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Do’s & Don’ts On How To Title Your Paintings

Do’s & Don’ts On How To Title Your Paintings

Do’s & Don’ts On How To Title Your Paintings

There is a lot of debate about how important the title of a painting is. Some artists leave it as an afterthought and find it a chore to come up with a title, whilst others begin with the title and only start painting after that.

The practice of naming paintings has changed throughout the centuries. Until the late 19th century the names of paintings were nearly always a mere description of the subject matter, objects and events represented. How different it is these days.

Some artists use funny or provocative titles, whereas others use titles that are meant to confuse people and draw them in. A great example of a title that doesn’t conform to a description of the subject matter is below painting by American artist Matt Adrian titled “I Will Put You Down As A Soft Maybe”.

Matt Adrian’s painting “I Will Put You Down As A Soft Maybe”

Artists have different approaches to coming up with a title and while there is no clear right way of doing so there are some common do’s and don’ts. Let’s have a look at some of them.

Do: Fit the theme of an exhibition

When your art is exhibited at a themed exhibition, make sure that you name the art in accordance with the theme. As an example, when the theme is “national identity” make sure to title your painting in the same language as the nation whose identity you’re portraying. If you’ve painted an Australian beach, don’t call it La Plage (which means beach in French).

Edgar Degas, Beach Scene (1876-7)


Don’t: Call your painting ‘Untitled’

Whilst you may be able to get away with not coming up with a title for a sketch that’s not intended to be an artwork in its own right, you can’t do this for a painting that you’re trying to sell. Many art buyers find an untitled painting very uninspiring and by not having a name for a painting you’re making it a lot harder for people to recall your painting. While there are examples of paintings called ‘Untitled’ that sell for a lot of money, this is quite rare.

This painting titled ‘Untitled’ by Mark Rothko sold for $66 million in 2014

Do: Write down titles as soon as you think of them

Coming up with a good title can be quite hard, so once you do come up with a good name make sure to write it down straight away. Good titles will often come up when you’re not actively thinking about it. You may walk on the street or be chatting to your friends when all of a sudden a great title comes to mind. Some artists carry a little notebook with them so they can immediately write down the title they just thought of, whereas others make a note in their phone.

Don’t: Title your painting with numbers

Art buyers want to feel a connection with your paintings and numbering your paintings doesn’t do this at all. They won’t feel inspired if they saw the title ‘Untitled No. 9’ or ‘Beach scene no. 23’. Art buyers also like to feel special and knowing that you’ve produced more than one painting in the same style doesn’t quite make them feel like they’re purchasing something unique. Some famous artists get away with putting a number in the title, but the rule of thumb is that this doesn’t usually work.

Jackson Pollock’s ‘No. 5, 1948’ bucked the trend and sold for $140 million in 2006


Do: Intrigue people with your title

Art buyers like to feel intrigued when they hear he title of a painting. A good title shows an artist’s intent, gives a clue as to what they’re trying to convey or adds an element of mystery. There is no right or wrong way of doing this. Some artists pick a smaller part of the painting and make that the title as they feel it will intrigue people because they’ll try to decipher the meaning of the title. Others provide intrigue by invoking emotions with their title, such as ‘The Scream’ by Edvard Munch.

‘The Scream’ by Edvard Munch is an example of a title that adds intrigue through emotion

Don’t: use a very long and descriptive title

Very long and descriptive titles are very boring and don’t inspire art buyers to think about your painting more deeply. An additional disadvantage is that the titles don’t easily fit on exhibition signs and will be hard to read. Titles can be descriptive but you should try to keep them as short as possible to leave some room for interpretation.

Painting by J.M.W. Turner with the full title ‘Snow Storm – Steam-Boat off a Harbour’s Mouth Making Signals in Shallow Water, and going by the Lead. The Author was in this Storm on the Night the “Ariel” left Harwich

Do: Try out different titles and upload them to an online platform like ArtChain Global

If you haven’t found the magic formula for coming up with titles for your paintings yet, why not try a few different styles of title and upload them with your art to an online platform like ArtChain Global. A good way of gauging how well your title is performing is by checking the amount of views each of your paintings gets on the platform.

What’s more, once ArtChain Global’s platform is released in early 2019, artists that upload their art and add more information about it, such as its title, will actually be rewarded for doing so. This is a novel way for an online platform to ensure artists are motivated to engage with potential buyers by providing a lot of information about their paintings.

Other than rewarding artists for uploading information about their art, ArtChain Global’s platform will:

  • Provide a full transaction history of each artist’s paintings
  • Protect intellectual property and copyright
  • Track and/or pay resale royalties
  • Open new global markets to artists and galleries

If after reading this article you want to experiment with the titles of your paintings in the future, why not go to and register your interest to get notified when the platform goes live in February 2019. Let your art be discovered by people all over the world and intrigue potential art buyers with the titles of your paintings.

Are there any other do’s and don’ts that you think we’ve missed? And what’s your favourite title of a painting? Let’s have some fun and send us some ridiculous painting names you’ve come across.


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