Joanne Beaule Ruggles

Your Art Deserves a Title

Yes, it does. Your art deserves a title, and your audience does too. I know that some artists do not agree with me and that is their prerogative. Their argument is that the art should stand alone, the visual image needs no verbal description, the mark wants no interpretation. Fine. But here are some benefits a title provides for me, and some that it can provide for my artwork.

A title can allow me to identify a work of art. I have produced a huge body of artworks over my 50+ year career. If my artwork is untitled, how does a buyer or gallery inquire about it’s availability? How does a curator have a discussion with me about a particular work, or an author write about a specific work or make a comparison of several works?

A title allows me and subsequent researchers or editors to index, or catalog my artworks. If I had no desire to impose subject, the title can be numeric. I’d be in the tens of thousands by now and to me 10,657 sounds so unimaginative, but numbers could work.

A title allows me to insert my artwork into a specific context – whether it be literary, historic, scientific, or ? There are instances when you can add credibility to your work by connecting it to an earlier body of work by other artists, or scientists, or scholars. You make that connection clearer by its title. (In the case of the urban, edgy spray-painted portrait above – the title refers to someone sporting a new tattoo.)

A title can allow me to add mystery to an artwork that may at first appear to have an obvious narrative. If I use a title that seems to be at odds with an image, its viewers will have to stop and reconsider their first assumptions.

A title can allow viewers to access my art. I believe that anything an artist does to shed light on their process, their thoughts, their intentions, their tools and materials, their content – is beneficial. Anything I can do to to help my audience connect with me, my artwork, and my process is worth the effort.

Admittedly it is an additional layer of effort that I am suggesting you undertake, but I believe your art deserves a title.

P.S. The image above is titled Fresh Ink which is slang terminology referring to new tattoos. I thought it was a perfect title because the portrait image with spray paint marks applied looked like someone put their tag on a piece of existing street art.