art process, Body of Work, Inspiration for Making Art, Viewing art

Naming the baby

Titling my work is not an afterthought, but a significant step in my art-making. However, there are times when I struggle with it, even though I’ve been a word nerd since childhood. In considering this subject, I wondered what some of my colleagues thought, so I invited their voices into the discussion.

While attaching titles to creative works serves to differentiate them from others, artists often go beyond the practical. What is the purpose of titling a work of art to you?

Carol Stalcup, who creates abstract emotional landscapes, enjoys naming her work. “It’s a fun part of the process for me, and I see it as a way to communicate with the viewer, maybe draw them into more dialogue with the visual image, to ask more questions about it, to find more ways to connect to it.”

Betsy Horn paints stylized depictions of Texas state parks. For her, the primary purposes of a title are identification of the place, or communication of an idea having to do with the place or the painting.

Cityscape watercolorist Heidi Russell uses titles as a way to “inform the viewer what’s on my mind.”

“I title my work to add my own voice to my visual art. Its ‘name’ adds identity,” remarks Helen Searl regarding her watercolor landscapes and cloudscapes. “I believe that it helps create mood, bringing my vision to life.”

Kay Briggs, known for her seascapes, adds to the conversation: “For me, a lot of it is because it is “expected” of you. However, it also much easier to track the history of your paintings when you  give  them names/titles and attempt to maintain a list. I photograph paintings once I have set them aside to let them ‘mature.’ Not only is this useful as another way of viewing the entire painting, but often I have to look at the data embedded in the photo to date them.”

Here are my thoughts: For me, titling is an extension of the creative act, a way to add meaning rather than description—although I’ll have to admit, sometimes description seems the way to go. I want the title to help the observer relate to the subject or to raise questions—without imposing too heavy-handed an interpretation.

Naming a work Untitled has been a common practice among contemporary artists. How do you feel about Untitled as a title?

“I am not a fan of using ‘Untitled’ except in rare instances,” Helen remarks. “It creates a void in the work for me as though showing it was a last minute rushed idea without careful consideration. An extreme example: Your newborn leaves the hospital named: Baby Boy! Well, maybe that’s a bit much, but art is important, and a name (or title) adds to the significance.”

Betsy and Kay, on the other hand, are okay with the practice. “If an artist uses ‘Untitled’, it doesn’t bother me.  It’s the artist’s choice,” says Betsy. Kay adds, “I am ok with it, but it would make record keeping a bigger pain.”

“I understand why some artists do it, but I find it a little frustrating, as if the artist closed a door of possibility on communicating with the viewer,” states Carol. “But maybe some people just don’t like tying in visual images with words like I do!”

And Heidi thinks it’s, well, “boring.”

I may eat my own words, but I’ve been known to say, “You will never see ‘Untitled’ on any of my works.” I sometimes need a little help understanding the artist’s intent. Titles can help. But the viewpoint that a title can stand in the way of the observer and the work is one I respect.

The average museum or exhibit visitor may have thought little about what goes into naming a work. How do you arrive at titles?

Not surprisingly, intuition is key to arriving at a work’s moniker. “If the painting communicates a title to me that is more than identification of the place, it’s an intuitive thought,” says Betsy.

“I allow the title to reveal itself to me,” says Helen. “It’s more of a feeling or thought put into words than a process.”

“I struggle with titles”, says Kay. “On my sea life paintings it is easy to go with the name of the fish, but often to the general public this would not be informative. I lean toward using titles that have a twist to the meaning or that play off the behavior being depicted.”

Carol’s process involves intuition and sometimes a certain amount of time and space. “Even if a painting is more representational than my usual abstracts, I wait for a title to come to me,” she says. “I think about what kind of energy or emotion seems to dominate in the image. Then I try to translate that into a title that may point the viewer in a direction but leave the ending wide open so that the viewer can make the art about their own experience. So now it becomes a conversation. Sometimes the title comes really fast, sometimes it takes longer. Then I think about what if I encountered the painting for the first time with that title, what does the title make me notice about the work, or in myself? I have noticed that occasionally I change titles after a period of time, sometimes having forgotten my original title. Once I get the right title I never forget it, it belongs to the piece like any brushstroke in the work.”

In naming my own work, I consider the subject’s context and the emotion it evokes. I often turn to the thesaurus or my “Word of the Day” app to stimulate my word-smithing, especially when the title doesn’t just announce itself.

There are challenges to this part of making art. What’s the hardest thing about titling your work?

“Waiting for it,” states Betsy, alluding to patience being part of her process.

Helen finds it simple. “Usually once the work is complete I can quickly give it a name.”

For Carol, the difficult part is striking a balance between “conveying what I see in the image (or experienced in the making of it) and having it be wide-open (ambiguous?) enough for the viewer to connect with their own experience.”

What Heidi finds challenging is the experience of working with words. “I’m generally not good with words.”

Procrastination is Kay’s challenge. “It is easily put off, and I am better at that than anything else.”

In titling my own work, words with the depth of meaning I seek are sometimes elusive. Art often expresses things that language does awkwardly or inadequately. This is where I have to trust viewers. The work isn’t really complete until it’s shared, and I love hearing the meanings others bring to it once it’s out in the world.

Thanks to my artist friends for their contributions. Your opinions on the topic are welcome, whether you are someone who makes art or simply enjoys the art others create. Feel free to comment below.

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Viewing art, Viewing art in person

Five reasons to see art in person

With the Internet and its progeny, social media, entrenched into our daily lives, images greet us at every turn. And images related to the fine art world are a ubiquitous part of that ecosystem. Not only does every serious artist have a website where digital reproductions can be viewed and purchased, there are large libraries of both historical and modern masters to be found at the drop of a search term. Add to that the use of Instagram and Facebook to disseminate artists’ work, and it’s safe to say we see far more art on the Internet than we do in real life.

Even art competitions gather entries digitally. Here’s an excerpt from a typical Call for Entries:

Work will be juried from images submitted only through the gallery’s online submission website. Images must be JPEGs with a minimum width/height of 800 pixels, maximum size 3MB.

Jurors of art competitions decide whose work is accepted or rejected. Chosen for their credentials and reputation in the art community, they base decisions on factors that include consistency across the works, the quality of the art, and the “wow factor,” all of which they must ascertain from “JPEGs with a minimum width/height of 800 pixels, maximum size 3MB”. Even in a world where visual literacy is highly valued, pixels are the standard.

I’m not writing to denounce the pixel as our main means of viewing and enjoying art. My practice has benefited from the electronic and digital tools integral to 21st century life. Hundreds, even thousands of potential art collectors can see a new work seconds after I’ve uploaded an image while sitting at a desk in my air-conditioned workplace. Instead, I want to encourage the direct engagement with art. Here are some of the benefits from seeing the work in person:

1. A truer color experience. Screens slightly skew colors. That’s because screens rely on three colors, red, green and blue, to communicate color through a sort of pointillist method. For example, a tiny red pixel next to a tiny blue pixel will mix in your eyes to be perceived as purple. When you see a painting in person, there are no pixels translating for you. I’ve often had studio visitors comment that the work is more beautiful in person than on the screen. When there is no barrier between you and the artist’s intent, the experience is direct, personal and immediate. And all the color your eye can perceive is before you.

2. A deeper sense of texture and form. Digital photographs struggle to convey it. For many artists, texture is a primary element of their work. They want you to feel it (with your eyes and your heart, not your hands), the ridges and valleys, the brushstrokes, the odd materials and the joy—or angst—that form the work.  The sculptor wants you to walk around the work and understand its three-dimensionaity. Even when the artist’s style includes the smooth application of the media, that too, is better in person. Smoothness is a texture.

3. The opportunity to ask questions. You may be led through an exhibit by a museum docent. You may visit an art festival or an opening at a gallery. You may attend an open studio event. Someone there has insight into what you are seeing, eager to answer your questions. Even when it’s work you’re not attracted to, experiencing art in person deepens your understanding of it. It engages you with the art, the artist, and the culture we swim in.


4. A catalyst for social interaction. While it can be a beginning, visiting art websites is not conducive to building relationships. You’re likely to do it alone. You’re stuck with your own ideas about the sculpture or painting. No matter how profound, your ideas are better shared where they can enhance a discussion. Even on social media, comments tend to be brief. It’s not that insightful remarks don’t occur, but dialogue is limited, body language and inflection non-existent. Instead, imagine a live conversation in front of a Gauguin at your local art museum where you ponder out loud with a friend the implications of leaving your family for a faraway island to paint. Now there’s an issue to grapple with!


5. The sense of the maker’s presence. It was on a museum visit many years ago that I first encountered this phenomenon. Standing in front of a painting by Picasso in a San Antonio museum, I suddenly was overcome by the thought that I stood in relation to the painting exactly where the long-deceased artist would have stood while painting it. For one intimate, chill-bumped moment, I was not just swept back in time, but also attuned to the mortality of the artist and the relative immortality of the art. Seeing Vermeer’s Girl With a Pearl Earring affected me similarly. These moments will not come to you digitally.

Now, go see that museum exhibit. Take the docent-led tour so a real human can guide you. Make that open studio your date night. Listen to what other visitors say, engage with the artist and spend time with the work. Visit the art festival that comes to your city every year, and converse with artists whose work you enjoy. And instead of asking them how long it took to create the work (answer: a lifetime), ask what inspired them to make it. Their answers will enlighten you. Most importantly, let art engagement on the screen lead to art experiences in real life.

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All art is copyrighted by Laura Hunt, and may not be reproduced without express written permission.