Vision Thing is a journal I write to share my experience and passion as an artist with my collectors,
galleries, friends and art enthusiasts everywhere. My goal is to offer a "behind the scenes" or
insider's view of what makes an artist tick...this artist at least.
I appreciate you sharing my journey.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Name Theory

Are you ever disappointed upon discovering a piece of art is "untitled"? I simply miss this concept as an artist. In reality, I believe it is either of two things; a lack of interest in one's own work or an affectation intended to further distance the viewer - perhaps both.
"Artifact 9"
(this sculptural piece, with moveable wing vanes,
seemed very much like an artifact from
some future time or culture, hence the name)
The names of things have always been important to me: a character name, song title, place name and of course, the name of a piece of art. It seems obvious that people, in an effort to understand and discuss something must be able to refer to it by name or title - the more descriptive and accurate the name, the better it suits the subject. The name provides insight and clarity to the subject. The Sciences are a great example of the importance of name theory. I believe this is as true for art as it is for the taxonomy of dragonflies.
I spend a great deal of time thinking about name theory in my work. This is not to say that I agonize over names for particular pieces - they generally come like bolts from the blue - sometimes the challenge is to sift through the names for the one that feels right. I often have multiple names for pieces; a rock and roll name, a funk name and a "real" name - the name the work gives itself.
"Diamond Star Halo"
(an "homage piece inspired by the "false Maria" robot from "Metropolis.
A "rock and roll" title from the T. Rex [Marc Bolan] song "Bang A Gong")

I have numerous books on naming theory, as well as some very esoteric science books loaded with fascinating concepts and ideas that always kick-start my imagination. A random example from a favorite source, The Dictionary of Theories: Detonator Theory. Well, there ya go. It will be showing up as a title for a piece in my next show, guaranteed.

"Energy Fossil"
(a "physics" title inspired by the intriguing idea
that energy can leave a physical imprint)
I know my artist friends and I have spent many hours discussing naming our work. I would love to hear from others about their naming ideas or if anyone can shed light on the concept of "untitled" work. I would particularly appreciate insight from non-artists on their feelings and reactions to the names they have encountered when viewing art. Are they even important at all? Do they add any insight into the work or enjoyment of the piece?

Personally, in my own creative expression, a work is not finished until it has a name. Once named, it is freed from my influence, it can stand on its own...long after I'm gone. In a way this is its final "tempering" and is an integral part of its character. The name I connect with a piece may further illuminate its origin, it may provide insight into its process, it may "extend" its vision in another way or it may be designed to enhance its mystery. There are many reasons names are important...I imagine I'll be re-visiting this topic again another time...right now I have to get started on "Detonator Theory"...

Thanks ~


Next week: Music and Art...stay tuned...


  1. I have to agree with you Jeff. Even as a technical artist, when I create tools for the team, I have to give it some kind of name. "Mastermind", "Henchman", "Material Masta" (included a 70's-eque picture of Sho-Nuff from The Last Dragon) are some of my favorites. I agree that it has a bonding effect between the user (or viewer in the case of fine art) and the work - in addition, it creates a link between the viewer and the artist. It opens a doorway however small into the inner artist. Maybe this is why some artists don't title their work. Maybe they don't want to open that door to the viewer. I imagine that there's a fair bit of indifference to the work, but maybe there's such an emotional connection between the art and artist that opening that door exposes more of the artist than they feel comfortable sharing.

  2. Hey Jeff

    I agree, a name frames a piece. But... I can tell you from experience the artist isnt always in touch with the name. I write a lot of poetry and for years my pieces had no name. It was only recently I could give them one. Thats because I was "out of touch" with myself.

    Art/ expression is sometimes a subconcious thing.

    - Susan

  3. Hi Jeff,

    I'm never dissapointed when a piece of art is "untitled" so many great artists have left us "untitled" pieces, it doesn't cheapen their impression or value on us (and I don't mean monetarily).

    I think the art itself is what it is. If it moves me, it moves me, for me art give me feeling, it reminds me of something or somebody, it gives me a sense of something, it either touches me or it doesn't, it's visceral, it's primal, it's easthetics; for me the name is secondary or unimportant, I would probably name it something else. We name things to give them ownership, give them meaning, frame them (as Sue says above), etc.

    If I get interested in a piece of art that I enjoy looking at I'm more interested in the history around that piece of art than I am the name. What was the artist thinking, what was he going through at the time. What or who else influenced the expression in creativity.

    I think JP's comment above that maybe the reason artists leave them untitled is that the feeling, the part of their soul that they just gave up and put to canvas, or metal, or whatever medium they're working in was so great, so emotional, so strong that they can't bring themselves to calling it one single thing (you yourself say it above by having multiple names for your pieces). If the artist feels like sharing that they usually do for history's sake, but if they don't I'm guessing that they want to see if anyone else in the world will have the same feeling they do when they look at the piece of work.

    It's an interesting topic without a correct answer only human opinion and experience. Thanks for allowing me to think about something I miss a lot. I'm going to go have a good cry now!

  4. Thanks for the comments everyone!

    JP: Ah, brings back memories! You may be right about opening that door - my feeling is if you can't open it then you shouldn't be showing it.

    Sue: I think you nailed it with the artist being out of touch with themselves and their work...then again, og sheds some light...

    O-man: Thanks for the insight - I do think you're right about there not being a correct answer - I think it is an individual thing. For me the name of a piece isn't separate from the piece - it is part of the overall "gestalt" I guess, and for me is an integral part of the creative process.

  5. Posted by Andrea Boudewijn on Facebook:

    Hey Jeff, I don't see a place to post over there, but I get what you're saying -- being an (ex) writer, names are almost equally as important as the piece. For a while I did an abstract series of horizons and called them the first thing that popped into my head after I completed it -- sort of a way to mark it in time. So I got paintings called "No Trumpets Played," "We did it California!" and "that onramp is purple now." They're better for the naming.

  6. Thanks Miss Andrea! You should consider that when naming your edible treats!


  7. Jeff,

    Great post. I agree with you I want to see a name. Good art is conceptual and if the artist doesn't know what the art is about then its just rendering.

  8. I am not an artist, but I do feel more distance when I see an unnamed piece. I like to look at the art first to get my own impression, then look at the name to see if I am interpreting it the way the artist intended. When there isn't one, it is disappointing. Sometimes it is totally surprising, other times I am close. I don't think I've ever gotten one right and that's part of the fun!

  9. I always feel "let down" at a museum when something is "titled", "UNtitled". Naming gives validity, life and identity. I named my kids before they were conceived, let alone born. Silly perhaps, but It creates a feeling of immediate connectedness.