Category Archives: The Thread in the River

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

 

 

 

The Value of Feedback from Viewers

Once an exhibition goes up, it can be difficult for artists to get feedback about viewers’ reaction to the work, especially if the venue is not in the place you live. But because “The Thread in the River” is currently being shown at the Weston Art Gallery in Cincinnati (until April 2), I have been able to meet with multiple classes of high school and university students who have shared their thoughts about what they see in the work and how they experience it. This has, in turn, led me to think a lot about how I might proceed as I continue to develop this project.

A student asked me why I presented the images that appear in “Twelve Summers” as a video animation, rather than as still images. 

Twelve Summers, 1999 – 2013

My answer was that I had tried out numerous ways of presenting them as still images, both on the wall and in book format. But nothing I tried captured the idea of the sometimes subtle transformation of a child from one age to the next. I was also failing in conveying the idea that our childhood selves are still buried somewhere deep inside us, despite the layers of complexity that we gain as we age into adulthood. Putting these pictures into a video that allowed for layering them with different levels of opacity allowed me to speak to these ideas successfully. This conversation made me ask myself in what other ways I could use video presentations for future work.

Discussing “The Wind Telephone” with students reinforced for me how important it is to not have the work answer too many questions for the viewer, to let the audience ask and answer questions for themselves.

The Wind Telephone

They liked it a lot that this particular body of work didn’t explain the answers that my relatives gave me when responding to the questions I had asked of them. The students said that it made them ask themselves what their own answers would be to these questions, and made them more interested in the work.

One series, titled “The Long Arc”, consists of many self-portraits that I began taking when I got pregnant in 1995 and continue to take up to the present day. I asked the students what they saw as the difference between my self-portraits and “selfies”, as they take them and understand them. One students’ reply has stuck with me (and I’m paraphrasing a bit here): “Selfies are all about covering up who you really are, while your pictures are about revealing who you really are.”

While talking with these students, I felt like I was learning things about my own work that I hadn’t yet seen. Unless I am invited to an exhibition venue to talk about my work, opportunities to talk with viewers in a gallery while a show is up don’t happen a lot. Because this is the first time that this work has been exhibited, I’m grateful that I’ve been able to get this kind of feedback.

The Thread in the River- Show Opening & Acknowledgements

“If you make art that makes people curious, then people will lean towards it.”  ~Moby (singer, songwriter, DJ, musician, photographer and animal rights activist)

The Thread in the River opened two days ago at the Alice F. and Harris K. Weston Art Gallery in Cincinnati, OH. After working on this project actively for over 3 years, it is almost unreal that it is now out there in the world. The opening itself was crazy- over 400 people came and it was packed from beginning to end.

I have been helped by so many people along the way, and wanted to thank them for the role that each of them played. First and foremost, my enduring gratitude goes to my soulmate-in-the-search-for-perfection, Laura Fisher, whose tireless efforts went well above and beyond the call of duty. Working with her and Alex McClay was pure joy.

Alex McClay and me at the opening

I am also grateful to Whitney and Phillip Long for sponsoring the exhibit, and to Dennie Eagleson for her unfailing support and encouragement.

Me and Dennie Eagleson at the opening

Invaluable technical support and advice was provided by Jon Cone, Walker Blackwell, Cathy Cone, and Dana Hillesland of Cone Editions Press in Vermont. Every artist should be so lucky to have a framer par excellence like Laurie Gilbert. I would also like to thank Michael Everett, Larry Danque, Andy Marko and Charles Woodman for their input and efforts on my behalf.

Finally, my appreciation for my family knows no bounds. Without their patience and willingness to participate in my photographic activities over the years, even when they didn’t necessarily understand what I was doing, this project would not exist.