As I prepare to deliver a group of paintings for an annual gallery feature, I’m faced with the job of giving them titles. Many years ago, that seemed easy. There were so many unused possibilities. Now it can take me days and considerable mental effort to come up with something appropriate and unique.
Each painting is like a child. It deserves a suitable name before going out the door. Often these titles are utilitarian, merely serving as a means of identification for future reference. At other times, they may provide a bigger purpose as a component of the painting’s intention. In fact, some paintings are titled even before starting. We’re so motivated to paint the subject that we know its identity in advance of placing pastel to surface. The concept is formed and it becomes a critical part of the process, providing a reminder of the purpose and motivation behind the painting.
Other times the title comes to us while painting. All of a sudden it has an identity and the phrase pops into our head. These titles are often the most poetic in nature. They’re formed in the initial concept and best identify our intentions. If I know the title in advance or while working on the painting, I write it down on the border around the painting, or on the back as a reminder. If I need to finish the painting at a later date, I can remember the motivation behind its start and often slip back into the mindset I had.
Then there are those times when we can stare at a finished painting for days without being able to place an appropriate title. These are the times when it’s best to remind yourself why you were drawn to the subject in the first place, asking what it was that you wanted to make the viewer feel. Analyze the time of day, time of year, lighting effect, regional area of the scene, and mood you felt when you looked at the subject. Let these help you in the process.
Words have power. We all understand the implications of words such as journey, introspective, quiet, joyous, dance, rhythmic, etc. Using such words in our titles evokes a human response. We influence our audience to look at the painting in a certain way. A couple of examples I have used with simple tree subjects are: Listen, They Whisper and The Poetry of Trees. Both of these titles relate how I felt about the subject matter and, when read by an observer, should influence them to look at the painting in a certain way.
Artists have strong opinions concerning the titles of their paintings. Some feel no need to title a work, feeling that they don’t want to influence the observer with a title and preferring to allow them to make their own associations. Others believe it’s a vital part of the presentation, helping to advance their concept. Personally, I like to influence the viewer whenever possible with the title. It doesn’t need to be a mundane description but a means to make them look deeper, beyond the superficial for a more profound notion.
What are your thoughts? Please post your comments here.