What’s in a Name?

love consists in this
copyright 2022, Molly Larson Cook
28″ x 22″ Acrylic on canvas

It’s been a busy week at our place, painting painting and more painting. I was busy in the studio finishing this canvas in my new series while Michael was busy painting our living room walls a beautiful shade of red. Color everywhere!

We artists do the work and then proceed to the next step – naming our pieces. In reading about the naming process, I find that artists, pet owners, parents, song writers, and many others are not the only ones concerned about the “right” name for whatever it is they’re naming. An interesting article about writing computer code of all things told me something about this.

I’m not someone who writes computer code, much less understands it, but I do know it can go wrong and cause a lot of problems. Apparently, this is usually a naming problem.

The article made me think about abstract artists and the way we write “code” when we name our work.

For my “Colors of Jazz” series, the song titles were a reflection of what I saw/felt when a painting was finished. But the new series is based on a quotation from an entirely different field, a quotation that intrigued me: “It cannot hurt to see everything there is to see.”

I have collected quotations for many years, and long ago published an annual collection of the best for that year. I love the short, pithy way really good quotations work. They seem to me small handholds in the climb of life. These are real quotations and not the ones people dream up for Hallmark cards and posters or any of the many attributed to the wrong person. The internet is full of these! A pundit once said, “If you want people to believe what you say, tell them Benjamin Franklin said it first.” The internet has proven this to be true. Sadly.

I was on my way to collecting quotations for painting titles, but then someone suggested using lines from poetry. I had a couple of those in mind and then someone else – me – remembered that I, myself, am an award-winning poet and why not use some of my own lines. Why not, indeed? No copyright issues. No reason not to give those lines some added life of their own.

For this painting I went back to my original idea and chose a line from Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet. It’s one of my favorite lines in literature. The full line is “Love consists in this, that two solitudes protect and touch and greet each other.” I’m currently working on a painting based on a line from one of my own poems. I will include the entire poem when I post that painting.

There is something quite appealing about combining my poetry and the paintings. When I taught a poetry class at a university in Maine, I used a text that included a center section of paintings along with ekphrastic poems about them: poems that are specifically written to describe a painting. Some famous ekphrastic poems that show up in literature classes are “Musee des Beaux Arts” by W.H. Auden describing Bruegel’s painting, Landscape with the Fall of Icarus as well as Robert Browning’s “My Last Duchess.”

Many abstract artists like Clyfford Still gave up and simply titled their paintings with dates and numbers. Or Mark Rothko who titled his with the colors in the paintings: “Orange, red, yellow,” “Violet, black, orange, yellow on white with red.” While I appreciate the simple descriptions, I don’t think they offer much in the way of coding which is, after all, another way to say “signpost.”

The abstract artist does not want to do what the realists do – paint a barn or a portrait, red cliffs or an ocean view exactly as they are in real life. The abstract artist wants to arouse emotion, wants to give the viewer room to explore and see their own narrative in the painting. The titles – the coding – are intended to generate ideas as much as the paint, the colors themselves, do.

Art is about many things and they all count. They all take time and thought. Those pictures in the exhibition didn’t paint themselves. On my planet, art and poetry are closely related, and poetic titles say just what I hope to say.

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