POTD: Material and Resignation

POTD: Material and ResignationMaterial and Resignation Harrison, Montana 2011

Does an image, particularly and abstract image, need a title to make it meaningful? Or is a title a needless distraction or an admission of an image that can’t stand on it’s own. This is a sometimes heated topic that appears from time to time in online photography forums. I couldn’t think of a good title for this photograph of weathered shingles on the side of a derelict beauty, so I created one using a random abstract art title generator I found online. That should stir the title argument pot (or would if any of those folks who spend time contemplating the issue were actually readers of my blog).]]>

10 thoughts on “POTD: Material and Resignation”

  1. “Does an image, particularly and abstract image, need a title to make it meaningful? Or is a title a needless distraction or an admission of an image that can’t stand on it’s own.” The random answer generator says ” That depends”. Is the artist trying to impart some shared or revealed meaning to target or universal humanity and all the particular and myriad experience that could entail or just trying to evoke the “Hey, that’s pretty neat !” response. I would submit that with most human communication where we are really trying to impart meaning, a few hints in the title couldn’t hurt. But- that’s just me.

    1. Steve, good comeback with the random answer generator. It reminded me of those old fortune telling 8-ball “fortune tellers” that would sometimes come up with a question mark as the answer to the question asked. Seriously though, I tend to agree with you that adding a few hints to an image’s meaning in the title, or even more bluntly directing the viewer toward a certain interpretation is generally a good thing to do. I don’t see that as a sign of weakness in an image, rather perhaps one that has multiple interpretations and the title helps the viewer see what particular ideas were behind the photographer’s vision.

  2. Just for fun I Googled “art title generator.” I was surprised to find 37 pages of results ranging from art titles, to exhibit titles, to logos, and even an artist statement generator which is an absolute hoot!
    So many artist statements make my eyes roll back in my head with their attempt to convey deep, complex, meaning when there really is none, I split my sides when I read the results of my first click –

    My work explores the relationship between the body and urban spaces.
    With influences as diverse as Derrida and Roy Lichtenstein, new tensions are generated from both explicit and implicit dialogues.
    Ever since I was a student I have been fascinated by the traditional understanding of the zeitgeist. What starts out as contemplation soon becomes manipulated into a cacophony of greed, leaving only a sense of chaos and the possibility of a new understanding.
    As shifting derivatives become frozen through diligent and critical practice, the viewer is left with a hymn to the outposts of our era.

    Give it a try and see what sort of ethereal blather it comes up with:
    This exhibit name generator is entertaining as well:

    1. Jim, I had Googled those generators too. The funny thing about the randomly generated artist statements is that I see no difference between them and the ones that MFA students in particular seem hellbent on obfuscating their work with. While the words certainly form coherent sentences, they seem to contain useful information about anything in general much less an artist’s work in particular. Perhaps all the random generator did was to create a database of a bunch of those real artist statements. Or, perhaps the MFA students and others writing in the same meaningless manner actually got their statements from the random generator in the first place!

  3. I was struggling to make sense of the title/image relationship. When I got to the part that you used a random title generator, I was relieved! That said, in this instance if you couldn’t think of a title, I would rather have had none (or “untitled”) than the arbitrary one generated by the computer that left me confused.
    In this case I think the title you’re using is more than a distraction…something along the lines of a red herring leading me astray. I think this image CAN stand on its own, even without a title, as an interesting abstract. I think it fits in the series you have on anonymous office building repetition. Maybe “flaking diamonds” or some other combo of the main shape and the idea of weathered/old would lead to a better (IMHO) title.
    Let the title games begin! 😉

    1. Kathy, the name I chose from the computer wasn’t totally arbitrary. I rejected a number of them before I found one I thought might have a shred of applicability to the image at hand. It was only a shred though. Does it lead one astray though? I guess that depends on the viewer. Applicability of an “esoteric” title to an abstract image is, like beauty, in the eye of the beholder I suppose. I’m not opposed to untitled images at all, in particular with non-abstract images that have an obvious interpretation. But when I see an abstract image that’s listed as untitled, or an artist refuses to provide a context for abstract work saying it speaks for itself, I often get the feeling that they didn’t title it or explain it because they didn’t have any real clear motivation in it’s creation in the first place. The burden is on the artist to indicate why the image is worthy of viewing. The title or explanation doesn’t have to be real complicated or “woo-woo” to use a technical term. For this image a title like “flaking diamonds” as you suggested might suffice, or simply leaving it untitled and explaining that I was drawn to photograph the repeating pattern of the shingles, a pattern who’s regularity has been mutated by the effects of time. In that regard, a good title would have been to add this image to my fledgling series called “Moving Toward Entropy” It certainly fits that theme.

  4. Not sure it’s an either/or situation. It seems a title just might add an additional perspective on a photo. Your “The Adjudicators”, for example, is an interesting composition of crows until you see the title…. then they are a group of proper judges or possibly gossipers.

    1. Betty, that’s a perfect example of how choosing a title can direct a viewer’s interpretation of an image. When I have images like The Adjudicators (look for the last image in the collection) at art shows, it’s interesting to observe the reaction of viewers to it. Typically they view the image before coming in close to read the title, so they get to experience a reaction without any manipulation by the words I chose for the title. Then, they get a different reaction when the do read the title. I don’t believe anyone has said they thought of the same thing that I did before they read the title. Another image of mine for which the title seems to really resonate with people (in the sense it adds a focus to their interpretation of it) is the one called “126 Day’s ’til Summer” which can be seen in the Saudade gallery on my website. (It’s on the second of the two index pages.)

  5. David Tornquist

    All I can say is BRILLIANT! This picture needs its own wall at your art shows just to see what kind of comments you get.

    1. Thanks David. I’m considering doing a whole exhibit of randomly snapped photos with randomly generated image titles and a random generated artist’s statement to explain it all. I’m sure it will play well in New York City and other places where post-modern photography seems to be all the rage. I think their motto is “If it makes sense, it ain’t art!”

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