Titles

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mdmattin
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Titles

Post by mdmattin » Sat Jul 13, 2019 4:26 am

Rebecca suggested a title for one of my paintings, which I liked and adopted, and which made me wonder about titles. I tend to go for very matter-of-fact titles, like Tree, and I often feel that a fanciful title like Scrumptious Sunset actually detracts from the work. I do like over the top titles like Salvador Dali uses, but I don't attempt them myself as a rule. I might do a deadpan pun or esoteric reference once in while, but mostly it's just Tree. Is this a cop out? Should I be putting more imagination into my titles?
What do you all think? Do titles matter?

Matthew

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Re: Titles

Post by Rebecca » Sat Jul 13, 2019 6:43 pm

mdmattin wrote:
Sat Jul 13, 2019 4:26 am
Rebecca suggested a title for one of my paintings, which I liked and adopted...
I'm honored.
mdmattin wrote: ...and which made me wonder about titles. I tend to go for very matter-of-fact titles, like Tree, and I often feel that a fanciful title like Scrumptious Sunset actually detracts from the work. I do like over the top titles like Salvador Dali uses, but I don't attempt them myself as a rule. I might do a deadpan pun or esoteric reference once in while, but mostly it's just Tree. Is this a cop out? Should I be putting more imagination into my titles?
What do you all think? Do titles matter?
It's not a cop out. However, an objective title suggests no depth behind it. If you were thinking beyond fact of subject, there is no clue through the title. If the painting is potent, undertone titles are less necessary. I'm thinking of Velázquez's Las Meninas, a plain name for one of the most enigmatic wonder paintings I've seen. The painting, itself, transforms its dumb name into something of ironic ticklish delight.

I handle these issues by naming a series, so mundane titles are carried along by the group. I might even subdivide titles by calling lesser pieces "[Thing], Study for [Important Piece in series]". The series name can convey the intended depth.
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Re: Titles

Post by Andre Jute » Sun Jul 14, 2019 10:09 am

Fame is a lottery. Congratulations, Rebecca: if Matthew becomes justly famous, and unjustly you don't, at least you'll be known to the cognoscenti for suggesting a title for one of his paintings.
***
Returning to the main line of Matthew's thread, it's not an original idea that we live in a superficially literate society, but one that is neither cultured nor discriminating. It's instead elitist, transactionalist, given to the mob-think of celebrity "values", and above all its emotions are vicarious. It was Tom Wolfe in The Painted Word who first (and most amusingly -- a short book I cannot recommend too highly) pointed out that in today's gallery art, first comes the Word, then the Painter, then the Painting.

Since many of my paintings and sketches are anyway literary, and anyway created from what is in the mind of an artist who spent most of his life in literature, and to the uninitiated can verge on the abstract, especially if they miss the subtexts, I think descriptive or allegorical titles are just fine. But definitely not just "Tree", which raises the instant question, unless there is something obviously exceptional about the tree, Which tree? and Why this tree? or even Why does he show us his finger exercises? The suspicion also arises that the artist is deliberately obscuring what is in his mind to the viewer, that he's an elitist saying, This is the painting, this is all there is, tough luck on you if you don't get it. Of course the artist doesn't have to pay attention to these matters, but then he must also resign himself to being known only in circles of the highly cultured and discriminating, which is an ever-shrinking circle.

A positive way of looking at the same argument is that an explanatory title (or Rebecca's series of progressive studies) help people appreciate your art better.
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Re: Titles

Post by mdmattin » Sun Jul 14, 2019 6:36 pm

Thanks, Rebecca and Andre,
Your insights are helping me to think this through.
Rebecca (who is already famous, without any help from me), says
Rebecca wrote:
Sat Jul 13, 2019 6:43 pm
an objective title suggests no depth behind it. If you were thinking beyond fact of subject, there is no clue through the title. If the painting is potent, undertone titles are less necessary. I'm thinking of Velázquez's Las Meninas, a plain name for one of the most enigmatic wonder paintings I've seen. The painting, itself, transforms its dumb name into something of ironic ticklish delight.
Funny, I had Velázquez in the back of my mind as well - I was thinking of The Waterseller of Seville, which clearly conveys deeper meanings about age and youth as well as the literal depiction of the water seller and his customers. Many great works of art have this quality - Vermeer comes to mind - and it has the advantage of not short-circuiting the viewer's experience: one has to contemplate the painting to comprehend the meaning, and in so doing, may derive more benefit from the journey than the arrival.

My painting Three Women has, or aspires to, many deeper interpretations than the self-evident fact of its title, and I think I chose that title with the explicit intent of signaling, by its very minimalism, that there was something more to be found. Since I have been showing it around, I have had lots of interesting interpretations suggested by viewers, usually close to my concept but with their own spin (although one of my favorites was "Is this about polygamy?"). What I really hope is that a viewer will look at it for a long time, and as the narrative-hungry part of their brain searches for a "message," other parts will be absorbing the characters, atmosphere, landscape, shapes, colors, textures, etc, and they will leave the experience not just with a verbal story but with a complex emotional response to the whole image.
Andre Jute wrote:
Sun Jul 14, 2019 10:09 am
It was Tom Wolfe in The Painted Word who first (and most amusingly -- a short book I cannot recommend too highly) pointed out that in today's gallery art, first comes the Word, then the Painter, then the Painting.
I do love TPW - it came out as I was in the throws of art school and helped to make sense of why the experience I had so looked forward to was turning out to be so toxic.
Andre Jute wrote:
Sun Jul 14, 2019 10:09 am
The suspicion also arises that the artist is deliberately obscuring what is in his mind to the viewer, that he's an elitist saying, This is the painting, this is all there is, tough luck on you if you don't get it. Of course the artist doesn't have to pay attention to these matters, but then he must also resign himself to being known only in circles of the highly cultured and discriminating, which is an ever-shrinking circle.
This is getting to the crux of the matter - as I said above, I don't want to spoon feed the viewer with too explicit a description, but it's not because I want to perpetrate a mystification - I want to open a dialogue between them and the piece. Not everyone is going to want to engage in that dialogue, but it should be available to anyone with an open mind, not just those with esoteric knowledge.

But to get back to my original example of a bad descriptive title (I just made it up - any resemblance to a real painting called "Scrumptious Sunset" is purely coincidental) maybe my problem is not with descriptive or evocative titles but just with titles I consider to be corny or cheesy. It takes effort to come up with a title that really fits the work and doesn't sound a wrong note, and I've been avoiding that by sticking to the matter of fact.

So I'm going to try to create better titles.

Matthew

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Re: Titles

Post by Andre Jute » Mon Jul 15, 2019 1:15 pm

Labelling a dull sky over a devastated urban landscape "Scrumptious Sunset" could be irony; by itself, you're right, "Scrumptious Sunset" is just tacky. But your other two examples demonstrate perfectly what we're working towards. "Tree" is problematic in that it raises questions, but "Three Women" is loaded with subtexts even before you attach it to that particular painting, which magnifies the subtexts (the most powerful being the opportunity differential between the generations, for me anyway, suggested by the style, which is very 1930s, and by the relative ages of the women, etc) by a factor or two.
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