The Laws of Nature

Friday, July 22, 2011

What's in a Name?

Fourier's Law
by Katharine A. Cartwright
Watercolor on Arches paper
26" x 20"

What's in a name? I began to think about this after reading your great comments yesterday. Influences upon our viewpoint about the relative value of art include not only outside "experts" and our own personal opinion, but also the title assigned to the work and (sometimes) the gender of the artist if the full name is revealed.

The title of a work of art often influences what we think we see and also the overarching concept that the artist wishes to convey to viewers. But, there are times when the title doesn't match what I'm getting out of the painting or sculpture. So, the name (title) can be confusing. For instance, my own work based upon the laws of nature led me to interpret each law according to what I see in my mind's eye. No one else has that viewpoint, so why would anyone look at the painting shown in this post and remark: Hey! That's Fourier's Law! Nope ... it wouldn't happen.

So, I must consider the importance of the names (titles) of my works. In this instance, they're essential. But, should that be the case? What would happen to my series (which is a comment on man's inability to create the perfect machine because of the limitations imposed upon us by the natural laws) if I named each work "Untitled"? I doubt that anyone would get it.

And then, there's my own name to consider. For this series of paintings, I decided to sign them all "K. Cartwright" because either sex could have created the work and it shouldn't matter which. Viewers are influenced by the sex of an artist when considering relative value and the "seriousness" of the artist.

So, it seems to me that names are very important when it comes to fine art.

What do you think?


Susan Roux said...

There's been a lot of talk recently about women being taken less seriously in the art world. I suppose going to your first initial is a way of trying to offset that mindset. I, on the other hand, must be a bit brazen. I'm in hopes of painting something unforgettable that will begin to change that opinion. If great works by females show up in numbers, wouldn't that speak loud enough to be heard?

Casey Klahn said...

The art is tremendous. I always say that, but I look and look at these works in your Laws series and really get lost in them.

My compliments for the subtle and attractive colors, and the formal motion around the painting.

You touch on a number of points about value, which is a critical subject (no pun). My first thoughts are that the subject is even more complicated than you report here.

William Cook said...

Great topic! So glad you're back. I've also been thinking about the title issue. To many times titles are painfully contrived. Sometimes the title is more impressive than the art almost as if the artist is trying to convince me of something. I'd rather not read the titles in fact--I can see what I'm looking at. That said, once in a while, I do appreciate a bit of a direction from the title, you make a good point.

On the other hand, I'm going through an abstract phase at the moment, and what's going through my head is very intense and rapid sequence, having nothing to do with any 'subject matter' and everything to do with process. If it wasn't for showing them, none of them would have titles. Call them anything, just for the utilitarian purpose of distinguishing them from one another in public.

One could really have fun with this. The titles could be wonderfully absurd--craziness that wouldn't or couldn't have anything to do with the piece--like "Bullwinkle's Nightmare" or "Iron Set Too Hot" or " Veni Vidi Vici: Three Men In A Tub".

I have long lists of titles like this--titles I always wanted to use.

Of course, I haven't tried any of this yet. Just a daydream. I'm getting that list out.

As for sex in the art marketplace, your use of the first initial may be a dead giveaway. How about just a last name? Or a funny squiggle? Your sex will be the first thing a viewer notices when he reads your bio. But then what do I know?

All the best.

hw (hallie) farber said...

Beautiful painting, Kathy.

I remember when (in 70s) women were advised to use initials when entering shows--those memories stick. Judges were sometimes surprised at who picked up ribbons. Hopefully, things have changed, but initials are easier than using the whole name.

Mary Paquet said...

Beautiful piece, again, Kathy. Whenever I see one of the paintings in this series, I immdediately search the Web for the law to help me understand your personal response to the law. Thus, I agree that titles help the viewer have a point of reference for interpreting the painting.

I had an interesting experience with a piece that I sold entitled "Franken Vine," of vines in Germany. When the people told me they were interested in the painting, I began telling them about my experience painting the piece. I could see the look of disappointment because they thought these were California vineyards. They bravely bought the painting, but it gave me pause for thought. Was I putting too much of me into this painting with the title and not letting them interpret the painting for themselves.

As for initials, I found Hallie's comment interesting and I like Susan's bold approach. We each must decide for ourselves, and its a sad commentary on prejudice, isn't it.

-Don said...

Kathy, I am so glad you posted a larger version of this work of art here for me to absorb. I enjoyed seeing it cross your Artspan page the other night, but was wishing I could see it larger. Poof, you granted my wish. Thanks for that...

I agree with Casey about your choice of colors and the feeling of motion in this. It's wonderful. My eyes thoroughly enjoy flowing through and taking in this cool mechanical landscape.

I always try to envision an abstract definition of whatever law you are featuring in this series. For this painting, my first thoughts centered around oppositional directions and conduction. I was delighted to see these thoughts reflected in the definition of Fourier's Law, although I must admit my inability to comprehend much about the definition other than that. What's great is I don't have to understand the law, I just have to appreciate your interpretation of it - and I DO!

Thank you for not titling these "Untitled". I would still enjoy them, but I would feel that something important was missing. I hate that word, "untitled". It always makes me feel that the work was not quite finished.

As for the viewers who allow their opinion of a work to be influenced by the sex of its artist all I can think to say is IDIOTS. It's sad to me that any artist has to take time out of their lives to consider this when signing their work. The work should be allowed to stand on its own. Period.


Unknown said...

Hi Susan - You make a great point! thanks :-)

Hi Casey - Thank you!! I appreciate your generous comment, especially since you truly understand color!

Hi William - you make some interesting and provocative suggestions. Great!! Really get me thinking more about this. The surrealists are great at providing "out there" titles for their works and it truly sparks the imagination - even if we viewers don't get it. Thanks!

Hi Hallie - I agree; perhaps intials only would be best. Problem is - I know so many other artists with my initials. Maybe the WAY I sign my initials will be all the difference. Thanks!

Hi Mary - great anecdote! And - another point to ponder. My feeling is that, ultimately, authentic art must arise from the artist's concept, and the title should conform to that concept. So, I think you made the right decision with your very clever title!! Thanks for sharing.

Hi Don - as always, I'm humbled by your very generous praise! Thank you, and thanks for taking the time to understand what I'm doing. Big hugs to you and yours!

Dan Kent said...

I am always fascinated by your abstract watercolors that are firmly planted in laws of physics. As a "watercolorist" I just kind of settle back to view it in awe. I remember your story sometime back when someone was surprised you were a woman. I would probably also assume you were a man because of the "engine parts", but of course that is ridiculous because I hate that stuff, and I'm a guy myself! As for what name to use - I think you use whatever name gives you the maximum profit in a juvenile market place.

Mark Sheeky said...

Your painting is full of energy but I don't think I'd have ever guessed Fourier's Law... partly because I'd not heard of it. These paintings often look sexy to me but restrained by metal and angular mechanisms. Perhaps hiding your gender is the fundamental theme of this series?

For me the title is a part of the artwork; a piece of literature to accompany the visuals, as much as the frame, the setting its seen in, the story behind it, the identity of the artist. Even the fact that you chose not to write your full first name has added to the artwork...

If I call a copy of van Gogh's sunflowers Rabbit Stew then the title changes the meaning and feeling, and the artwork itself. Titles are that important!

Stan Kurth said...

That was stupid. I posted on the previous topic. So here it is again in the appropriate area:

Hi Kathy,

I don't have the blogging time I used to but I'm still lurking. Anyway I'm going to respectfully disagree. Art is a visual experience that transpires when you SEE something that strikes a chord regardless of title or artist signature. I look at a work and it moves me or it doesn't. If it moves me then I most likely will look at the title and if I'm lucky it doesn't sway my opinion. It may give clues to understanding but usually doesn't add or diminish the visual experience. If the title is that important why don't we just attach a brochure with a complete explanation. Sometimes I will title a painting with absolutely no relevance just because that's the kind of artist I am. In reality the explanation is in the eye of the beholder. If the artist can't engage the viewer in the visual it certainly doesn't matter what it all means and perhaps she or he should stick to writing about whatever they want. My point is all this fuss about names and titles is not what art is about. ART IS VISUAL! Titles may enhance or direct but if the engagement is not there to begin with a fancy name is not going to pull it off.

As for your paintings, again I have to disagree. I don't think I could name each according to its law but I sure think I'm seeing your overall theme and statement relevant to your intentions. And that doesn't really matter to me the viewer. If it turns me on and I don't know what it means I still win. In the case of your paintings it's the best of two worlds. I find this series exciting and I do get your drift. WIN WIN Do you recall my comment on the very first painting in this series? I feel it still applies to each. In fact if you were to give me a test on what the title and law is for each I would probably fail but does that diminish my visual experience? NO! Here is that first comment on the very first painting in the series:

This is truly a masterfully painted work which compels the viewer to get an eyeful. As I dig in deeper I'm overwhelmed with the desire to touch and feel these fine objects because they are so perfected, yet I'm intimidated by their razor sharp edges and skin pinching proximity, or even the possibility of projectiles among them (Mamas don't let your babies get to close!) How do they work? What is their purpose? What is their origin? Are they perfected in the mind of a super surreal mechanical engineer? Or perhaps they're emanating from the nouveau techies collective gray matter. Whatever, they are beautiful; they are so wonderfully anodized with brilliant metallic color and coming at you full force with a warning. Look out for "equal and opposite" (the metaphor). A new force of action is upon us and we had better be careful.

Unknown said...

More fantastic comments!! You guys are tremendous. Thank you, Dan, Mark and Stan. You make wonderful points that deserve a great deal of consideration. I've been mulling over your comments since you posted them, and they inspire me to continue this discussion in a later post.

Shelley Whiting's art said...

I love this drawing. A very fascinating composition. Lots of different shapes and colors to look at. Beautiful and original artwork.