Giving Your Paintings Titles - And then I got sidetracked and exposed evil corporation tactics
I recently came across a similar question in an artist's Patreon post. Their question was more specific though, they were asking about what were our thoughts on writing on an actual painting. There is definitely a time and a place for it. I have seen paintings that are basically collages of words, which can be quite powerful when done correctly. And no, I don't mean artwork that is then turned into a poster where the word love is written in bubble letters, I am talking about fine art... although the more I think about it, the more I think about humanity's industrious nature and how you can buy a van Gogh poster for pennies that has been printed in China, and the colours are horribly off, but it means that if you can't afford a more costly option, then that poster is good enough.
When looking for examples, I came across VAL.papers work on Artmajeur, a French online gallery. Although I had mixed feeling about some of her artwork, I quite like "Girls Power" because it basically shows society's expectations and how, as a woman, ever since childhood you are bombarded with the beauty ideals in accordance to a multi-billion dollar industry of fashion, cosmetics, etc and everywhere you go, and everywhere you turn, there they are, or massive outdoor advertising, inside stores, and, of course, every time you buy clothing, the fashion trend has already been set limiting your choices to the current fashion - I am looking at you high waisted jeans with a long fly! Seriously, all I wanted was something low cut that doesn't dig into my ribs when I sit down. Also, you'd expect the pockets to be deeper, but for some sordid reason, they are still as shallow and flimsy as ever. (end rant)
"We Gonna Start the Revolution" is another example, although when I tried finding the source, Google only returns to images linked to Pinterest with no credit to the artist or source material. But if I saw this on a canvas, or some form of well presented fine art, I would approve. I see these two pieces as a call to action, showing women that we are not simply here to look good for men, but to feel comfortable in our own bodies and decided what makes us feel good, look good, what makes us feel confident is our own decision - even if we live in a society where corporations try to dictate our tastes and trends via marketing. Basically, corporations are not there to cater to us, they cater to themselves, what will make them money, by preying on our insecurities. They take our insecurities, enlarge them, and they tell us they have the solution to all of our problems - here, buy this face-wash that will help get rid of your acne, but also cover it up with all this make-up because seriously, you should really be embarrassed that your very human body is behaving as it should with all the fluctuating hormones, speaking of which, if you take these very expensive multi-vitamins, it will also help get rid of your acne. (as you may have guessed, I have a teenager at home. I have explained to them how marketing works and how corporations only care about their bottom line). Unfortunately, men are also a victim of this. Have you seen men's magazines?!? They think all men should have six packs, or 10, if you are Batman. Men should be rich, suave, wear suits, have beards, not have beards, man buns are in, man buns are out, be tanned, own a yacht.... Corporations hate E V E R Y O N E! Make everyone feel insecure, the watch the money pour in. Anyway, enough down with the system... And this is why art is important, it can be revolutionary and be an eye opener.
Another wonderful piece and what I consider a call to action piece is Josh Keyes's "Voodoo". The writing presented as graffiti within the environment is perfectly inconspicuous, or in this case, it makes you look twice and triggers a thought.... Racial injustice in America. If you haven't been living under a rock, you know who George Floyd is. A lot of his paintings are well thought out, have fun, playful, simple thoughtful titles. It would be boring if everyone decided to call their paintings Untitled xxxx.
Art, in all its forms, is important, but sometimes we artists can have a bit of an ego and try to be clever. I am definitely guilty of that. When I painted some of my flower faces, I went through one of the iterations of The Language of Flowers, did my research before starting any painting. One of those paintings was "Only You" where a woman and a man are almost kissing, but the woman is facing the viewer. Now, by giving it a title, I am already somehow hinting at the viewer at what they should be looking out for. But what I didn't consider at the time is that although I know what the flowers mean, nobody else does. The viewer if simply seeing these faces, covered in flowers, and only up close. My intention was to capture their attention from afar with what appeared to be a flower arrangement just to catch them by surprise when they walked up close and started analysing the small nuances, the glances etc. It worked as this piece was in display in an art show and many people offered me their interpretation. But nobody knew that each flower had been painstakingly researched and if I were to simply put the image of the painting out there, into the ether, without a name and without my interpretation, each person would give it their own interpretation based on their own life experiences and how the painting made them feel.
So we artists can be ever so clever and come up with extremely elaborate titles to what is simply a splash of paint. The title is absolutely meaningless and pointless and only shows that the artists has an inferiority complex and is trying to show off how clever they are - hmmm, guilty. But a better title could be something more like "Untitled xxxx" or "Composition in Blue" which states either nothing, or the obvious. And only now am I actually thinking about it because someone posted an absolutely gorgeous elaborate painting on Instagram and my comment was something along the lines of "the little nobleman reminds me of Lord Farquaad from Shrek". She took it in good humour, but did feel the need to explain to me all the research she put into it, the effort, the hours of thought and that she didn't watch cartoons. She was very diplomatic and I loved the explanation because I love knowing the thought behind a piece. As an artist myself, I can appreciate the effort, thought and literately hours, days, months, or even years spent on a painting. And that some little punk will come along and compare it to a cartoon character, the horror! But that just goes to show you that we may spend hours - months, years, and it will all boil down to one static image that will be looked upon by many many people, especially on social media, and many will put in their two cents, or a throw-away comment. Is it worth it for the artist? Yes, because it is our passion. Now, how about giving it a good title that conveys all that effort? Well, to give it some context, if it's based on a historical character, The Diminutive Lord Farquaad would make it obviously very descriptive and then the viewer can interpret the rest. What is he doing, who is he surrounded by and build a story around it. I believe that what you don't really want to do is give it a pompous name like Lord Farquaad's Glorious Day of Making Himself Feel Brobdingnagian because now you are forcing the viewer to a) look up the word brobdingnagian, b) think you are brilliant but possibly arrogant, a snob, and a douchebag, c) think that Lord Farquaad is having a glorious day when perhaps he was painted looking angry/sad and it conflicts with the viewer's experience of the painting.
This brings me to my last point which for me, can be even worse that giving your painting a poncy title. Writing the meaning of your painting onto your painting!!! That, for me, is a sin and should never ever be done because you are now telling, if not yelling at the viewer "this is what you should think when looking at my painting and don''t you dare interpret it your own way because my idea is way more clever than yours". Whenever I see a painting like that, I just want to tell the artist they ruined a perfectly brilliant composition and idea with words. For me, it's forever tarnished. I forgive titles because I can ignore it, but I can't ignore something that is staring right at me, searing it into my brain - if I stared long enough, which I don't, one look and I roll my eyes and swipe left.
Might I remind you, as usual, that this is my opinion. If you want to give your painting a poncy title, or scrawl the meaning of your painting in paint, well, that's your prerogative.