Titles can show up with intentionality and purpose and sometimes they are no-shows or arrive disinterested at best. I've come to sense that giving my artwork a title is a way to anchor it to our experience of history, time, and the personal journal that we share. To do this without being contrived is the balancing act of naming a work of art.
When asked about titling her paintings, artist, Helen Frankenthaler had said, “I usually name them for an image that seems to come out of the pictures…”
American art historian, Barbara Rose, stated of Helen Frankenthaler's work, “When looking at some of Frankenthaler's landscapes, particularly those of the fifties and early sixties, with such suggestive titles as Eden and Arcadia, one may be struck by associations with... the innocence of the paradise lost or garden of love theme.”
Frankenthaler agreed that “the title might be a garden reference. However” she continues, “the title was suggested to me by a studio visitor. When I needed a title, I had nothing in mind. Arden does make reference to an ideal or spiritual place, and — with the pink surrounded by the greens — you can conceive of it as an enclosed place. But the picture is abstract.” 1
I use the simple process that Frankenthaler used, knowing that if naming a piece “feels” unauthentic, I will leave it untitled. I have used titles others have suggested if it lands close to what I think the visual story is about.
As a writer of poetry, naming a poem by selecting a salient image or thought in the poem has been an easy process. I still use that process in poetry writing and in naming abstract art. The period a work is created is important to the timing of what may be going on in my waking life or dream life. The central theme in recurring dreams may offer up the perfect title for a drawing that is metaphorically similar to the dream content. At times, “Untitled” seems sufficient and it can work as “No comment”.
Frankenthaler’s reminder, “But the picture is abstract” reinforces the challenge of naming the abstract.
As creatives, we work with approximations in art and narrative, knowing that language can miss the mark in describing what is exercised from our subconscious. One of my past mentors, Artist and Apache Medicine woman, Tu MoonWalker, described the challenge, “It will never look like how it appears in your heart.”
1 E.A. Carmean, Jr., Helen Frankenthaler: a paintings retrospective (Fort Worth, Harry N. Abrams, Inc., Publishers, New York, in association with the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, 1989, page 32.