Archive for the ‘titles’ Category

How Do You Choose Your Titles? Part Two

Friday, May 4th, 2012

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.

How Do You Choose Your Titles?

Thursday, May 3rd, 2012

I made it. Now what do I call it?

We’ve been exploring issues artists encounter in their work, and we recently asked artists in different disciplines: How do you choose your titles?

Paul Endres, Jr, painter
Being a painter in a digital age is, at least in part, a contradiction. Many artists might also suggest that providing titles to their visually-based art is also a contradiction of sorts, or at least unnecessary, and in some cases I would agree. However, my work is the descendent of a specific niche of art history, 19th century history and portrait painting, one that not only requires titles, but also depends on them to explain the narratives or patrons.

My work is an ongoing series of paintings about an alternate reality in which a disastrous unseen event known as the American Burden is causing destruction and civil war. The paintings exist as memorials to these events; fictional historical artifacts. So for me, at this time and making this work, naming a piece is like the planets aligning, in that there are many criteria to fulfill. The titles must further complicate the image by providing an additional context, give insight into the narrative, and to hint at the illogical nature of the individuals of this reality, who like us, thrive on contradiction.

Jason Palmer, jazz composer
I’ve always found it to be as big a challenge to adequately name a composition as it is to write it, especially if I’m composing purely for the sake of composing, and not for a particular project. Luckily I’ve always found inspiration for titles from people, places, and events that I’ve related to. I’ve used “plays on words” as titles (especially if it happens to be a “quirky” melody). I’ve come to find that my compositions usually resonate with the listener to a stronger degree if they have a catchy title and a story that conveys the inspiration for the title.

Kathryn Burak, author of Emily’s Dress and Other Missing Things
To my mind, the best title is taken. Picnic, Lightning, Billy Collins’s fourth collection of poems, took the prize a while back. Collins’s title comes from a line in Lolita. “My very photogenic mother died in a freak accident (picnic, lightning) when I was three.” Who would think the best title in the world would be tucked into parentheses in chapter two? (Okay, Billy Collins would.) So, when my editor, Nancy Mercado, told me the sales and marketing team decided my very quiet title, The Dress, needed to reflect the excitement in the plot – the road trip! the mystery! – I automatically said, “Sure. As long as we can find a Picnic, Lightning.” Though Nancy agreed having a perfect title would be nice, she admitted that she wasn’t sure how much a title might make or break a book – providing you don’t hit the apex, as Collins did.

Before this request to retitle my book came, I had joined a collaborative marketing group for debut YA writers (The Class of 2k12), and we had already printed up a mass mailing advertising my quiet title. I quickly sent word that the new batch of posters and postcards to librarians should have my new, more action-packed title, How People Disappear. It wasn’t until my third and final title got the okay, months later, from sales and marketing (Emily Dickinson needed to be a part of the title, they thought) that I realized how many different books I was promoting with my group – three books, or at least three titles – on bookmarks, mass mailings, and websites. Oh, and the current title – Emily’s Dress and Other Missing Things – everybody shortens it to Emily’s Dress. Not that far off the original.

Masha Obolensky, playwright
I know some writers who start with the title. I never do. Coming up with a title is always challenging for me. It is often something I do when I find myself lost. So I throw down the gauntlet – what is at the heart of this play, Masha? Say it in a few words. A few years ago I wrote a play about girls and desire and after I had completed a first draft I brought it to my class at Boston University. Hearing my cohorts’ comments, I realized that I was walking a fine line and that what I had written could easily be misinterpreted. I decided to entitle it The Girl Problem. It’s not mysterious like my other titles – this one definitely positions me, the writer, in relation to the material. Giving the play this title helped me to sharpen the play, while allowing me to keep the ambiguity that had elicited so many different interpretations among my classmates.

Read part two of How Do You Choose Your Titles? featuring a choreographer, poet, glass artist, and painter.

Image: Paul Endres, Jr, THE OATH OF HAMILTONIAN INACTION (2011) acrylic on canvas, 62×96 in.


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