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What to Name Your Artwork

by Elisabeth Cline

Let’s back this up for a moment and consider whether you should name your artwork. My answer: “Well, yes, you should, and perhaps.” My ‘yes’ answer is directed toward artists who can think of a good name for a particular artwork that is thought-provoking, nails the intent of the artwork, and identifies the artwork for clients so they can talk about it, buy it or have their grandkids sell it at auction at Christie’s. ‘Perhaps’ is for artists who name their dog Spot or Dave. A seascape painting entitled “Dave” would identify it, however, it might confuse some people wondering where Dave was in the painting.

How would people refer to it if the Mona Lisa didn't have a name? (You will notice I did not include a photo of the Mona Lisa – we all know what it looks like.)

Originally the painting was known as: "La Gioconda". Many people just used "The Smile", "Madam Lisa Gioconda" Or "How to Hold Your Arms When Posing for a Portrait". But then we wouldn't have the 1915 opera, several movies, or the song by Nat King Cole, would we?

Today we can purchase "Mona Lisa" for $339.99 at Wayfair. Whether we should or not is another matter. Leo is still raking in the big bucks.

"Green Wheat Field with Cypress" (Vincent Van Gogh, 1889)

Other names that could have served are: ‘Enigmatic’ or ‘Big Hands’. So, what an artwork evokes is fair game.

Colors in a painting can signal its name. In “Green Wheat Field with Cypress” by Vincent Van Gogh (right) we see he (or literally anyone else) named the painting with identifying color and threw in a specific tree for good luck.

Also, in the green family, we have “The Green Interior Figure Seated by a Curtained Window” by Edouard Vuillard (below). Vuillard was really getting specific with naming this painting because he might have had a green interior with a standing figure peering out of a doorway painting in the works.

An artist could think: do I want this artwork to signal luxury, high energy, sweetness, sense of place, foreboding, nationalism, parody, or any number of identifiers?

Simply naming a painting “Landscape #2” will work, but is that really what you want to say about your artwork? For those of you who have a dog named Dave, I say stretch your verbal vocabulary to match your artistic endeavors. Now with Jeff Koons’s “Balloon Dog” sculpture (below), we must think that Koons was only going to make one dog and stop there. Yeah, not the case. He went on to make five more in different “party” colors and they were all known as “Balloon Dog” with an identifying color. He also crafted other animals in ‘balloon’ form. When you’re on a roll . . .

"Blue Dog" (Jeff Koons, 1994-2000)

Photo: Elisabeth Cline - Society of Washington Artists Contributing Writer https:/ Ridgefield, WA


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