Painting Titles — Headlines or Captions

Headlines in newspapers captivate our attention and coax us to read the subsequent article. Or not. Captions can do the same. Do painting titles do so as well? Does a title entice the viewer to linger as he or she searches for a more in-depth meaning?

I dare say, most potential buyers view a painting before discovering the title. Once, they do, do they really contemplate the artist’s meaning? Do they return to the canvas? In an abstract work, are they searching for a recognizable image?

A good title may tell a short story. A good title may lead the viewer into having his own experience with the work of art. An ambiguous title could possibly do the same.

At this point, I am going to present 5 images of several of my paintings. Use the following procedure (no cheating, please):

1) View the image of each painting without the title.

2) Now, go back and view the title for each one. Has knowing-the-title changed your first impression?

3) Scroll down and read the title and narrative for each image. Does the narrative change your impression?

4) Return to the image and have your own experience.

Was your experience influenced by the title and/or narrative? Did this procedure enhance your experience?




Going Thru

On A Bus in Rome

The Devil’s in the Details Playing Tenor Sax




Drive Thru. I remained in my car as I was going through an automatic car wash. With nothing better to do, I snapped photos of the experience, which then became inspiration for several paintings.

On a Bus in Rome. My wife and I were on a bus in Rome when the driver became visibly irritated in Italian and stopped the bus. Inadvertently, my wife was leaning against the stop-the-bus button. We thought we were going to be shown the exit.

The Devil’s in the Details Playing Tenor Sax. All viewers are looking for the devil. Without revealing his location, I do admit that I saw him as I was painting this piece.

Ikigai. Unless the viewer knows Japanese, he or she does not know that “Ikigai” is Japanese for the reason-for-living. Expressing myself in paint is my “Ikigai.”

Shadow. As I was painting this piece, a shadow emerged. He is subtle and unless I point him out, the viewer doesn’t always know he’s there.

As an artist, I prefer to use ambiguous titles as I do not want to lead the viewer’s experience. An artist friend has the same objective when he uses “untitled” as a title. In my opinion, I feel cheated… at least give me something to work with. When reviewing my oeuvre, I found no examples of a bad title and I don’t mean to break my arm patting myself on the back. Some titles are weaker than others, but none inherently bad.

I like lists and I maintain a list of potential “titles” as well as words that could be used in a title. If you are an artist who struggles with titles, I suggest you do the same. Ponder your reason for creating a particular and choose a title that complements the meaning. By all means have fun giving your work a title. It serves as your headline or caption.

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