I was chatting with an artist yesterday who was having trouble figuring out what to call her paintings. She knew the history of art and knew that what she was painting could fit into the categories of narrative painting, classical painting, philosophical painting, and several other categories. But all of those categories felt old-fashioned, unexciting, and not exactly on point. As a result, she felt stuck; and that feeling of being stuck was negatively affecting her motivation to market what she’d produced.
What can you do if you are stuck in this way? Here are three things to try:
1. Double-check to see if the categories that already exist are perhaps all right after all. It may be that you have heard the phrase “abstract expressionism” so many times that it now sounds like a very tired, shopworn phrase. But it may still be appropriate and exactly right. Give the “old names” a second chance!
2. Do a little research to see if there are perhaps other names for the sorts of paintings that you do, names with which you are currently unfamiliar. Many names have come and gone in the history of art: maybe it’s time to resurrect one!
3. Brainstorm a list of new names. Try not to censor yourself and try to produce a long list of possibilities, as the right choice may not come to you right away. Let’s say that you do “narrative paintings” and that what you paint are scenes of historical battles. Your long list of possible names might include “military paintings,” “battlefield paintings,” “war story paintings,” “conflict paintings,” “blood and guts paintings,” “heroic paintings,” and many more. I personally prefer “battlefield paintings” from that list—and no doubt you too will find that you have preferences from the many titles on your list.
Whether or not it’s absolutely essential that you have a name for the sort of painting you do, this is still a matter worth thinking about. The “just right” name may in fact make a significant difference as you market and promote your work. Don’t “word ideas” like surrealism, Dadaism, and cubism, to name three of many, immediately help you “find your place” in the world of art? Names can limit—but they can also help.