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What's In A Name?

When Shakespeare penned those infamous words, he knew very well that a name carried great significance. Naturally, when my husband and I were expecting our first child, one of the first things I did was run to the library and check out a book on names. My husband and I poured over the lists for hours, scrutinizing the sounds and meanings of names. This was not a decision we wanted to take lightly. The act of naming has been a significant practice throughout the ages and across many cultures. To name someone or something has the power to speak into a person something of their essential character.


The same concept applies to naming one's art. Naming (which I prefer to "titling", which feels too impersonal) is a significant way to communicate the soul of a work of art. Whether one paints a representational landscape, carves a figure of wood, or scrawls lines and circles on paper, the name of the piece helps the viewer to go beyond what is merely seen, to what more the artist wants to communicate. I find this to be of critical importance with abstract art since the meaning can be interpreted in many ways. For some artists, this may be their aim and that is fine. For those who wish to evoke a certain mood or communicate a message, the name is what unifies the technical elements of color, shape and composition.


My process for naming a painting is multi-faceted. On rare occasions, I will begin a work with a title in mind and paint to that idea. Most of the time, however, the naming is the cherry on top when the work is complete. As I'm working on a piece, I will record any external information (meaning that which does not concern the elements of art) such as songs that resonate with me, jotting meaningful lyrics. What books am I reading? Any notable quotes? I try to not scrutinize a painting too much in process, for I like to allow for organic movement with the materials. The element of surprise as shapes and forms emerge, is what keeps me engaged in the process.


When the piece is complete, I will sit down with the art for a nice little chat. Now, before you think the paint fumes have gone to my head, hear me out. Steaming cup of tea in hand, I settle in my comfy chair in my studio, sketchbook and pen in my lap and look, really look at the art. I ask myself the following questions:


What is the overall mood I feel from the piece? What words come to mind? What type of mood do the colors evoke? What do the shapes remind me of? Is there personal significance to these, whether past or present? I will also look over my previous notes from in-process and compare them with my current impressions. If nothing emerges from this exercise, I will move on to something else, knowing in time the right idea will emerge.


Creating art is a means of communication. As it is when we name people (or even pets, or places) the name conveys something of the essence or identity of the individual. The name of a work of art allows the viewer to experience the artist's vision of the work, connecting the materials to the meaning. So, while a rose may still smell as sweet by another name, a work of art may have an entirely different effect based on its' name.





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