Titles: How Important Are They?

5 On Edge (detail) by C. Guthrie

Lately, I’ve been thinking about titles. I used to think that Abstract 1, or Abstract 2, or Abstract 3 was enough. But after a work is finished, I often see referential objects in my otherwise abstract paintings.

I have a favorite painting–White Rhythmswhere many forms can take on realistic shapes. For instance, there is a jockey riding a horse in the middle of the painting. I have seen it, my partner has seen it and a writer from my regular writing group has seen it. Other forms can be interpreted as: a book, a profile, a barn roof with snow on it, a ghostly form, etc.

White Rythms by Carole Guthrie

I’m not sure if I would re-title White Rhythms Jockey or Ghost. But if it makes the viewer take a longer look, it may be worth it. No doubt, my ‘Upside Down Love’ might have had some influence on the buyer of my painting, but looking at her walls and the other paintings on it, I am sure the color had more to do with it.

I think it’s fun to look at a finished work and see things I never planned, but seem to appear within the framework of the abstract. A painting I did called Five on Edge came as a result of seeing a ‘5’ on the right edge of the painting. This painting did win a best of show in April. I guess I prefer to think the whole painting with its colors, shapes and unity won the award, but looking at art can be a whimsical process.

Do you feel the title you give your work is important?

Carole Guthrie

  Painting for me is a sensuous encounter with brush into paint, paint on canvas, finding the way to completion and unity. Composition is bound on canvas with each color and shape integral to the work. When all is working, the painting pleases the eye like a Chopin etude pleases the ear. One false note and the symphony has no harmony.

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6 Responses

  1. Carole, your White Rythm abstract is gloriously lovely! Congratulations!

    There has been a discussion on LinkedIn’s Abstract group about just this subject. I wrote something today that is pertinent to your question here as well. I’ll copy my own post below:

    Imagine the painting as a live human entity and the viewer as a live entity. The viewer has a way of sizing up other live entities (in this case a live painting.) Ok, so this kind of viewer is the kind who wants to look up info about this other live thing he is meeting today…and he googles it, checks out its provenance, credentials, name, date, record…or maybe not so much. But he would like to know at least a name so he can say how do you do.
    Another viewer comes who just likes to size people up by looking at them… and, say, this person cares a lot about personal appearance, and will walk by anything(or one) that looks under-par, un-tidy, inappropriately dressed, unhealthy, stealthy, too old, too young, too worrying in some way, and they don’t spend any more time. Just walk away.

    But there is another viewer who is more curious about what lies under the skin of a new acquaintance. This person skims the outside skin, but looks at the body language and the presence of life coming out of the new visage. What is that new entity trying to say? What sort of costume is that? Is there a joke there, or a message, or a scream, or a sadness? Is that person a puzzle worth solving, or is the story something new to the viewer that deserves more study?

    So many ways to encounter a piece of “alive” art! We all sniff out new things a particular way, sight, sound, smell, touch, aura, whatever. How do you want your painting to present itself? Will it be passed by because of sloppy execution? Will a certain classification of viewers “not get it?” Will any of them want to learn more, or are they disinterested?

    So you get a whole lot of individuals with different habits of discovering new things looking at your work. Will you give them a leg-up, or will you be just as happy for some to wander off without engaging?

    • Susan, great comment. I get the feeling that there are two kinds of artists, those that appreciate the viewer and those that do not. In other words, one says the art speaks for itself–to hell with everybody else, and the other says, of course the work stands alone, but that does not preclude me giving it a title or explanation even. It is a lonely place atop our lofty ideals. Legitimate art must have legitimate intent, title or no.

  2. judith says:

    Wow! A lot to think about. Thanks for the post.

  3. I think titles have relevance, but it depends… like i was reading virginia wolfe’s mrs. Dalloway and the line ….ill get the flowers myself popped out at me: then i saw the movie The Hours and that line was there plus when she did get the flowers, the flower store was amazing. Next thing i know im doing big bold monoprints of flowers. Title-Mrs. Dallaway Series. Other works- just doing-untitked. Others- after contemplation -poetic response, comedic response, political, nature, etc. Thinking about duchamps the glass piece title- thats a mouthful.

  1. September 30, 2014

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