Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Titles

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 Genn
When 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?

16 comments:

  1. So lovely, your first painting is very close to home for me! Hehehe!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. To a lot of us over the hill babes who used to trip the life fantastic before our bum knees said no more. I'm guessing Bygone Years appeals to you? :-))

      Delete
    2. PS: Bygone Years could be a classification of subjects, a series.

      Delete
  2. Really brilliant painting, love it.It seems to incorporate fantasy with enough realism for me to see the beauty and not leave me puzzled.

    Titles!! I tend to take a steer on these from Dylan Thomas and his poetry (us both being Welsh :0)) ). He called his poetry 'My black art'. He hated titles ... he saw no point in writing a title that described the poem ... "Read the *****ing thing" if you want to know what it's about. Some poets used the first few words of the poem for a title ... this drove Thomas wild!

    I also see my art through his words, particularly when he describes his works, 'My best work results from accidents!"

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. So you think they are necessary or you don't? My take, from the Dylan Thomas story, is you too think they are unnecessary; the image is enough.
      I started to title when I started to blog, (just cuz the other kids did and I do like to play with words). Before that Zinnias, Stilettoes, The Man Across The Aisle was enough in my records to remind me what the painting looked like. Ellis, not an arty guy, appreciates a straight forward title too, just in case he can't tell from looking at the picture, The example he gave me was Blue Boy. ;-)) I quizzed him on the artist of First Day of School. He could picture the painting but guessed Wyeth, not Rockwell. Had I said Christine, he would have be right. But those titles don't really count; their images and titles are history. Ah, there's another facet to this discussion!

      Turner, on thee other side of the coin, used full sentences as titles.

      Delete
    2. I am forced to use titles, because there is a certain conceit in expecting people to know which one you were talking about simply by describing it.

      To be perfectly honest I have no real strong thoughts for or against titles, but you made it a subject worth giving serious thought to

      Delete
    3. I like titles, but I don't think they help sell the painting, just give the viewer some sort of clue as to what the painting is about.

      Delete
  3. Brilliant , interesting post, lots of food for thought. To me a title is a bugbear, a necessary evil, but even so I couldn't resort to just numbers or letters.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Why a necessary evil? For record keeping? To explain the painting to someone like Ellis? To enhance the art work? Last year the winner of the Michigan artists competition was a tangle of polished chicken wire and colored plastic shopping bags. The title was long and very intellectual, highbrow. I don't remember it or the "art work." I do remember the other artists being appalled by this fellow walking off with the prize of 5000 USD and recognition for trash. This year, the final day for entrees was extended three times. I guess Michigan artists didn't care to put themselves out for a competition where **** around trash with a highbrow title took the prize. Or else they were all too busy with their creative writing courses and reading the likes of Dylan Thomas. :-))

      Delete
  4. Hmmmmm interesting thoughts, Linda. I am hopeless at titles, I mostly go for factual. Have to think about if I'd like to change that......

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I like factual too. Every time I've titled something whimsical, I forget what the painting looks like. I'll always know Stilettoes is Stilettoes and Summer Shade is Summer Shade. Plus factual and to the point is my personality. I am not a poet. I do associate with lines from a movies--e.g." Is everybody lit?" from Auntie Mame. meaning have I made everybody happy? Lyrics from songs may occur to me. But borrowing somebody else's words to title my paintings seems a cop out. Better my own haiku. (I like those; they are numerical).

      My best girlhood friend used to say all abstracts could be titled "A Monkey F--king An Elephant." She really thought total abstractions were the lowest form of painting and any idiot could do one. She was a writer. Picturesque verbal expression was her cup of tea..

      Delete
  5. Mixed feelings about titles, but no mixed feelings about your two paintings. Love them both and admire the differences.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Julie. I think all of us have mixed feelings about titles. In order to realize what I thought about them, I had to put on my viewer's shoes, Pumas, not Stilettoes, and think about what makes me read them. Unfortunately, I read them only when the painting is an abomination. When I am in awe, I'm only interested in the artist's name, for the painting "spoke" to something personal in me--e.g. Wreck of the Hesperus, Nightmare. (Interesting that I think of both of those together. Had some bad news yesterday about a friend).

      Delete
  6. Yes...I am a factual titler mostly. I do remember a painting I did of a cat looking at a aquarium and one of his eyes was a fish. I called it "when worlds collide". Your paintings are beautiful! I always love your jumbled shoe paintings.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Factual is the Capricorn way. Poetry is too poetic and the actual meaning of the painting is too obscure and Turns me off. I only painted the Stilettoes twice. Once in watercolor. This one in oil. I probably won't paint them again unless I run out of people who interest me. :-)) Thankfully Summer Shade will never be painted again. That painting was an act of self restoration.

      Delete
  7. Wonderful post, Linda - I enjoyed it so much! I love the story of Summer Shade, how the painting reflected your return to health.
    With titles, I usually try to think of something quirky, a bit humorous and "catchy". When my mind draws a blank for a title, factual it is.
    Stay well!!!
    Kathryn

    ReplyDelete