What’s in a name?


At the very end of the surprisingly enjoyable ‘Man with a Blue Scarf:’ by Martin Gaynford, Gaynford writes this about the titling of the painting and the book:

At the time I was completing the book, I asked him [Lucien Freud] which was the title – Man with a Blue Scarf, or, as it appeared in some books, Man in a Blue Scarf. Neither he, nor I, nor his assistant David Dawson was quite sure, but we agreed that Man with a Blue Scarf sounded better so that should be the title. During the preparations for the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in 2012, it emerged that ‘Man in a Blue Scarf’ was written on the original invoice when it was sold. So in a way that is the true title, but to me it will always be Man with a Blue Scarf.’
Man with a Blue Scarf: On sitting for a portrait by Lucien Freud’ by Martin Gaynford

Which slightly begs the question, why does it matter?

At the National Gallery, I like to think that the titles of the paintings were just a quick way of getting someone to recognise one work over another. So the keeper of still lifes might have said: ‘hand me the still life … no not that one, the one with the oranges and walnuts, or no I changed my mind, pass me the one with the Drinking Horn’ and life was simple.

But then Surprised! and everything else, and all of a sudden not only do artists title their work, but it’s supposed to mean or add something. Even when a work is called Untitled, it generally ends up having a title in parentheses like Untitled (we are not what we seem) or Untitled (orange, purple and green). Bridget Riley who writes beautifully about anything to do with art (or at least to me) said in an conversation with Alex Farquharson in 1995 ‘I think paintings should have titles, they can be a small bridge by which the spectator can enter into the painting.’ but in the case of Freud sweating about a preposition, I can see a need for an exception and I would like it to include me.

Not because I have a conceptual point to prove, or because I want to stem the tide of modernity, but because I am really bad at titling my work. This week I was asked what the title for the inventory for Islington Exhibits was and I knew that from this point on, that would be it. Up to this point, as neither money nor printing ink had been split in the titling of this work, I had been at liberty to play wild and loose with it. It had been:

2009 The Drawn Inventory of all the objects in my studio
2010 The complete drawn inventory 2009-10
2011 Blink and you would have missed The Best Days of your life II
and for most of this year The Drawn Inventory

On Thursday I settled for the pithy and imaginative The Complete Drawn Inventory of all the Objects in my Studio 2009-2012

As I said, I’m really bad at titling my work.