Saturday, October 16, 2010

What's in a Title?

A rose by any other name would still smell as sweet. William Shakespeare Romeo and Juliet

Spirit Flight
The problem with doing new paintings is coming up with unique titles for them. I rather loathe the habit of some artists of Untitled. I think it is a cop out. I admit to having done the Roman Numeral thing of Dawn I and Dawn II. I rather got into a Dawn thing at one time. Dawn over Abiquiu Mission or Dawn in Bryce, etc. Painting the same missions at different angles and in different lights does tax one on original titles. And with my cactus blossoms I have just called them Blossoms Large or Blossoms Small. But basically I think a title can make or break a work of art.

Let's take Spirit Flight above. It is of White House Ruins at Canyon de Chelle National Monument and certainly could carry any of that as a title. But I have done White House Ruins before and since and no doubt will do them again. So if I went by that I would be in the I, II, III thing. I named it Spirit Flight because of the ravens against the cliff wall. Inuits in Alaska believe that Ravens carry the spirits of the recently dead so they can rest before being reborn.

But since I have ravens in almost all my daylight pictures than any of those pictures could be called Spirit Flight too or Two and Three and Four. I did a small detail version of this painting and called it Tucked Away. Now there is a title that got me in trouble. Any cliff dwelling can be named Tucked Away, and unfortunately, without thinking, I used it twice. This tends to confuse galleries. And when they call to clarify their inventory it then confuses the artist. I reasoned that one out with size as one was 14 x 11 on artist's panel and the other was 16 x 20 on canvas.

I prefer my title cards to carry the size and medium and platform information as it solves a lot of problems most notably being a more expensive painting going for a far too cheap price. But I generally like my titles short. Lately I have been into one word titles like Cry, Reverence, Worship, Celebration, etc. From there they go to Cry the Sorrows, Reverence for the Dawn, Worship the Day, Celebration of the Moon. That occurs on what I call the second generation of a concept. But I frankly refuse to carry it to Celebration of the Moon II. But there have been Study for Rainbow Reflections, a smaller version of the larger Rainbow Reflections I did in order to work out color choices and compositional issues.

So what makes a good title? Short I think. At least short enough that it fits on one line of a title card (generally business card size). But also short enough to be remembered by the patron (seven words max), but unique enough it doesn't get confused with other works. It should also be in good English (following the rules for titles) and not misspelled. And if your painting has been lucky enough to catch the eye of a prospective buyer you don't want to turn them off with a negative title.

All that said I have a few new paintings to name today. I have gotten into the habit of writing titles on the back so if I forget what I named it and the title card goes amiss I can solve the debate with the gallery.


  1. Just found your blog. This painting is so majestic. Love it!

  2. I forgot to ask. What medium do you paint in?

  3. I use liquid watercolors and inks on Watercolor canvas. It gets lumped under water media or mixed media.


I appreciate all kind comments on my art and poetry.