Friday, September 11, 2009

How To Pick a Title

"Paint Me"
8x10, oil/panel

With two degrees in English Literature, I should be able to title my paintings in a snap. Not so. I've found that the more prolific you are as a painter, the more prone you are to writer's block.

When I first started out, I pored through Shakespeare or the Bible - two good sources of titles for writers of fiction and non-fiction - for clever phrases such as "Time's Thievish Progress." (I didn't use that one.) But when I really started to paint, that is, to paint every day, I just didn't have time enough. I began to rely on titles that indicated the subject. "Jeffries Peak, Winter Storm."

This worked well enough, but when I began to paint the same subject over and over, I had to resort to numbers. "Jeffries Peak, #5" and so on. The problem with this method was I couldn't always remember which painting was #55 and which was #56. I quickly discovered the value of assigning paintings a serial number and keeping a photographic record.

I've even tried popular music. The Grateful Dead had some great lyrics, and if you look long enough, you can usually find something appropriate, such as "Across the Lazy River." If you're clever, you might even discover that the title may invest extra meaning, depending on what the song is about. This all depends on your audience, of course. Someone born after 1970 may not understand "Strawberry Fields." (But then, I'm not sure I do, either.)

The best titles, though, always seem to come from deep within and evoke a mood. It's the same with poetry - sometimes the words just come. If you can hold off from trying to name a piece right away and spend some quiet time with it, a title will well up like a reliable spring.

PS The boat above said to me, "Paint Me," and the rest is history.


Celeste Bergin said...

I very much approve..because of the double entendre
--it's a lovely painting.

jeff fioravanti said...

Michael, I can so relate to this. I always struggle with finding a name for my completed works. In part, I feel, that if I give it a specific name, it may influence the viewer, and really, what I want, is for the viewer to find their meaning in the piece and thus, formulate their own name. maybe I should just call them all: "You name it"

Nancy Bea Miller said...

Great post! I also have aegree in literature, but find it is very little help when it comes to naming paintings. I cannot abide a title that smacks even in the smallest degree of the pretentious, the cute or the I am often stuck with the most banal titles ever seen: two apples and a lemon, or, green boat on the river. Yawn! I like your idea of looking to music lyrics and song titles...thanks!

Yvonne said...

I smiled all the way through your post! Some paintings name themselves, but with most it's a creative struggle with often silly results. Thanks for the inspiration for my next e-newsletter.