place to start my creativity is on the potter's wheel, then reshape it into animals or whimsical busts based on the quirkiness of the English language.”

 Foxy Lady by Vivien Phelan Skylark Galleries artist

Foxy Lady £295

I asked fellow artist and friend Stella Tooth how she choses a title, “I sometimes use song titles for my performer artworks, or a title that tells a story, especially for my childhood-inspired portraits. ‘Roman holiday’ is just that - a memory from my first visit to my mum’s country Italy when I was six. But the title also evokes the title of a magical Audrey Hepburn film I watched with my mum prior to the trip about a princess visiting Rome on her own for the first time.  My sister (pictured middle) was like that princess for me.”

Roman Holiday by Stella Tooth portrait and performer artist of Skylark Galleries LondonRoman Holiday £410 

Many artists settle on the popular ‘Untitled’. Maybe this is because the works speak for themselves, or the series of work has developed in a way where the title isn’t important anymore. There are thousands of artworks with exactly the same name which can be rather repetitive. A title can mean so much to an artist, future art collector, curator or client. It can resonate in so many ways, especially if it’s the name of a place that means a lot to the viewer or a feeling they relate to. Skylark artist Carol Edgar uses a descriptive word followed by numbers to identify her abstracts. 

Winter II by Carol Edgar abstract artist of Skylark Galleries

Winter II £225

Personally I feel that how a piece of art makes me and the viewer feel is as important as its appearance and the title can say it all. I use titles like ‘serenity’, ‘eternity’.  For this collagraph ‘Moorland flight’ I’ve used a descriptive title which evokes a feeling of freedom as the birds fly across open country. It relates to my experience of driving across the moors at night on an empty road feeling exhilarated by the extremes of weather and excitement of what lies beyond the next hill.  You can see my full artworks here.

Moorland Flight by Helen Trevisiol Duff of Skylark Galleries London

Moorland Flight

When art is hung in a home, and guests inquire about the piece, its title can be a topic of conversation. The title of a painting, sculpture, print or ceramic may be what inspires the creator - or it may be an afterthought. It is meaningful and can be of equal importance as the artwork itself.

Artist Zsuzsanna Pataki Uses titles which describe the place if it’s a landscape or cityscape. She says, “My portraits are titled to hide the identity of the sitter, as not everyone is happy about floating all over the internet. So, based on what (else) inspired me, I have a Queen of Sheba, Scotsman, etc.”  You can see Zsuzsanna's full collection here

Referencing an artwork is important not only for an emotional connection but also for cataloguing. Imagine if all paintings were called ‘untitled’ how confusing that would be when it came to identifying the piece. To pick an original, or thought-provoking, title that will add something to  the artwork, elevates it and can be a big part of selling it if the viewer can relate to the title. 

“The main thing is to be moved, to love, to hope, to tremble, to live,” Auguste Rodin

Helen Trevisiol Duff The Colourist blogger of Skylark Galleries London

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