Why Are Many Modern Artworks “Untitled”? | ARTiculations

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


100 thoughts on “Why Are Many Modern Artworks “Untitled”? | ARTiculations

  1. What is the name of the music that is played throughout the video?
    And would you say that the title of a piece of art is equally important as the art itself?

  2. Null. Because this word looks like the thoughts (does this make sense to you? Nothing does anyway.) of looking at the horizon, in the sea, with no stars in the sky. And I see more colors than white grey and black.

  3. Another great video! Were you by chance inspired by the AGO's recent O'keeffe exhibition to make this video? I was in town when it was on and really enjoyed having a chance to see her work.

  4. Hey, loved your joint video with Name Explain so I came here and subbed. I really enjoyed this – I used to wonder why many paintings were unnamed. Thanks for such a clear answer. I'm looking forward to spending more time here enjoying art 🙂

  5. Very cool! I'd probably go for Moon or something like that for the painting. It's what I immediately thought of. But yeah. This was really well done. Thanks!

  6. The black and grey Mark Rothko one had me thinking "lunar landsacpe". If you look at the photos the astronauts took on the moon, the stars don't show up because they're too dim for the camera to capture them along with the brightly-lit landscape.

  7. I suggest two titles for Rothko's painting:
    "Eclipse" or
    "A group of maasai men hunting panthers at night"
    It's a joke. I like very much Rothko's paintings.

  8. It is amazing how much context and meaning a title can convey… and how much it can both limit 'personal' meaning and push exploration in a whole new direction/broader sense (like giving a subversive or odd title). Great vid! And I'd give it the Rothko painting the title "Untapped Moment" 🙂

  9. I think I would title that piece "The Expanse", because that's what it looks like to me, a never-ending expanse of land going off into the distance.

    I tend to give my pieces pretty straightforward titles. For example, I've done a painting of a girl in a pink satin dress and I titled it "Little Girl In Pink Satin". When I don't think titling the piece after what actually in it would suffice, I might title it after something that stands out to me. I did a drawing of a woman with a particularly intense gaze, so I called it, "The Gaze". I might also title a piece after a scenario I imagine to be going on between the subjects or what I imagine the subject to be thinking. I did two paintings of parrots which I titled "Awkward" and "Hey Over There", and I'm thinking of titling the current piece I'm working on "'You Looking At Me?". It's of a woman sitting in a chair looking sidelong at the viewer.

  10. i'd call it "Lesser Evils." to me and perhaps to the artist, black vs white, or good vs. bad is a tired and dangerous trope, at best. the world might be better off with the more accurate narrative of true darkness (black) and ambiguity (grey). the lightest grey represents the best of human nature and exists as a feint spectre on the border, because the purest intentions are borne from the darkest thoughts.

  11. I'd call it "Nothing but reflexions" if, I would go for what I see, or "Cold, but soothing darkness" for what I feel, while looking at it.

  12. I absolutely loved watching this! O'Keefe is a favorite of mine. As far as Mark Rothko's painting goes, I would look on the bright side and call it Into the night (I think of standing on a cement patio looking into the dark sky).

  13. I hate to be 'that guy' but a lot of the paintings done here are so simple and painfully basic that it hurts me to call them art, compared to the classical renaissance paintings of the past.

  14. The picture first seemed to me, as if it were depicting a distant object floating in space, barely lit by a nearby star. However the downwards flowing lines at the central horizontal division give the grey part of the image the appearance of a wall that has accumulated grey dirt and pollution beeing washed away by cleaning rain during a dark storm.
    could be that I am interpreting this only this only that way because it is currently raining.

  15. Untitled (garbage).
    Seriously though, I've always hated Rothko. I'd have more fun writing a program to generate random color pairings with various additions of random noise and probably would get the same result, given that he's done hundreds of variations on that theme.

  16. To me it looks like a dead universe seen from the moon or what could be the last refuge of humanity. So i'd call it "Heat death"

  17. The more I look at the black and gray painting, the more it looks like a starless sky reflected in a lake. I think I would call it Solitude.

  18. 1:01 I can do that in MS Paint or some masking tape. Why the fuck do people pay so much money for various permutations of "coloured rectangle on a flat background"?

  19. 4:36 That's literally just a stack of printer paper. Jesus fucking Christ, is it humanly possible to be any more pretentious?

  20. I'd name it a peek. I feel like i'm taking a peek beyond something looking at the painting. a wall? a continent? my fear? my comfort zone? I don't know, but this piece of painting just made me think about myself seriously, and that's worth two thumbs up, at least for myself lol

  21. To me, the central feature of that Rothko painting is that the perfect absolute black is uniform, while the weathered grey permits variations and thus holds more information. It's as if by subtracting something from nothing complexity is created, but that's probably just my personal philosophy speaking.

  22. Gosh, what is the musical piece that starts off this video?! I swear it's from a video game or at least associated with one!

    Update: "49th Street Galleria" by Chris Zabriskie, thank you Master of Turtles for asking before me, and this track was prominently featured in the game, "Her Story". Sorry to plug something here! I'll be sure to share this video with friends 🙂

  23. Let's not forget that this and other modern art lives of the circle jerking of so called art experts whose job is is too hype an artist and his work to sell it. It's mostly about image and for the buyer to be able to say that they own something that is en Vogue now and might rise in value. That's how this "art" is so successful. Don't fall for it.

  24. I'd call that painting "View from Apollo Orbiter" since it reminds me so much of pictures from the moon. And it fits the 1969-70 date too.

    Been enjoying your videos; thanks for sharing this with us all!

  25. Rothco- You’re living a lie! I feel there is a place for abstract minimalism as an intellectual exercise but creating an entire career from it and having people take it THAT seriously. Well it’s as if we started valuing architects concept sketches more than the actual building. A concept is powerful but unless it actually extend’s beyond an idea it could just as well be some text in a book.

  26. At 2.42 (the same one as at end & you asked for title of a work – you say was by Rothko…) I saw 3 faces in the grey at the bottom. You could call it something like Before, Then, Later (but infinite number of possible titles) – but maybe untitled is better so people have to look, absorb and allow their imagination freedom to see what arrives for THEM. I know when I give my art titles it removes some of this freedom but it also might HELP those who need (or think they do, are told they do) a bit of aid to try to see or feel ANYTHING when faced with the (apparently) non-representational. Pros and cons, to give a title or not? For what REASON, for WHAT, WHY and for WHOM? Those are the questions… Oh and for keeping track of my art it's easier (except when I change the title and forget I have!), and it can be hard to say 'oh I like that one with the blurry blue bits…' when lots of them have similar, or 'I want to buy Untitled' – 'which one?' ???

  27. People forget Rothko was painting for decades before he evolved into the color field paintings and most newbs complain about how much someone paid for em or they think it's a conceptual scam. You put some time behind a brush you change . Rothko came outa one of the two branches of surrealism there's a history of other artists behind him . He also probably never received more then 1500 bucks for a painting . He also did just lay out 2 colors . Yes they're thinned out but he layered the colors like Titian ….Now also this stuff was painted more then 60 or so years ago thats a bit long ago for some to sound like they're losing sleep over him . If you give it time and don't like it fine there's plenty of art out there I don't like myself . He's not one of my favorite artists but hearing the hypheee kidz , the West side Oakland " street" artist I know , go on about Rothko and Pollock gets grating after awhile. Great scandal after his suicide

  28. Ginormous Rothko fan. I would title the sample given as "The Endless Lonely Walk". Note: I have a reproduction of 1954 Red, Orange, Tan and Purple hanging above this computer. I would say its title for me is "Choose, Melancholy or Peace?" But then that very personal meaning was Rothko's point.

  29. So great the way you talked about this subject, and also great choice of music! I've been wondering about "untitled" for a while now so thanks for making a video on it!

  30. I used to untitled my paintings until I worked in a exhibition where I should label the artworks and the artist , an old sculptor, made a lot of identical works, with the same same dimensions, made on different dates and it was so confuse. Since that i give a sort of nicknames to my paintings just to organize it

  31. And if you think all this is meaningless crap, you're just a reactionary bigot, that is, a nazi. I've graduated from Art School in 96. By the time, all this seemed so relevant, and obvious. Just read the good books, go to the good exhibitions, listen to the right persons. 20+ years after, I can only laugh. And mourn 5 years of my life. Do not go to Art School. EVER.
    A title for the Rothko ? "Please paint me white and sell me as new ! Please !"

  32. For that piece at the end I'd call it…:

    1. 'Blacque mirror'
    2. 'Dark Ice'
    3. 'This side up'

    Can't choose, but those spring to mind.

  33. I’ll be completely honest I am a film director and I personally have no idea why anyone would waste their money on buying very bland looking aren’t like this.

  34. I am of the belief that the audience should not have to work harder at interpreting the work than the actual artist did while creating the artwork. I think a lot of minimalist artists use hardly any talent to create works that the the viewers spend tons of time and brainpower trying to interpret. And all the praise goes to the pretentious artist who couldn't even be bothered to give their handiwork a goddamned name.

  35. this type of comment section makes me really sad. it's a shame how the study of art is shamed by everyone because they don't like looking at anything that's not a mirror of the real world or doesn't tell a concrete story. so few people seem to actually care about art at all, yet they make these grand objective statements of quality that feel like a nightmarish echo-chamber. they have never studied abstract art and are never willing to, because nothing shatters the view that "this takes no skill" and "art doesn't have to be hard to interpret".

  36. From A Cliff. It really feels like someone (or us, the viewer) looking down from a high building or into a bottomless pit. Just needs some shoes.

  37. OK this is weird, I was just reading about Felix Gonzalez-Torres' works and I saw that he had a lot of untitled works, but I assumed more artists did the same. I googled "why do artists choose to leave their work untitled" and at the end of this video his name comes up again; which is crazy to me because of the sheer amount of artists with "untitled" works. Very nice video.

  38. I think trying to find figurative motifs in abstract painting (like what you said about how it looks like a desert) kind of missing the whole point of abstract painting for me the idea of choosing not to title your work is to give you a chance to dive inside the painting the colors the shapes the composition without any interference or association an actual title will give you, soaking it all in without trying to always find “what it looks like in the real world” just enjoy the beauty of pure forms and color.

  39. Could you explain me how you explained all these explanations using explanations as explanations explaining before mentioned explanations as they have been explained in this explanation?

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