Titling Artwork, Pt. III

Sprightly, 2009
acrylic, leafing, toner, ink, and wax on board
6.5" x 6.5"

2. The Obliquely Narrative Title

This second style of titling that I'm inclined towards demands more of me than the simple explanatory title. It demands more in terms of time, as it takes longer to generate a title that must serve as a story, and it demands more in terms of trust, as I must feel comfortable with offering something deeply personal to the audience.

In essence, the obliquely narrative title provides a prompt to the viewer. Just like in English class, the prompt serves as the beginning to the story that you (in this case, you the viewer) must compose. The possibilities for narrative are endless following this first statement, but the first statement provides just enough information to establish some sort of subjective context for each individual. Allow me to present an example:

A heritage of red mist., 2009
acrylic, tea, pastel, toner, and graphite on paper
30.5" x 40"
Click on image for larger view.

Here is a title for a work that in no way seems to reference the actual image on the paper. Where is the red mist? Who's heritage? How can you have a heritage of unnaturally colored natural events?

In titling this work the intention is not to be misleading or obtuse— it is to provide the viewer with an evocative cipher into my personal experience. Will it ever succeed in conveying that the image was taken from a rooftop in Rome on the very same day that I visited the Colosseum and heard a docent discussing written records of a red mist of blood that would wash over the first rows of spectators when elephants were butchered by half-starved lions on the amphitheater floor?


Might the shape of the water tower scaffolding resemble the shape of the Colosseum.


Might the presence of two buildings; one modern and the other undoubtedly ancient, hint at a location that is both contemporary and antiquated.


Is it possible that by referencing red one might think of something opulent, passionate, fiery, angry, or violent.


Will anyone immediately assume the picture was taken in Rome, and that after days of traipsing about the hub of two empires (Rome and the Christian Church) I might have been drawing a comparison between the hedonistic tendencies of a waning military empire and a young religious empire.

Not likely. But the success of the obliquely narrative title isn't measured by how closely the viewer can recreate the exact ideas that shape those few words meant to give meaning to a visual product. The obliquely narrative title asks for your narrative as it relates to the image/artwork in front of you. It creates an active, rather than passive, viewing experience, and therein lies its strength. Your life, your dreams, your beliefs become a valuable component to understanding something that you took no part in creating and that makes the artwork a living entity, not just a seemingly overpriced commodity.

In my experience, how to title an artwork is not something that is given a great deal of attention at art school. It is acknowledged as another tool for assisting the viewer, but how to develop a means for titling artwork is left up to each artist. Ultimately, to name something is to value it. Names and labels allow us to organize our loves, our loyalties, and our world. I've committed so much time to bringing these images forth, it would be irresponsible of me to not Christen them and provide them another means for communicating their essence.

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Coming soon: studio disasters, new artwork, and the reported demise of text!

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