|Bygone Years, oil, 16" x 10" (Working Title: Stilettoes)|
Titles of Paintings by Robert Genn, was reposted in The Painter's Keys newsletter this last week. It pushed one of my buttons. Having always labored over titles, I was interested in what another artist had to say about them. In a nutshell: titles are important; they are one with the art. They help the viewer make a connection. Sounded reasonable to me. So I jotted down a couple of quotes from the article in my journal:
"There are five main kinds of titles: sentimental; numerical; factual; abstract [poetic in my interpretation]; and mysterious [something I am not]. --Brevity is enigmatic [mysterious. something I am not]."--Robert GennWhen I initially title a painting, I go for the factual--Zinnias, The Man Across The Aisle, Stilettoes. Those "working titles" tell me exactly what the paint was and I can picture it without having to find it and look at it. Enigmatic, albeit a fancy word for mysterious, isn't me. Yet Robert implies that one word titles are mysterious because they don't really reveal anything personal about why the subject appealed to the artist. That's true. Zinnias, The Man Across The Aisle and Stilettoes told me succinctly what the painting was, but the titles didn't tell viewers anything about why I chose to paint them.
The truth of why I painted the Zinnias was that I like the flower and I especially liked how I had mixed them up with marigolds in my planter pots. Now, that's pretty unexciting. The Man Across The Aisle was the man across the aisle from me on our return plane from Vegas. Purely factual. Yes, I had been fascinated by his gold jewelry, but it wasn't visible from where I sat. Viewers might not have got the title King Midas--and in time I would have forgotten too how much I loved his chunky gold bracelet. As for Stilettoes, I just gathered up all the spikey high heels I hadn't worn in years and arranged them on a platform to serve as a still life. I chose the shoes over the lemons in the fridg or a bunch of cut flowers because they wouldn't wilt or rot; they would stay put. I'm a practical gal, seldom romantic, never mysterious and rarely a poet. Robert got me thinking maybe I should change my simple approach to titling my work.
--Classifying and numbering them was out. It's a good way to keep records, but would I really recall #38 flowers in three months? No. My titles have to remind me of what the picture was. I could care less how they appealed to the viewer. Having been a frequent viewer of art, I realized it's not the title of a painting that pulls me across the gallery floor to take a look, it's the image or the painting style. If really impressed when I get up to it, then I bend and read the title and the artist's name. Some of the titles are far out. some are right on.
Looking for the Yellow was right on. It was the title of an abomination of an abstract--an energetic black and yellow finger painting of smears and scribbles I can see clearly in my mind today that brought me across the room for a closer look. The painting up close was as messy as it looked across the room. It was one of those everybody would say, "I can do that." It was such a mess, I had to see the title. Straightening up, I thought Looking For The Yellow was brilliant and the artist was a poet. The frantic painting and the clever title spoke volumes. Together they struck a chord in this artist who has often experienced frantic anxiety when a painting didn't go well and has struck out at it viciously before dumping it in the trash..Yellow's artist didn't destroy it. She gave it a brilliant title and entered it into the competition. The woman had balls. But would I buy it? No. As much as her painting amused me, it wasn't a chord I wanted to live with. I prefer inspiration. Besides, I have looked for the yellow in many of my own messes.
Genn got me to think about titles. Sun Worshipers, King Midas and Bygone Years tell the truth about why I chose to paint the Zinnias, the man across the aisle and my stilettoes and how I felt about those subjects, but they are vague, poetic, mysterious and totally confusing. After a while I'd have no idea what those paintings were--and either would a viewer. Each of us brings our own life experiences to the art gallery. It's those experiences that draw us to one piece and make us walk by another. If you have to bend to read the title, you don't get the art.
Our language is line, shapes, colors, edges, the stuff of paintings. Best we speak it fluently in our preferred medium.
Below is Summer Shade. The truth behind that painting that took two years to finish could be described better with a title like The Dark Side, a title full of ominous mystery. It was a painting I started the summer after my chemo treatments. It was very dark. Over the two years, it got darker still, then started to lighten up as I relaxed and life became secure. The wild flowers, symbols of relief, were put in last.
|Summer Shade, Acrylic, 36" x 36"|
What's your take on titles? A literary tool to better connect the viewer to the art? Or secondary and/or unnecessary if the images "speak" clearly?