Painting Titles

For the last two weeks I have been writing about metaphor and how a creative work can have different meanings to different people.

Coincidentally, several days ago I posted an announcement for my upcoming exhibit at the New Mexico Cancer Center on Facebook. The announcement also contained this painting.

Ann Hart Marquis- how painting titles influence a viewer's response

The Ravine, 18 x 24 x 1.5 inches, acrylic and charcoal on birch cradle.

I gave it no title on my Facebook post and said nothing about it. Within two minutes my friend Robin Sanders, an ex-Marine who lives in Texas, made this comment about the painting. He obviously didn’t give it much thought, he just pulled an association from his life.

“The struggle is real for these surviving five lone trees. Set among the desolate but green hills, they are what’s remaining… SURVIVORS.”

This is not what I was thinking as I painted the scene, but because of this young man’s experiences, he came up with a different metaphor than I would. He probably would title this painting “The Survivors.”

This painting is part of a series that I did at my artist residency in Healdsburg, CA in June. I could have called it Hill Oaks, or Looking East, but I chose to look at the painting from a different perspective. My metaphor? Perhaps looking into the future, being in awe at all of the open space or wondering what was beyond my sight.


Which brings me to painting titles. With some paintings, the title reflects the metaphor that I am trying to project. Some paintings just get a descriptive title. In any case, I think that titles or art work deserve a little thought or introspection. I don’t title a painting until after it is finished because I don’t know where it is going or how I will know when it is finished.

In Lisa Pressman’s art blog  she says that painting titles “are crucial—not only for the viewer but also for myself. They are a suggestion, a signifier, an open door, a thread, the light: to a way to approach the image.” I couldn’t have said it better.

Do painting titles influence you?

4 thoughts on “Painting Titles

  1. Dotty

    Fascinating topic of discussion. I love thinking about titles, both those I create for my own art and those created by other artists for their work. Thanks for the link to Lisa Pressman’s art blog—loved reading the posts there from a panel of artists selected to present ideas about titling. In keeping with what one of those artists offered, I like to find a title that rings true to me but that might be just open-ended enough that it could and probably will be interpreted multiple different ways by viewers. On a practical note, I appreciate titles for their utility in referring to a piece of art, e.g. when commenting at a blog or discussing several pieces of someone’s work, the discussion is so much more coherent when I can refer to a painting by title rather than as, for instance, the piece on the left with the two trees!

    1. Ann Hart Marquis Post author

      Thanks for commenting Dotty. I like Lisa Pressman’s art blog also. I like the way she thinks about intuition. Titles are fun and mysterious and sometimes frustrating for me–although it usually doesn’t take me long to come up with one. I also agree that they need open ended or perhaps vague or even thought provoking.

  2. Brenda Chamberlain

    Titles on artwork influence me greatly, Ann. I agree with Lisa Pressman that they are crucial. I find your observations regarding metaphors fascinating, especially pointing out how different people find different meanings in the same painting. I also love to read artists’ statements when they exhibit their work. It’s nice to get a glimpse of the artist, albeit a limited one.

    Dennis & I look forward to seeing your lovely exhibit at the Cancer Center soon.

    1. Ann Hart Marquis Post author

      Thank you for commenting Brenda. It’s fascinating to me also how one person can get such a different feeling from a painting that another. We are so unique. I look forward to seeing you and Dennis soon.


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