And You Think Naming a Baby Is Difficult?

 
Bay Sunset, by the Norwegian Artist, Steve Henderson. This painting is mine, and it hangs on the white walls of the bathroom, providing inspiration for the deep orange that is yet to be.

You know, if the economy gets REALLY bad, and, say, art sales are affected nationwide, then the Norwegian Artist and I will pick up second jobs with the interior/exterior paint companies naming paint colors.

I found a dark orange the other day that’s perfect for the bathroom wall — assuming that it becomes exclusively my bathroom — called burnt pumpkin.

Accessorizing the seared gourd is a deep, warm cream dubbed cheerful cheesecake, which makes me wonder what a depressed cheesecake looks like.

Now I recognize that painting bathroom walls is not sufficient experience for getting a job naming paint chips, but the Norwegian Artist and I have an impressive resume in our regular practice of entitling the man’s fine art paintings.

I say impressive because, so far, every painting has a name, and the Norwegian Artist and I are still on speaking terms, as long as we’re not discussing the color of the bathroom walls.

When we first started, we were specific, along the lines of Southeast Burgundy Hollow Road Just Off Highway 16. Real catchy, that.

I’ve seen similar nomenclature coming out of studios other than our own: The 1832 Franz Liszt Schooner on Its Maiden Voyage from Liverpool to the East Indies – a great title if you’re looking for the model ship or reading your way through a bout of insomnia.

Prosaically boring, however, is better than metaphysical mystique: Cerebral Ululations Reflecting upon the Symbiotic Correlation of Life and Expired Life, which, I assure you, is an example that we have never done. Sometimes it seems that the less there is in the painting, the longer and more convoluted the title, as if to make up for the paucity of visual substance.

Shorter is nicer, and sometimes obvious is best: Coastline, Polish Pottery, Mountain Lake — a technique that translates awkwardly to abstract work since the viewer’s first response is “Lake? What Lake?” although I suppose that it would get people to look more closely at the painting, in a sort of Where’s Waldo? fashion.

When all else fails, one can rely upon the actual location name — Palouse Falls, Chief Joseph Mountain, Hurricane River. As most people would not want Cape Deception on their walls, or Starvation Creek (I had difficulty picnicking there, much less naming a painting after the place), other short, concise words must suffice: Saturday or Cascadia, single palabra expressions that convey a mood through the way they sound.

One of our favorite techniques, when we no longer feel like tossing adjectives and nouns back and forth over a glass of wine, is to type the word into Microsoft Word, right click it, and look up the synonyms. Prior to our stumbling, so to speak, upon Stonework, we reviewed and rejected Granite, Quarry, Brick Work, and Building Material. Masonry made the mental leap into Stonework, resulting thereby in one of our favorite titles.

Passage is another favorite. In a moment of mirth, Through the Crack was tossed in the arena, along with the lamentably punned Starfish Gazing, as well as Sunlight Piercing Through the Clouds and Reflecting Off the Turbulent Waters and Onto the Jagged Rocks Below — #15. Obviously, to get to the ultimate destination, it takes a lot of trudging about.

We allow the occasional pun (Clearwater Revival, Moonlight Sail), but have placed strict limitations on ourselves with these, especially if we come up with them after the second glass of wine. Too much alliteration (Winterwood Westering Walk, Sensuous Sunset Sail) provide a laugh or two, but no serious pursuit.

Giving titles to works is one of those many afterward things that we never realized existed until the Norwegian Artist seriously pursued¬†professional painting (see what I mean about the alliteration? It’s evilly easy to ease into), and because the Norwegian is a prolific artist, we find ourselves grabbing the thesaurus and blurting out random words on a regular basis — hegemony? ersatz? efflorescence? — an exercise that does little but confirm that we have never actually said any of these words aloud before.

So we go back to the beginnings, and the essence of who we are — two ordinary people who aspire to do extraordinary things, and we settle on one to three descriptive words that roll pleasantly off the tongue: Daydreaming, Valley of Gold, Zephyr, Al Fresco, Harbor Faire — they’re easy to say but distinctive, everyday words that distinguish themselves without pushing forward.

It’s an art, you know — naming art.

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About This Woman Writes

Carolyn Henderson is the marketing manager of Steve Henderson Fine Art. In addition to her This Woman Writes blog, Carolyn writes a regular art column for FineArtNews, an online newsletter for artists and art collectors.
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6 Responses to And You Think Naming a Baby Is Difficult?

  1. Lisa B. says:

    For future reference, the depressed cheesecake is the one under the blue berries.

  2. stewartry says:

    I always head for Rhymezone – you can look up synonyms and related words and quotes and all sorts of fun things. That being said, the naming is almost as hard as the creating, sometimes …

  3. Anya says:

    Naming is a fine art indeed. The trick is, methinks, to allude to what you intended to mean or show with your work, while leaving enough space for viewer interpretation. You don’t want to spell it out or stifle the beholder. But you want to give a clue :)

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