Titles. Every painting should have one. It can help the viewer connect with the image. Some titles come easily. I occasionally know the title before the painting is off the easel. On rare occasions, I know the the title before the first pastel stroke hits the surface. But there are times when an interesting title for a newly completed painting seems elusive.
I have written recently about my series of sky paintings. Many are of sunset or sunrise. I have attempted to be creative with my titles, but I admit to running out of ideas. ”Sunset at ________” (fill in the blank with your location of choice) just wasn’t communicating my story. Yes, my story. Each of the sky images I selected to paint was chosen for its visual impact. Yet, since I photograph all my own subjects, I was there, and the scene may have resonated with me for reasons beyond what can be seen.
For my abstract work, I have turned to musical terms in titling my work. But the story of my skies seemed to require something different. Story. Why not turn to the literary world? I was not an English major, so although I have an appreciation for literature, it is in no way my area of expertise. I turned to several friends with strong literary backgrounds for help. I shared with them a few of my newly completed pieces and asked them to assist with title ideas. I was on to something! Either through their own interpretation of the images or by asking me to briefly explain what I felt the piece was about, their title suggestions were exactly what I was looking for!
“In Medias Res”, pictured above is a bit different than most of my sky paintings. I had difficulty titling this, because there was uncertainty in what was happening. I saw stormy clouds, yet the brilliance of a setting sun. Was a storm departing? Was a storm moving in? The sky looks stormy, yet the water seems relatively calm. I like the viewer to play some part in interpreting a scene such as this, so I didn’t want the title to define exactly what was happening. ‘In Medias Res’ is a literary term for a work that starts in the middle of the action - something has happened before what we see to bring us to where we are now. Perfect!
“Illustrious the Passing Light” borrowed its title from a Walt Whitman poem, "Song at Sunset". How appropriate! My working title for this piece was 'Sunset at Green Lane'. Great if you are local and know about Green Lane Park, but meaningless if you are not. This new title captures the intensity of that setting sun and the way it seems to be lighting the water on fire just before it slips below the horizon.
Finally, “To Have One Longer Day?” is borrowed from a passage in The Old Man & the Sea, by Ernest Hemingway. I chose this scene from many photos taken during my days as a boater. This was a favorite port, yet naming the river or the town in the title would only resonate with those familiar with the area. It was one of those summer evenings when you wish summer would never end. I shared this thought with my literary friend and he came back with the title. Who doesn’t want to have one longer day after a beautiful summer day on the water?
I have more sky paintings planned and I know I will be turning to my literary friends once again for title suggestions. The conversation between the literary and the visual art worlds has me intrigued. I may even stop by the library to grab a copy of The Old Man & the Sea.