October 31, 2012

A New Painting: "Curves and Dips" (What's in a Name?)

Curves and Dips, egg tempera on calfskin parchment, 5 1/4 x 6 1/2 in. 

In all my years of painting, I've generally titled works very mundanely, using plain description: Right Angle, Grays, Rocks and Concrete, Red Tanks. That practice has continued with my textile and print works. I have to qualify that as "mainly", or "on the whole", because occasionally I've come up with a title that is more metaphoric, as when a few years ago I titled a painting of an open Ag-Bag Cornucopia, or a clutch handle Pyramid. Occasionally I can't resist humor, as in Middle Squiggle. On the whole, though, I prefer a simple title that doesn't push the viewer in a certain direction, but leaves her mind open to interpret the painting as she wishes. What I liked about this image, aside from the very saturated yellows, was the play of large curves with small ones, hence the title Curves and Dips (which itself is a little bit humorous). Now I'm going to admit that a couple of other titles were in the running, funnier and more imagistic: Clamp––as expressing the sense of the curve chomping down on the teeth below––and even more silly, Jaws. I've spilled the beans...but see what happens? now it's become a cartoonish image of a ravening fish. I don't at all mind if you see that painting that way (it's kind of fun), but I don't want to push anyone there. This is why neutral titles usually work best for me. What kind of titles do you prefer for your work?


  1. The simpler the better, just giving a hint of the creator's headspace.

  2. I like paintings to have titles; "Untitled" always leaves me feeling a little underfed, as a viewer; long, literary titles, practical, descriptive ones, serious, poetic, or witty: they each have their own way of communicating something to me about the character of the artist. I love language and enjoy titling work myself. As a practical matter, it's useful for a painting to have a name, and it's convenient if it isn't too long. My titles are often single words that I might never actually use in conversation, or which I might even make up, for example "Parantrophic," or "Chiasmus."

    1. It's interesting to me, Ravenna, that you speak of titles giving you a hint of the "character of the artist" rather than the key to the work. I think you're right in that the way we title works comes from our belief systems. I love your made up words, which have a very emotive quality.