Why you'll never get "Untitled" art here

Here’s a question I wish I’d asked first: Why are so many artworks untitled? I mean, you have to call it something besides ‘the thing taking up space on my wall/ at a museum/ in front of the office.’

“Rare & Exquisite” collage series by Lisa Myers Bulmash at Columbia City Gallery

“Rare & Exquisite” collage series by Lisa Myers Bulmash at Columbia City Gallery

There are good historical reasons to call a piece “Untitled.” But for my work, they’re essential. Here are three reasons I’m pretty sure I’ll never, ever, ever choose not to title my work.

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1. Titles help tell my stories.

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I’m a bookworm from way back, and I find certain words and phrases help me explore visual stories. So a title is a clue I follow to figure out and explain the ideas I want to express. A title is an entry point into the story for the viewer as well, but one that leaves enough room for you to add your own narrative details. And if you’re a person who likes to get the interpretation “right,” well… how does “Untitled” help you figure that out?

2. Titles help me tell ‘scary’ stories.

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It takes careful handling to tell certain stories. I explore complex topics like identity, vulnerability and anxiety. Most people can relate — until they see black bodies experiencing these moments. Then suddenly “certain viewers” have a hard time imagining themselves inside the narrative. Yeah, it’s a thing. I know my work will not connect with some people because I center blackness in my art. Why would I make it even harder to connect by taking away the title?

3. Titles define who we are — and that’s a good thing.

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A title’s just a name for the artwork — but people will pay millions for naming rights. That power was why my grandfather used one name for work, and another name at home. Never mind that he was a master plumber. In his day, black men were a lot more likely to be called “boy” (or worse) than their given names. It’s not that much different for an artist: If I don’t tell my story, other people will tell their story about me.

And that’s why I’m having a hard time deciding on a title for the altered book I’m working on right now. Names — and titles — have power, and I’m not willing to give that up.