15 Jul 2019

Four-minute read

There are various approaches to titling. The standard perception is to title the image based on its description.



Portrait of Monsieur Tusman.

self-portrait of the author/artist in embroidery, age 6
Self-portrait of the author in embroidery, age 6

Of course most artworks are untitled.


Untitling is especially used by those working on abstract and contemporary art. Or in the case of some famous artworks, the titles were untitled but they have a working or familiar title.

Untitled-background 13
Untitled (background 13)

In the late 90s electronic I.D.M. musicians like Aphex Twin and Autechre composed kinetic dense fields of pinging beats, feedback squeals and robotic squalls. Their titles were often composed of abstract strings of consonants with some vowels. A made-up language perhaps.

drukqs tracklist
drukqs tracklist

Kladfvgbung Micshk

One of the most celebrated electronic albums of all time is Aphex Twin’s album Selected Ambient Works, Volume 2. The track names are just the number of the track. Pan Sonic’s Mort Aux Vache album is both Untitled and numbered, with tracks Untitled, Untitled (2), et cetera.

Freight train graffiti writers that specialize in quick pieces or 1 or 2 color throw-ups and creating the largest mass of names to ride the rails possible are said to be going for numbers. Some even numbered their works chronologically.


REVS roamed the underground of New York for a decade, adding long sprayed journal entries deep inside train tunnels and sewers. They were numbered and identified. 86 in a series

Revs 1 of many
REVS, 1 of many

There is a popular Node programming package to aid programmers to generate text. It can be used to generate fake names, ID numbers and addresses, but maybe the most common is to use it to generate a random two word title.

Amiable Shelf
Rabid Secretary
Physical Rhythm

These naming schemes and systems while are not often used to generate inspiration for the programmer on what to code or the artist on what to make. And why not? One example of this process by a musican/programmer is Tom Whitwell of Music Thing Modular. He writes about his method recording an album using inspiration generated from a Python program he wrote to generate track titles, moods, music source, timing, modulation, as well as a visual score. One can also modify the script to generate more Dutch or Aphex-ey titles (his words). He used the program to develop his Baksure album and describes how his program places useful generative constraints on his creative process.

Rlisupa score
Rlisupa score, Tom Whitwell

Digital painter and software creator Jeffrey Scudder uses his own software to generate titles for each of his many digital paintings. These signed titles include his initials, the day, month, year, time and, I believe, his current coordinates when he painted.


Still others seeking the ultimate permanent name to bestow turn to books with titles like 100,000+ Baby Names, or The Big Book of 60,000 Baby Names. A ridiculous alternative for a boutique appelation can be found on the satiric Twitter account Baby’s Names, a kind of false generative system akin to Horse_ebooks.

Mucinex Hallucination
Mosquito Casket
Coal Slaw

What about the old-fashioned process of developing a name based on Inspiration (big ‘I’)?

Un-titling and ‘Not titling’ defray responsibility for this inspiration much the same way auto-generated two-word titles free the creator from decision-making. The work is the work. And that is okay. It may be a considered choice where What you see is what you see and a rejection of names as conveniences or labels. Not providing a title avoids the responsibilty of hinting at what we should think about when looking at the work. It is enough only to see the work and a rejection of specificity.

Can you create a work and consciously not title it? You can. And you can also develop your own naming system, perhaps one that can become second-nature and possibly removing some of the barriers or mental blocks. Whatever you decide to do, or not, you’ll be in similar company.

Bestowing a title can also be a creative act. It may help to consider some naming schemes: categories, two words, untitled (word), Lttrs4ndNumbers2L83Yx, Initials-Name-Time-Location, A Flash of Inspiration, A Long-Considered Idea, A phrase found or appropriated, a title as miniature poem or set-piece, snatches from a dream, a clue, a question, or your own schema.

Kazimir Malevich, Black Square