Monday, September 20, 2010

No title for this essay. I decided to write about work that is “untitled” since I was asked that question… (Actually I was asked what my problem is with untitled work).

First question, did it bother any of you that you had to read just a bit further to find out my content or make a connection as opposed to having some starting point of reference? (To decide if you want to continue reading about fashion or some unrelated non-art topic.) Second question, do you buy a book with no title or a piece of music with no title? That would seem weird. How to you recommend a book to a friend if it has no title? Even dances are given titles. Labels of many different kinds are how we as a society process and categorize information. Okay, before anybody gets their shorts in a snit over the issue that art should be able to stand on its own without such constraints, I agree. The issue I have is with untitled work exhibited in shows.

Several years ago, the director of our local art museum and I walked through the galleries discussing the topic of untitled work. In a show many years prior, an artist had so many pieces untitled, that it was impossible to “hang” the show without much confusion and therefore also appearing unprofessional. The director went ahead and gave the unidentified pieces some working titles so the staff could figure out what was going on…names like opus one, pink tower, whatever, just associative titles to figure out which piece was which. Even simple labels such as “construction 1”, “construction 2” and so forth can be a big help.

I don’t’ give a rats ass if a piece is untitled in the studio, but going through a show program with several “untitled” pieces is just annoying to me. And like I have pointed out before, I write about what annoys me at times. How hard can it be to call a piece of work by what it is made of such as “metal sculpture number one”. At least I will know going through the gallery that I am going to see a metal sculpture by so and so. My personal opinion is that to submit a piece as untitled is just lazy. Now don’t anybody take that personally, because I just said it was my personal viewpoint. Consider the gallery visitor who is a total newbie to art. This is your chance to entice and educate someone especially in non-objective or abstracted art pieces (which seem to be the majority of untitled works). The left-brainers appreciate a starting point. Call your assemblage of driftwood anything you want, but somehow get that viewer’s brain in gear to stay engaged with your work. Imagine this scene….
Tour group in a gallery encounter a sculpture. ---”Untitled? It looks like a pile of firewood to me. Stupid artists think they can just put a bunch of junk in a pile and call it art. Guess the guy couldn’t cut it in the real world. Who do they think we are? Bunch of idiots and gullible enough to pay THAT for stuff I have in my back yard trash pile? This is what infuriates me about my tax dollars and donations, it goes to some yahoo that nails some wood together, adds a rope then sets it in the middle of the floor.” --- Okay, so calling it “driftwood one” would be of no help to this imaginary guy, but maybe “All that is left” would spark some type of thought process in his limited creative capacity. Yes, I can hear it now, the arguments that we have a right to not name our work, that it should stand on its own, titles are too limiting, etc… but who is buying our work? Fellow artists may understand our esoteric inspiration, but in my experience, those with the padded wallets prefer to know what they are buying up front.

When submitting numerous works to a juried show via a CD, even the “untitled’ pieces have to have an associated and corresponding number for identification purposes. It is a way to organize and classify work. Now, do I not appreciate a piece that is untitled? Nope, I look at them and contemplate them, but I don’t “value” them as highly as I do something that is given a “name”. (Personal opinion, even the Mona Lisa left untitled would annoy me) As artists, we make one-of-a-kind creations, as a mother, I did the same twice, and both got a name. May of us think of our works as children in an odd sort of way, I just feel that artwork should have some relative standing in the world. If a piece is made for a reason, give it some purpose and significance and value. A title does not have to add to the work in any way; just give it some acknowledgement in the universe, some context in the span of a career or even just an order in a series. Was this piece number 7 of 20 such creations? When we are dead and gone, how will our kids know where to place it in our personal history? Symphonies have numbers so we can keep track of the order. Computers date our photos and writings so things can be kept in an orderly manner. I am sure that someplace in all artists’ studio records (or should be) is the date of each piece ever made to the point of completion and if a piece is on exhibit, one assumes it is completed.

I guess my issue with untitled work is that it is really only one step away from being untitled while still being able to remain untitled (or without a title that is descriptive, additive or clarifying) and yet make the display of the piece more professional. One number, one letter, a word….anything to elevate the piece to the next level beyond the pile of other untitled’s that may be back in the studio. Think about it, if an artist has two pieces or more in a show, and all are untitled, then they become “untitled number one”, “untitled number two” and so forth whether the artist likes it or not and even if it is printed that way in the program or not. Staff and viewers will categorize work so the artist might as well keep the power and do it himself. Have a bit of fun with us all and call it “untitled 745” and impress the heck out of people with your power of production!

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