Sometimes thinking of a title for a new work is the hardest part. The title is never the starting place. I never sit down to create “Ode to a Grecian Urn” or “View of the Hudson on a Cloudy Day.” What it’s supposed to be when it’s done is usually the farthest thing from my mind. On the rare occasions when it is, it almost always ends up being something else instead. Every piece grows in unexpected ways as it develops; maybe that’s one reason why I frequently end up changing the title of a piece.
Ikebana is an exception. This collage was never anything but “Ikebana” in my mind and I forced it to stay on task whenever it threatened to stray. It rarely works that way.
Although most other pieces start with no title in mind, they do acquire working titles as they progress. In the days between the start of a work and its completion; I need something to call it. Working titles are usually short generic concepts based on some salient feature of the work: Waves. Fire. Branches. Sometimes the working title sticks, even after I mean to give it another. I decided to title this painting Gazing Upward, but in the meantime I’d grown so accustomed to calling it Branches that I wrote “Branches” on the entry form the first time that I exhibited it. For the record I’m still not sure which name I prefer.
This next piece changed for other reasons. The title I liked for it, Our Troubled Times, got a chilly reception the first time around, so I exhibited it in various places as Burning City, City in Flames, or (back to its working title) Fire. I still liked my first choice, however, so eventually I went back to calling it Our Troubled Times. It finally sold under that title. I guess that’s a lesson in learning to trust my instincts.
The collage now titled Moonrise was the subject of an involuntary name change that worked out for the best. The original title for this piece — actually, for the painting on which it was based, but I was planning to use it again — was Twilight Breeze. Someone on DeviantArt flagged the piece for copyright infringement (based, I presume, on the Twilight series of books and movies, even though my painting had nothing to do with that). Rather than fighting a monstrous legal battle I decided to simply change the name. As it turns out, I like the title Moonrise much better anyway.
Thinking on the subject of titles, the examples just keep coming: Darkness Shall Not Overcome It was where one collage started but that seemed a little wordy. It became Unvanquished to capture the main idea, but that didn’t really suit the finished piece. Evolution is the title that finally stuck. Joy of Discovery was shortened to Discovery and finally changed to Ode to Joy. Curves was the working title for a collage I initially called Three Waves; after I reworked the piece several times both titles seemed a little flat, so it became Deep Calling Unto Deep. Antelope Canyon was changed to Conversation when I entered it in a show restricted to abstract art; I didn’t want the jurors to think it was meant to be a literal representation of a slot canyon. Pillow Lava went back and forth with Sulfur Vent before it became fixed as the title.
Actually, there’s hardly a painting or collage whose name I haven’t changed at least once. I’m content with the titles my works have now, but who knows if it will last. If I ever reach the point of being able to hold a retrospective show I might just decide that half of them need to change again.