A name carries weight. In an almost entirely visual medium, the title of an art piece can be crucial to adding further context of a piece, offering a fragment of the artist’s thought process in the creation of their work.
The importance of a title has less prevalence in older works of art. Infused with either religion or mythology, these pieces often took their titles from the stories they depicted. The masses already knew the stories in the paintings back then; the myths and the biblical lessons were familiar to them, and thus a title did not further their engagement with the work.
Modern art has a different story. From Abstract Expressionism to Dadaism, Performance Art to Minimalism, these pieces can stray from reality and be nonsensical when taken at face value, and so the title is important in that it offers context on what the viewer could not gather straightaway.
Marina Abramović, a Serbian performance artist, is notable for her charged, psychologically (and often physically) strenuous performative works. One of my favourite pieces of hers involves fellow artist Ulay. They hold a taut bow and arrow between them for four minutes, the arrow poised straight over Abramović’s heart, overlaid by the audio of their breathing and their pulses. The piece is titled ‘Rest Energy’ – it presents relaxation versus tension, stillness versus movement, silence versus loudness. Two words are full of a thousand juxtapositions; a title expanding the spectrum of human comprehension.
Next time you find yourself in a gallery, try this: confront a work of art before you look at its title. Take thirty seconds, or thirty minutes. Think of your own title and measure it up against the work’s name; when you balance your ideas against the artist’s, you might discover something new about yourself.