The Naming Game

When I was an art history student required to memorize names of artists, dates, places and works of art, my favorite title for an artwork was Marcel Duchamp’s “The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even.”  The work itself is an abstract composition of glass, paint, dust and the workings of Duchamp’s mind, but the title – to me – is sheer poetry and adds to the intrigue of the piece.


“The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even”
Marcel Duchamp

“The Bride…” came to mind this week when I read an article about problems abstract artists have titling their works.  Working as one of those artists myself I’ve been stumped by this, too.

Landscape painters and portraitists have a more solid place to begin:  “Sunset over Ocean Beach,” “Meadow with Wild Flowers,” “Henry Wiggins, 1968,” and so on.  But even realist painters sometimes want to branch out and come up with something a little different.

Many abstract artists, especially abstract expressionists, simply number the paintings.  “Blue No. 5,”  Black and White No. 32.”  I understand this impulse because I want to let viewers of my own abstract work decide for themselves what the painting is about.  I prefer to let the painting connect to their experience and emotions without me butting into the conversation like a Miss Fidditch of the art world.

There are a lot of schools of thought about this naming business, but I did find help online as we artists work to come up with names – a name generator that will do the hard work for us!  I gave it a try the other day and came up with a few possibilities for a new painting:  “Complicated Movement,” “Unconscious Eye of Lust,” “Intimate Intensity,” “Surface of Fear 1955,” “Intensity vs Investigation,” “The Celluloid Air.”  Hmmm.

Writers have a similar problem when it comes to titles for their novels and I wonder how many copies of a book titled Among the Ashes and Heaps would have sold.  Probably not nearly as many as The Great Gatsby. 

Other suggestions for titling abstract works include using lines from books or poems, either something you already love or just a random stab with your finger in a book.  As a poet, this idea appeals to me and as a jazz aficionado, so does the idea of song lyrics.  I gave the random stabbing idea a try for this new one and grabbed a book of poetry off the shelf.  Not mine, somebody else’s.  This is what my finger landed on, “…this reliable frame that lets color be…”  I like it.  I’m going with it.

Maybe next time I’ll give the generator another try, but until it comes up with something as inventive as “The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even,” I’ll go with poetry. Or possibly just “Red No. 43.”


“…this reliable frame that lets color be…”
title from “News of the Occluded Cyclone”
by Alice Fulton

acrylic painting on canvas, 11x 14


4 thoughts on “The Naming Game

  1. First, I love the name of your studio…! Thanks for adding your good thoughts to this naming dilemma. Glad to hear from another Cali artist. I took a look at your web page and am signing up to follow. Gosh, the sketchbook project post was fascinating.
    All best,
    Molly in San Diego

  2. This has always been my dilemma as well – an interesting title that’s not redundant to the theme of the image, not boring (i.e. River #129), yet creative and tells something of the inspiration. Sometimes it is the hardest part for me! I spoke to a juror one time about this, as to how important a title is and he said he definitely didn’t like the meaningless or weird titles. I think a title can add a lot if it’s the right one. The most difficult challenge is when I have a show deadline and the images are similar. Sometimes I consult friends and family, which has been helpful! I like your idea of consulting a page of a book!

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