Category Archives: Professional Practices

The Challenge of Titling Artwork

Giving titles to artwork is a challenging but rewarding part of the creative process. Although I am sure that there are many artists out there who have no problem coming up with titles, there are many others for whom it is a difficult or thankless task.

I’ve talked with artists who hate assigning titles, and often default to “Untitled No. XXX” for their work. This is, of course, an option, but one that can work against an artist in certain respects. First, it can make it challenging to figure out which piece a potential buyer or curator is talking about unless you are an artist who has a great inventory system that allows for quickly finding your artwork in your archives. The longer you make art, the harder it may be to identify and find an untitled piece without a detailed and up-to-date inventory database. (I’m speaking from personal experience here.) Second, it can turn off certain viewers and buyers who welcome titles, as they can add meaning or provide insight into the work.

It is this value-added aspect of titling artwork that makes me work hard at coming up with an effective title. Titling forces me to engage with my art in a different way than when I am making technical or aesthetic decisions about it. I title all the artwork that I exhibit, making sure to title each body of work, as well as each piece within a series.

Sometimes titling is really hard. This was the case for the overall title of the body of work that became “Tears of Stone: World War I Remembered”. I agonized over what the title should be, making long lists of potential titles, all of which were lame or awful. It wasn’t until I was passing by one of my bookcases and my eye fell on a Chieftains CD titled “Tears of Stone” that I had a eureka moment. Conversely, sometimes titling is drop-dead easy. This was the case with each image in the “Tears of Stone” series.  Rather than give the pictures metaphorical titles, I knew that many viewers would be very interested in the type of place and the location at which each shot was taken. The location would further indicate the scope of the war’s impact the nations that fought in it. Here’s an example:

Chatham Naval Memorial, Chatham, England

On the other hand, sometimes metaphorical titles can be very effective. Here’s an example from “The Primitive Streak” series that functions both literally and metaphorically, and which depicts my nieces as they neared the end of their childhood:

Holding On

How do you come up with a great title for a piece of art? For me, it varies. Sometimes it comes from an external source like a discussion I have with a friend, a line in a book, newspaper, poem or song, or from listening to a podcast, as happened with the two series “The Wind Telephone” (This American Life) and “The Primitive Streak” (Radiolab). Sometimes a title is suggested by the artwork itself as I work on it. Using a thesaurus can be enormously helpful. I now keep an ongoing list of potential titles, knowing that I may never create a piece that matches up to one of those titles.

The main criteria I use for judging whether a title is effective or not  is, “Does it add something to the experience of looking at the art without explaining too much?”

There really isn’t one defining formula for creating successful titles for your artwork. Here are three different blogs that make excellent suggestions:

HOW TO TITLE YOUR ART SO IT SELLS

Do You Think Titles of Art Matter?

How to Find the Perfect Title for Art

 

 

 

Work-Life Balance for Artists

Work-life-art balance – Is there such a thing?!

My answer to that is: There can be, but it is a constant struggle to maintain it, and there are plenty of times when it is impossible. At least, that is my experience.

There are so many factors that one has to deal with in life: Work demands, personal relationships with partners/kids/family/friends, physical and mental health issues, financial pressures… I could go on and on. These factors will vary for everyone and change over time. For example, for the first 14 years of my career as an artist-educator, children were not part of my life. I found the work-life-art balance challenging enough, but then I had twins and everything changed.

Back in 2004, an interviewer asked me to describe a typical day in my life and this is what I said:

5:30am- Wake up, answer e-mails for 30 minutes, exercise briefly, eat breakfast, shower, start a load of laundry.

7am- While my hands are engaged in making lunch for my kids, my mind is scanning the entire day to come so that I don’t forget anything. Good luck with that! It’s also my turn to take the kids to school.

8:30am-12:30pm- In my studio wrapping up the pre-production activities for a book of my photographs that is being published in a few months. I’m on the phone with the designer, the copy editor, and the translators setting up the final round of proofreading. I’m also getting together a copyright application and an exhibition application. This means preparing digital files of the photos, filling out paperwork, labeling, addressing….

12:30pm- Work-related meetings.

2-4:20pm- Teach a class of graduate and advanced photography students.

5:30pm- Family time with spouse and kids. Includes making, eating, and cleaning up after dinner, and getting the kids to bed.

8:20pm- Grade student projects, prepare for upcoming classes, answer e-mails, and do some committee work.

10:30pm- The siren song of sleep is calling my name.

As you can see, my days were jam-packed full, with hardly any down time. But the above example also illustrates my first piece of advice for artists who are struggling to find time to make art amid the chaos of life and the demands of your job: Schedule regular time for art-related activities and make that time inviolate. Whether you spend that time on making art or preparing grant applications, etc., doesn’t matter. What does matter is that the only way that you will find time to have art in your life is to make it a priority.

For me, that meant scheduling it- just like a doctor’s appointment. If I scheduled time for my creative life and treated it like I did an important doctor’s appointment, then I wasn’t going to end up giving that time away. I ended up carving out a grand total of 8 hours per week for my art. Twice a week, 4 hours each time. Which, as any artist knows, is grossly inadequate. But it was enough to keep me going, to keep my hand in it. And because my time dedicated to art was so limited, I rarely wasted it.

Clara Lieu, an art professor and artist, wrote a terrific blog post on this subject titled:

Ask the Art Prof: How Do You Balance a Full-Time Job, Kids and Your Own Artwork?

In it, she states: “Successfully balancing a full-time job, kids and your art is all about various forms of sacrifice.” Whether you have kids or not, that is totally true. And there are times when one or the other thing will have to be sacrificed. For example, for the first three years after my kids were born, I did nothing art-related at all. Nothing. Because I literally couldn’t. I was so exhausted from raising the kids and trying to do my job that I couldn’t even think about art. As obsessed as I am about art-making, I just realized that I couldn’t make it a priority at that time. But the funny thing was, I didn’t care. I knew that that state wouldn’t last forever, and it didn’t. Once the kids were older and less labor-intensive, I started scheduling time for creative work once again.

And that brings me to my second piece of advice, which is that learning to say “no” is an important part of making the sacrifices necessary for work-life-art balance, and the sooner you practice doing that, the better off you will be. As described above, sometimes I had to say “no” to my art. Sometimes I had to say “no” to how much time and energy I spent on my job. Sometimes I had to say “no” to a social or sports or family event. What you say “no” to will vary, according to what life throws at you at any given time.

No one can do it all or have it all, all the time. Saying “no” becomes an important coping mechanism for keeping your energy and time focused on what your priorities are/need to be. I know that that’s easier said than done, but it really does help.

Everyone has to figure out their own answer to how to create work-life-art balance for themselves. Keep trying out different approaches until you find something that fits your own life and then keep at it, until you need to make a change again in order to regain your balance.

 

My Photographic Archives- What to Do With Them? (Part 4)

Because I’ve recently been thinking and writing a lot about what happens to artwork when an artist dies (don’t worry, I’m perfectly healthy), I’ve been researching why artwork gets archived, how it gets organized, recorded and stored, and things to think about when creating a plan for one’s archives.

Finding solid helpful information was challenging at first. It wasn’t until I started using search terms like “estate planning for visual artists” that I began finding items that I felt could usefully guide me towards finding answers to my questions.

What follows are a few of the best sources I could find:

Etched in Memory: Legacy Planning for Artists (An online resource that has a ton of resources listed on this topic.)

A Visual Artist’s Guide to Estate Planning

Artists’ Studio Archives website (This has a great page of handouts from “how to” workshops that they have offered.)

Artist’s Estates: Reputations in Trust (This is a book that outlines what happened to a number of 20th C. artists’ works after they died.)

Estate Planning Guide and Career Documentation Workbook (from the Joan Mitchell Foundation- both were updated in Feb. 2015)

After reading a number of the above items, I’ll be honest- it’s enough to make your head explode, even for someone like me who is crazily detail-oriented. I now realize that, for artists, there are two major things to think about when it comes to estate planning: 1. your artwork, and 2. everything else. Holy crap! At least I’ve got a fairly up-to-date inventory of my artwork, so that’s a start.

Be that as it may, I’m very clear that I do NOT want to burden my family with having to figure out what to do with my artwork once I am gone. Given that, I have to get my act together in order to create a plan that relieves them of that task. I’m glad to now have some guidance for doing that.