Why Are Many Modern Artworks “Untitled”? | ARTiculations

The other day, I came across these paintings
by Georgia O’Keeffe at an exhibition. My first thought was actually how much these
works remind me of minimalist and abstract works by artists like Ellsworth Kelly and
Josef Albers. Which made sense to me since many artists
around this time, in the 1950s and 60s, were emphasizing the use of intense colours, painting
hard edged contours, and exploring the compositional arrangements of geometric shapes. However, I discovered one big difference between
the O’Keeffe works and the works of many geometric abstractionists. Most O’Keeffe works had descriptive titles, while many abstract paintings of this era did not. These two by O’Keefe are titled “Black Door
with Red” and “My Last Door.” They’re two in a series of many paintings
O’Keeffe did of the patio door in her New Mexico studio. The black rectangle at the centre is the patio
door, and the small horizontal series of rectangles below it are the porcelain tiles in front
of the door. These two paintings by Ellsworth Kelly look
similar to the O’Keeffe paintings, however, one is untitled, and the other is called “Two
Whites and Black”. It’s a title for sure, but not the most
helpful one. This painting by Josef Albers is also untitled,
while this other one is called “Variant” part of the variant series where he painted
the same rectangular arrangements in various colours Again, many of these artists were exploring
similar ideas – representing the same rectilinear motifs over and over with different colour
arrangements. But the titles matter, because they influence
how we think and contextualize what we see. Maybe all of these paintings are meant to
depict entries, portals, and doorways. But the the O’Keeffe paintings are the only
ones where the meaning is concretely defined. Similarly – this other painting by O’Keeffe
also resembles paintings by the abstract expressionist Agnes Martin. However, many of Martin’s paintings were
also untitled while this O’Keeffe work is called “Sky with Flat White Cloud.” These titles, in addition to communicating
(or not communicating) with the viewer what the work is about, also can reveal where the
artists are coming from and what they were trying to achieve with their Art. O’Keeffe was known for painting the world
around her. Wherever she went, she painted the skies,
rivers, and mountains that surrounded her. Sure, she depicted her world in surreal and
abstracted ways, but they were still depictions of real subject matter. While Agnes Martin did not see her paintings
as representing scenes of reality, but as philosophical and symbolic expressions of
lines, grids, and subdued colours. Another very well known abstract painters
who chose to not title many of his paintings is Mark Rothko. When looking at this painting – you can interpret
it in many different ways. You may see it as just two colours – black
and grey, divided evenly in the middle. Or you might see it as a barren, desolate
landscape against a dark, starless, moonless night. Or you can look at it from an emotional and
philosophical perspective. Perhaps it symbolizes something dark and depressing
– like hell or death. One of the reasons this art work is so open
to interpretation – other than the minimalist nature of the image – is that it’s untitled. The artist chose to not tell us what it is,
or what he was thinking exactly. The title, or lack there of in this instance,
gives us the ability to view it on our own terms, and lets us establish our own context. The other thing you may notice is that some
of these “untitled” paintings have subtitles, or titles in brackets. Many of these subtitles were attributed not
by the artist themselves, but by others such as art dealers, gallery staff or art critics. For instance, a series of Mark Rothko paintings
are called “Untitled (Multiforms)”. However, the name Multiform was not used by
Rothko himself, and in fact did not become associated with these paintings until they
appeared in exhibition catalogues after his death. But sometimes, the “Untitled” titles are
given to the artworks on purpose by the artists themselves. The photographer Cindy Sherman is probably
most well known for her photographic series named “Untitled Film Stills.” It is a series of black and white photographs
of herself posing as stereotypical female film characters. They look like they could be stills taken
straight from 1950s and 60s era Hollywood film sets. Here – the “untitled” nature of these
film stills are important. Sherman aimed to achieve a level of ambiguity
in these portraits. She didn’t want these to be anything specific,
or any identifiable movie character. She wanted these photos to express the generic,
cliche representations of women in film to highlight how one-dimensional, and interchangeable
these characters can be. Another example of the deliberate use of “Untitled”
as the artwork title are by artist Felix Gonzales Torres. Many of his works are “Untitled” followed
by a subtitles in parenthesis. Such as Untitled (Perfect Lovers), Untitled
(Death by Gun) and Untitled (Last Light). In all these works, the titles in the parenthesis
are symbolic, and give the viewers clues into what these artworks represent. Why then, would he chose the primary title
to be Untitled? You may ask. Well, It’s hard to say for sure. Maybe he was deliberately poking fun at modern
art? Maybe he precisely wanted you to pay attention to the title and this was his way of drawing you in? Or maybe he’s representing how these works
can be subtle and mundane, while also representing powerful and concrete ideas at the same time. Thanks for watching everyone Let me know in the comments below what title you would give this painting If you were tasked with giving it a name. Hey now that we’ve heard so much about artworks
with no names. I was actually thinking, why don’t we come
on over to my friend Patrick of Name Explain’s channel where we’re gonna explain to you the
stories behind 5 artworks with actual names. Subtitles by the Amara.org community


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