We’ve been exploring issues artists encounter in their work, and we recently asked a variety of artists: How do you choose your titles?
In part two of the same discussion, a wider picture starts to emerge of how titles function in different artistic disciplines.
Deborah Abel, choreographer
Usually the title for my choreography offers the only words I will be using to convey my intention to the viewer. I use the title to unfold layers of meaning that will speak differently to different individuals, and to introduce the spiritual/philosophical truths I want to share and explore. With just a few words I want it to create questions and images that the audience will bring with them to the performance (and entice them to attend). The process of searching for a title can take weeks if not months. It’s is a part of the creation that I enjoy immensely .In my most recent concert Calling to You: A Tale of Ancient Wisdom in the Modern World, the basis for the concert was a story that included a parable from ancient India. For months we called it the “India concert” for lack of another title. I read through Rumi poems and took notes on many different lines. I found that one jumped out from the list: “Standing on the bank calling to you.” I was drawn to the mystery of who is calling to whom and the layers of meaning in the line: earthly and divine love, personal love and universal all calling to you.
In The Beauty Road, our concert about the power of community, we were working on a “wedding scene.” For the title we looked for synonyms for “witnessing,” and found The Beholding, a perfect title, we thought, for the event itself and the community’s role as those beholding and making real this love for the couple.
Michael Teig, poet
“How do you choose your titles?” The short answer is I don’t know. Good titles are a kind of seduction (Or sometimes, like any seduction, they just seem good at the moment). Some titles start as lines and then migrate up or often to a completely different poem. I choose titles while a movie or a song or a friend is talking and I drift off over a phrase they’ve said. Some start out as common expressions or instructions or simply images I’ve been carrying around.
Another answer is I steal them. Some come from songs (Snatch it Back and Hold It), some from books I haven’t read (Au Bonheur des Ogres was on the shelf at my then girlfriend’s house), and some from ridiculous jobs I’ve had (Directory of Obsolete Securities exists – I used it to research a web-based game about Wall Street). I choose titles from things I’ve thought or heard or misheard or thought I’ve thought. I put them in cold storage: notebooks where they wait. I write them on receipts or say them into my phone like a detective on TV. I pull the car over when my son says something I’ll need to use later. A good title is a very short poem by itself. And in that respect you can think things with a title that you can’t think anywhere else.
Carrie Gustafson, glass artist
It’s really important to title the pieces, as a title provides a reference for the viewer and a window into what the piece meant to me when I was making it. The pieces which have “Bottle” or “Bowl” in the name are often called that so the gallery knows what piece I am referring to! Or (as in the case of my thistle bottles) it signals a form or pattern that I repeat, as opposed to a title like Caju, which is a one of a kind work.
Richard Raiselis, painter
Titles are a good way to remember paintings when they are no longer in the studio. I choose titles largely for my own amusement, and so that I can visualize my picture when friends tell me that they saw one. My paintings on the MCC website include Thelonica, Prelude, Toots Teal Man, and Eighty-Eight. These titles all refer to jazz – music that I play and enjoy listening to. Sometimes my wire pictures look like musical scores, or like heads; in jazz the head is the melody played before improvisation. (Read more about how Richard selected these titles.)
In each case, the title post-dates the picture. I may joke around with possible titles as I paint, but I don’t think that my word games influence my formal choices as I work.
Facing Music, an exhibition of work by Richard Raiselis, opens at Gallery NAGA on May 4, and runs through May 26, 2012.
Images: still image from CALLING TO YOU, choreographed by Deborah Abel, photo by Liza Voll; Richard Raiselis, EIGHTY-EIGHT (2011) oil on linen 40×40 in.