How would it affect your viewing of this image, if this was called “Untitled”?
Or would you view it differently, if it was called “Lady and Feather”?
And would you see this image below differently if it was titled “Untitled” or if it was called “Soldier”?
When I was studying art, I kept noticing in exhibitions how many artworks were given the title “Untitled”. There were so many around it felt to me almost like it was in fashion. Or that if you called your artwork “Untitled” it meant you were a really cool and serious artist. The notion seemed to be that an artist should give space for the viewer’s imagination and not restrict the viewer’s associations about the artwork in any way. Of course, there’s nothing wrong if someone wants to release their artwork into the freely associating mind of the viewer, maybe it is very generous, maybe it has become expected. But why?
Giving any kind of descriptive title to a work no doubt affects the way the viewer looks at it – and it leads them to see the way the artist did while making the work. Why would it be a good thing to discourage that? If I want a free reign for my imagination to create meanings out of unintention, I can look at clouds or anything else in my environment, I don’t need to see an art exhibition for that. In artworks, I look for intention. So all this untitledness always bothered me in some indescribable way. Having seen countless of “Untitled” artworks, I can remember about three which really, truly carried off that title – works that actually could not have and should not have been titled anything else.
Very often, of course, viewers see the work without even knowing what the title might be. In fact, I have recently posted some of my latest artist books on my Facebook page purposefully without any titles. In that context they are momentarily “untitled” as I do also believe that an artwork needs to stand on its own visual merits without a need to be explained in words, titles or otherwise. However, having mulled over photographer Ian Talbot’s writings about the ownership of artwork and intention, I have come to realise what my untitled unease was about all those years ago. It is easy to call the work “Untitled”. When it comes to titling artwork, it is easy to give up, offer the ownership to the viewer. To me the title is one detail of the artwork just like any other element. I own it, I consider it, and just like I wouldn’t let my child into the world without a name and let everyone call her what they please, it is natural for me to want to title my works as appropriately as I have intended the artwork itself. The title points the viewer to the direction of my intention, gives a clue as to why I made the work in the first place. It is about my intention and communicating that intention to those who might be interested in it.
Here’s a series of images. I believe my intention could make them art, should I choose that act of intention. And I believe they are not art, unless I intend them to be. Giving these images a title would constitute intention (even if the title was “Untitled”.) If I intended these to be art, I might call them “Departures I, II & III”.
But I didn’t set out to make these images, and I didn’t make exactly them. I merely discovered them, even though it is ink from my brush. Of course, one aspect of art is discovering. Seeing something differently. I was dyeing paper for an artist book when I started to look closer. And like one sees shapes in clouds, I started to see meaning in these random blotches of ink. These images were an off-piste trail for me, a sudden tangent, after which I returned to the artist book I intended to make. The 36 long pieces of paper I dyed (of which four are photographed below) are material to me, not art. Framing and naming parts of them was entertaining, yet not quite art for me, as I’m still not intending them to be so. But the resulting book I intended, I indeed mean to call art.