Mar 29th 2011

Titles are fraught. An apt one can induce ripples of anticipation and association, a bad one can irritate or mislead, while a mediocre one slides by mostly undetected. I have been fretting over titles ever since I was in college, the last touch on every term paper before I released it to my professor. I think I mostly get them “wrong” when assigning titles to my paintings — the titles seem to limit or define the paintings in ways I did not intend — but I just can’t stand the pain that lingers in my belly until I’ve attached one to a painting that’s about to makes its way into the world. Maybe I need more patience.

As I write I realize that the impact of a title may also depend on timing. When attached to a completed work it feels like closing a door, like accepting that the flow of history has stopped at least in this small instance, and you (audacious) can put a label on it. On the other hand, for this blog I had to come up with a title at the beginning of the journey, a title that signals my intention, that to some degree will actually create that intention.

And, already I think I’ve got it wrong. At least partly. Speaking? I’m not going to write about speaking except metaphorically, speaking as a stand-in for voice, which appears both in writing and in paint. So maybe it will do. A poetry teacher once told me that lists should have no more than three items, unless they are going to gobble up the whole poem. So I will follow her advice and not yield to the temptation to clarify by adding to the subtitle — writing, painting. What else might nudge its way in?

And Abstraction? What kind of title is that? Right after I uploaded my first post, I did something I tell my students to never do. I looked up the word in a dictionary. Actually, I don’t tell them not to do that, but I do tell them not to put the dictionary definition anywhere in their senior theses, not anywhere where I can smell it out. But that’s just what I’m going to do here. Abstraction: “the act of considering something as a general quality or characteristic, apart from concrete qualities, specific objects, or actual instances.” Yes. I am prone to this, but I will try to mitigate that tendency here; I will try to remember that it is helpful to tell stories. Abstraction: “an impractical idea; something visionary and unrealistic.” Absolutely. I am prone to this. Many years ago on a late evening drive from Durham to Asheville, my husband and I were arguing about some aspect of social policy, our eight year old daughter sleeping in the back. Or so I thought. But in the middle of the argument her head loomed over the seat. She looked straight at me and said “Ma. You live in la la land.” She had my number even then. Abstraction: “absent-mindedness; inattention; mental absorption.” Check. There are other aspects of the definition that don’t fit quite so well: “the act of taking away or separating; withdrawal;” and “secret removal, especially theft.” I can’t yet see their connection to this project. We’ll see what happens with them.

And then, of course, there are the paintings.

(Definition from dictionary.com