I can't tell you how many times I have googled "ideas on how to title paintings" with very disappointing results. So, it was with great interest that I participated in a conversation about titling paintings with artists Debra Ramsay, Cora Jane Glasser, Nancy Natale, Pam Farrell and Jane Allen Nodine.
My feelings on titles, particularly for my own work is that they are crucial- not only for the viewer but also for myself. They are a suggestion, a signifier, an open door, a thread, the light: to a way to approach the image.
My titles usually come after the work is done and I am sitting with a series of paintings in the studio. For me, titling paintings is the time for reflection and observation of where my work is and where it it is going.
It is a ritual- I get out the dictionary, the thesaurus, The Synonym Finder by J.I. Rodale, the I Ching, the Lakota Indian cards, the Runes, Animal cards, my books on haiku, Man and his symbols by Carl Jung , old journals and my ongoing "Ideas for Titles" book. I sit with my work and cipher through my stuff until I find a word, an idea, a phrase that connects to the images in front of me.
I also love to invite the professional story teller up the street or my poet friend to come hang out with the work-they are a great resource for titles!
When I look at art out in the world, I always look at the work first and then go to the titles and then go back to look again-I want a title.
Threshold 48 x 38 oil on panel L Pressman
"I have to say I really don't have trouble coming up with titles these days. Either they are tied to a specific source material that inspired the painting (e.g., "MoMa Under Construction"), by the form the painting ultimately takes (e.g., "Top of the Line") or by the visual concept I set out to convey (e.g. "Tension"). I've gotten over the idea that I am somehow giving away a secret that should be held or that it would be embarrassing or difficult to explain the title. If it is, it's the wrong title. Your titles can be reductive or minimal if they fit your paintings and I agree that they can be in series. If the shoe fits.... Ultimately it is an opportunity for the artist to say what she means instead of leaving it up to everyone else. I have found this does not stop viewers from taking what they may from the artwork."
Top of the Line Cora Glasser
Encaustic & Ink on Homasote - 49 1/2 x 33 1/2 (as shown)
Installation of 16 Panels
Debra Ramsey says:
"I am now more aware, in our fast paced world, it's safe to assume that the viewer expects at least some information right up front.. the title can lead the viewer into something, and can be used to broaden the "readership" of the work."
Horizon Line 1 encaustic eggshell on birch panel 40 x 40 inches 2008
Nancy Natale offers:
"Miles Conrad had a different take on titling. He agreed that work should be titled, but as an artist he recognizes that giving every work a title becomes a little meaningless when there is a long series. He thinks that titling a series as you do, Debra, is perfectly fine. For myself, I keep a list of titles that I cull from evocative word combinations in magazines or books. (Or driving with the radio on NPR also seems to give me lots of ideas. The problem is that it's too hard to write when driving.) When a work is completed, I look down my list and see if something rings a bell for me. If not, I resort to my thesaurus. Apparently the online visual thesaurus is very useful for this method; I haven't used it yet but intend to. Alternatively, sometimes I get an idea for a title and make a work that seems to fit it. This is more rare but does happen."
Wrigley's Best 2009 Nancy Natale
"My titles come from many sources. In addition to using various thesauri (thesauruses?), dictionaries, snippets of conversation, I access music song titles and lyrics.
I am very often listening to music when I'm working, and if a song title or lyric strikes me, I'll write it down, usually on the wall so I don't lose it. Last summer I painted a series of oil on canvas. They all had some relationship to bodies of water (loosely). My favorite was titled "Seasick Sailor" which I heard in a Beck song, Nausea: “I'm a seasick sailor on a ship of noise/I got my maps all backwards and my instincts poisoned.” The timing was just perfect because I heard this song while I was painting and thinking about titles, and the lyric really jumped out at me.As I continued to work and listen, it occurred to me that the lyric Seasick Sailor sounded familiar. After that I kind of got fixated on it and couldn't stop thinking about where I'd heard it before. With a bit of searching on the internet I found that it was a lyric from It's All Over Now Baby Blue , a Bob Dylan song(a tremendous song, and one that is perfect in its simplicity): "All your seasick sailors, they are rowing home. All your empty-handed armies are all going home." Anyway, each set of lyrics, while different, are amazingly evocative and led me back to the emotional place I was interested in with this painting--a sense of loss and longing."
Seasick Sailor Pam Farrell
"Titling has been something I have both managed and struggled with for the almost 40 years I have been producing art for exhibition. In my career I have worked in various styles including objective, non-objective, abstraction and probably some things that can’t be defined. When I was in grad school in the late 70’s I was working non-objectively using materials and processes that had been influenced by minimalism/conceptualism/process-materials, and I was looking at artists such as Michelle Stuart, Dorthea Rockburne, Agnes Martin, Robert Ryman, Robert Morris, Eva Hesse, etc. I was studying in an atmosphere of “non-emotion” so titling was expected to be rather clinical and documentary. i.e. “untitled paper and tape # 14”. I was also concerned about applying titles that led or directed the audience, when I wanted the works themselves to perform that task. As my career developed, I began to pull away from the sterility of “untitled”, and I tried to identify some element that was significant to the work, without stifling the viewer into a “holding pattern” of a single direction or idea. The dictionary and thesaurus have always been my main source for developing titles, and for years I have kept lists of words, their meanings, and related words. So I usually go to those lists and begin making thoughtful decisions for title choices. On a side note-and influences-I direct a study abroad program in Italy and I have been trying to learn Italian for nearly ten years. About five years ago I began to introduce Italian terms and words into my titles. Such as a series of little girls slips I was working on became "sotto vestigia", relating to under garment. I typically title a series, or a tightly related body of work, such as “integument” series,” lamellate” series or “traces” series. Within each series, an individual work will/may get a more specific title such as “laminated integument 6 “ or “venetian integument 3”. While I use titles that reveal information about the work, I also seek words and phrases that can veil or obscure. I seek titles that support work, but I also seek words and terms that challenge or engage the viewer. I tend to be most satisfied when a title has a bit of mystique or tension. Interestingly, I find that as a work is coming to conclusion, and I know it is almost finished, title ideas tend to flow forth. I write down these ideas and impressions, and then go rather methodically through a decision making process until I am satisfied with asolution. My current work involves a non-objective body that is concerned with the trace of the hand and the mark of a tool/substance, and another body/series of work that combines collage-like images in odd or diverse juxtapositions, leading to, or insinuating narrative material. For the non-objective group I am currently naming them “trace.001”, “trace.002”, and so on. It is about the trace or residue, and the numbers are sequential giving some indication of when or which works were created prior to others. It also relates to my digital background and the Industry’s obsession with rushing to develop a new version of Adobe 4.0 something or other. In the image-based works, such as the pieces that include irons and shirts, I have been using the word “seared” in most of the titles. The burn mark is a “seared” mark, but images and words can be searingly painful and I anticipate the viewer will respond to the term “seared” in a different manner than if I use the term “burn”."
Trace.oo2 Jane Nodine
Two Websites to Checkouthttp://www.visualthesaurus.com/