As a museum stalker, I ferret out the smell of masterpieces and not-so-masterly pieces whenever I get the chance. I am in bliss, moving on a creative high, until I come across the infamous “Untitled” work. This makes me crazy, whether it comes from the greats or the Crayon-inclined.
Artists are some of the most creative people on the planet, yet all too often they can’t be bothered to finish their work by giving it a name. Naming things is a show of respect. If we make no attempt to remember someone’s name—even if we are embarrassingly inept at it—our subconscious has pretty much tossed that person from the internal Rolodex.
I even name the chapters in all my books. I do this because it is fun (and maybe helps me focus), but it does not go without notice. A Publishers Weekly review of my first novel, Maud’s House, noted: “The novel’s quirky details (amusing chapter headings include ‘Cows Juggling Pine Cones’) and unusual situations bode well for more . . . from this new talent.” See where naming things will get you?
Imagine if none of us named our babies. By the time our children reached school age, it would be chaos.
The teacher at roll call: “Untitled?”
Response: “Here.” “Here.” “Here.” “I’m Untitled.” “No, I’m Untitled.”
One of the most famous pieces of untitled art is the Chicago Picasso. That’s what the city finally called it, although Pablo Picasso never gave it a name. It stands in the Daley Plaza—50 feet and 162 tons of anonymity. Is it a bird, an aardvark, a giant insect, or, as some have theorized, one of Picasso’s favorite models, a particularly long-necked French girl? I suppose it doesn’t matter to some people. Chicagoans are proud of it, and children love to crawl all over it. Still, I wish Pablo had stepped up and given us a peek into his mind like: “Homage to Long-Nosed People” or “Watching You” or “Woman with Flowing Hair.”
So, artists, title your paintings, sculptures, artwork, songs, albums. Give your babies names, so the rest of us will have a clue about what you’re talking about (modern art, I’m talking to you). Give us names so we will get a chuckle out of some clever double entendre or we will feel the urge to learn more about you and the reason you dared this work.
And for any parent out there who thinks Untitled is cute for your kid—shame on you.
Want more quirky chapter titles like “It Rained So Hard It Washed the Spots off the Holsteins”? Check out Maud’s House.