In my day job I’m a communications professional. I see it all the time – people need context. They need to understand. Many find abstract art alienating because they don’t know how to interpret it and the story often isn’t obvious. For others of us, that’s OK – we get off on the relationship of objects to space and use of line or colour…we don’t necessarily need the story. But we’re in the minority.
Tradition and probably other reasons have trained our brains to believe art is something you need to understand – not just feel. Except that’s wrong. But it is what it is.
So what is the abstract artist to do? I think we need to help people to connect with our work if that’s what they need. And the title is one way to do it.
5 Tips for titling your art
- Give the viewer a clue. People like to be intrigued – they just don’t like to feel lost. So use words or phrases that could mean many things. Let the viewer find their own story.
- Give the viewer insight into what it means to you, the artist. Many people love to talk to the artist about why they painted something the way they did. Name the painting something that aligns with how you understand the work. It all helps make the connection. Relationships are based on connections. Sales are made when people connect!
- Align the title with the name of your series. If your series tells a story, then make your title related to your story. Look at my series, Crossings + Intersections: that series is inspired by earth’s formations through layering, weathering, tectonic shifts, lava intrusions – basically geological stuff. The titles are all geological terms. Very few people will know what they mean but I chose them by their sound and the fact that each title actually does match one possible story for each painting.
- Never use “untitled” as a title. What a waste of an opportunity. A title is an opportunity for the artist to say something more or to support the viewer to connect with your work.
- Don’t serve the story on a plate. Be subtle. If something in the painting looks like flags or if you intended it to be flags, don’t call the painting “Flags.” Call it something related to flags like “Allegiance” or “Patriot” or “Free in the wind” – get the idea?
” My heart has always been in abstraction. As an artist I realized long ago that abstraction was one of the keystones of the role of the artist in contemporary times. While referential art can help us understand ourselves, our societies, and things literal, abstract art is like music, it is it’s own meaning. And while some literally minded people might think this is trivial or indulgent or irrelevant, the role of abstraction is not to communicate what is, rather to remind us of the possibilities. Abstraction’s role is to remind us of our sense of wonder without which life incarnate is mechanistic and banal.”
Thank you DC Spensley for expressing that truth so beautifully.
To Bless the Space Between Us – by John O’Donohue … extract from: For the Artist at the Start of the Day shared with my by my friend, Deborah Rossouw
May your imagination know
The grace of perfect danger,
To reach beyond imitation,
And the wheel of repetition,
Deep into the call of all
The unfinished and unsolved
Until the veil of the unknown yields
And something original begins
To stir toward your senses
And grow stronger in your heart
In order to come to birth
In a clean line of form,
That claims from time
A rhythm not yet heard, that calls space to
A different shape.
May it be its own force field
and dwell uniquely
Between the heart and the light
The local newspaper, Squamish Chief, covered the story of the story that inspired by latest series, “Crossings + Intersections” really well. Well written, Toby Jaxon.
Recently I was at the Art Gallery of Ontario and lucky enough to have a “solo” tour as I was the only person who showed up. I learned more about the art I had shown an interest in, but thanks to the tour guide who pushed me beyond my comfort zone, I gained great insights about paintings that were otherwise just ‘not my scene’.
I noticed an amazing transformation going on within myself – I started to connect to those paintings.
Why? The story!
That got me thinking I need to work more on the story associated with my art. People generally find it hard to connect with abstract work, but story can help.
Of course, I want to leave the story open enough for the viewer to make sense of it for themselves rather than feed it to them on the plate – otherwise I would be painting realistically!
“Creativity is a habit, and the best creativity is a result of good work habits.”, Twyla Tharp, Choreographer
Painting is like a two-way conversation. The artist contributes to it by adding paint or a line, taking something away, tweaking, moving.
The canvas replies by letting you know what it needs and what isn’t working.
It’s a back and forth. Back and forth.
One of the goals in my art is to achieve the delicate balance between calm and having enough on the canvas to sustain interest. I envision ultimately, large areas of calm in my work. But why is it so hard to achieve?
You would think it’s easier to do nothing than to fill that nothingness with something of beauty. Not for me.
Calm is scary if you’re not in its habit. It’s like that silence in conversations that makes us awkward. Yet we also long for periods of silence. I would say we even need silence.
Right now I’m working with “degrees of calm.” I’m not ready for blank calmness and I may never be. But I can do less and that is a degree of calm.
April Gornick says: “Great art should be vulnerable to interpretation. It shouldn’t be a fixed thing.” That’s why I love contemporary art, because it’s so undefined.
I read an artist’s comment (unfortunately I didn’t note who said it) that’s proven true in my own practice: “Paint a lot. Just get in your studio and make something, even if it’s crap. Finish it them make something else. Don’t just wait for inspiration, Creative thoughts come while you’re creating.”