Friday, August 28, 2009

Thoughts on creating titles for work

Should creating titles for your art be as demanding as creating your art? I would have to answer yes to that question after my marathon name game last week. Now that the work is finally shipped off to the gallery and I have time to reflect on the process, the responses from my faithful readers and the synthesis of several articles I read on the topic, I offer up the following nuggets that might help others.

Why create titles for your work?

A title
  • makes your record keeping easier
  • makes correspondence with a gallery and record keeping in the gallery easier
  • provides an "in" as to what the artist's thoughts were when the work was created
  • provides a specific reference when your work is being discussed or written about
  • can add more weight to a work

Simple or complex ?
Most of the work I create falls in either the still life or close- up landscape categories where simple and descriptive titles work well without stating the obvious. I am always cautious about using a pretentious title - lines from poetry , sections of songs, Latin or obscure references from classics, titles in other languages or ones using heavy duty vocabulary. These prompts may be important for some artists who feel such titles add weight to their work or that they make the work appear more insightful or exotic. To me, choosing such titles always seems like you are trying too hard. Often the titles are so obscure they make the work inaccessible.

Because I am interested in the ordinary my title mantra is "Simple things need simple names". I've used titles that range from broad to specific.

Examples include:

Summer Details
Still Life - Texture Study
Found Objects- Keels, NL
From Vera's Garden

For more metaphorical pieces I come up with titles that reference the layers of meaning I am exploring.

Surface Tension
Mechanical Reasoning
Time Pieces

Specific or general ?
When you are creating titles for a landscape sometimes the location is important and sometimes it isn't. You have to decide. I know artists who paint specific places in a city/town that have nostalgic connections for the general public. This is a great way to focus their buying public. In this situation the place name should be part of the title. I can't say that I have ever created work that relies on specific recognition of a place. I have, however, used titles to indicate that I am referencing a specific place to let the viewer know that I have some connection to the place personally. A good example of this is from my Remnants series where I connect a familiar object to the area where I grew up. E.g., Mounted, Butter Point, NL. In this situation the title tells more about the artist than about the specific place.

Use the subject of the painting as a guide for how specific you are in the title selection. Try to be descriptive without stating the obvious. You can indicate seasons, moods or personalities. If the obvious is important, state it.

Keep in mind...

That a title should be appropriate to the scale and spirit of the work created. My work is intimate in scale and focuses on ordinary everyday things and the passage of time. I am always conscious to reflect this in the titles I choose. I personally like one word titles and use them quite a bit. I find they provide subtle direction without being too pointed. I want the art to do the talking.

Titles are important because they direct what the viewer focuses on in a work.

Stuck for a title? Try these ideas.

Ask a friend

I have several friends I can call on for title advice. I place the piece on the easel and give a summary of my thoughts about the work and list any titles I've come up with. Then we brainstorm additional titles which are recorded. I put the list away for a day or two and then decide which of the suggestions work best with the intent of the work. Now that I have a blog I have a wider audience of friends to provide help when I'm stuck.

Collect words

I have a notebook in my studio and another by the computer to record words I come across while reading that reference the themes in my work; it might be a single word or a phrase. I have sorted them by topic or theme in the past, but this is time consuming and not worth the effort. I now keep running lists with no effort to order them.

Check a thesaurus

Make a list of key words that reference your general subject matter /themes. ( some of mine are: time, passage, beauty, memory, remnants, decay) and record alternate words for each one. Keep adding to your key works as your work changes.

Work from a title

This is a new one for me. I was collecting words as I read a poetry book the other day and found a word that automatically gave me several ideas for a work. This had never happened before so now I guess I'll be reading lists of words when I am stuck.


Kim Hambric said...

Great post. I can work for weeks on piece only to spend two months trying to name it. Often, I have a title first then find that the piece cannot live up to the title. Then I use my trusty friend, the Thesaurus. I do love words.

It does seem that naming a piece should be far simpler.

Tina Steele Lindsey said...

I love how your mind is as beautiful as your work.

Leslie Avon Miller said...

Good list of thoughts. I usually know the series title before I start painting, and can work from there. If we know what we are painting and why, then the title may announce itself. Notebooks are a crucial tool.

layers said...

We need to stop meeting like this...
just joking! but it really is uncanny how closely our minds are in sync!
similar statements and now similar posts--- maybe we were twins in another life!

ArtPropelled said...

Food for thought. As Leslie commented, a note book for ideas and thoughts helps me.... and its also very inspiring on the days when energy is low.

beauty comma said...

This was a very useful post - my students sometimes make their own music, and they always struggle when they try to come up with a name for their compositions.
Good luck with the exhibition Margaret!