It is rare that an artist is so demonstrably thwarted in the attempt to describe and title his work ("Take the picture of my mother, exhibited at the Royal Academy as an 'Arrangement in Grey and Black,'" the art-for-art's-sake Whistler wrote in his 1890 book The Gentle Art of Making Enemies. "Now that is what it is. To me it is interesting as a picture of my mother; but what can or ought the public to care about the identity of the portrait?"). However, the incident shows the degree to which a name matters to people who will see and perhaps buy the piece.
Titles of works of art seem to matter, but it is not clear why. A seascape titled "Seascape" seems redundant; announcing the location of the seascape ("Penobscot Bay at Nightfall") seems to comfort people. "If the title is obscure or there just is no title, people often ask what they are looking at," according to Bridget Moore, director of New York's D.C. Moore Gallery. Abstract art, on the other hand, often employs a wider range of title possibilities, from "Untitled" and numbering (Robert Ryman's "Classico III" or Sam Francis's "Untitled, No. 11") to a physical description of the artwork (Dorothea Rockburne's "Drawing Which Makes Itself" or Ellsworth Kelly's "Orange and Green") and titles that may mean something only to the artist (Brice Marden's "The Dylan Painting" or Frank Stella's "Quathlamba").