Loading the Canon by Helena-Anne Hittel
It isn’t always required of an artist to have a title for a piece.
This is one of the art world’s many liberties. Art without a title can leave a lot to the imagination. It doesn’t mean that an artist has given up. People look at pieces differently when given a title. If you’re told something is there, you’re bound to look for it, after all. Untitled art is different. It’s like cloud watching, or a Rorshach test. Everybody’s fluffy white inkblots will look different to different people. Art is completely subjective, and that’s why it’s so much fun.
That said, as a volunteer in an art gallery, I CANNOT stand it when pieces don’t have titles.
I know, I’ve just contradicted myself. However, sifting through a collection inventory where 2⁄3 of the works are “untitled” makes my head spin, even when the artist was kind enough to number about 20 of said works. This specific collection consists of 107 pieces.
In a gallery setting, pieces have accession numbers. This is a godsend when it comes to the situation I’ve already mentioned. When so many works don’t have titles, the only way to successfully catalog these pieces is to give them all accession numbers. If you were to ask me to find a specific piece from UCF’s vault by giving me a number, I can do it. Tell me the title, and you may not be so lucky. Tell me that it’s untitled, and I may hurt you.
Now, just because I’ve said I don’t like untitled titles doesn’t mean I don’t like the works themselves. I look at content, not just the title (or lack thereof, as the case may be). What’s inside the frame or on a pedestal is really what counts. I go by what is visual. Do I like the colors? What about the composition? Even the way that a piece is presented contributes to my opinion of it. As a spectator, untitled pieces aren’t really pieces that are missing something.
Artists do whatever artists want to do. This is their prerogative. Artists like to put things on display. It’s up to them whether or not they want the audience to remember the work itself. They want the audience to interpret and enjoy. No, it’s probably not essential to be able to tell the difference between Untitled #7 and Untitled #100. The artist hasn’t done anything to the piece by leaving a title off, with the exception of giving the viewing public a little creative freedom of their own.
For the sake of record-keeping, though, “untitled” just feels nowhere in a catalog. Museums and galleries like forms and paperwork. Maybe these institutions like them a bit too much, but there is a need them to keep track of collections, exhibits, loans, and donations. Bureaucracy is a necessary evil, and the more information a gallery is given, the better.
Untitled pieces can be fun. I don’t deny it. However, for those of us cataloging pieces and writing condition reports, “untitled” makes for a bit of a headache.
Helena-Anne Hittel (Episode 35, essay) is an Art History Major at the University of Central Florida and Intern at the UCF Art Gallery.