I’ve just gotten back from a trip with my family to France, and I’m jumping right into the thick of it: TITLING PAINTINGS. Titling artworks inspires dread in the hearts of many artists. How do we put words to a thing that we don’t have the words to describe? Isn’t this why we work in visual media anyway? Kidding aside though, while titling doesn’t necessarily come easily to me, I have a process for coming up with titles. I read Mary Oliver’s poetry and take note of any poems, phrases or particular words that jump out at me. I keep a little notebook of these words and phrases and then either use those as titles, or come up with titles by riffing off her work. Her writing cuts to the essential about what I want to express in my work. I love the way her poem below “Mysteries, Yes” encapsulates the myriad feelings of wonder we can feel as we go about our lives.
I came across my first Mary Oliver poem somewhere in a field in Pennsylvania when I was 23. It was autumn, the sky was big, there were wild geese flying overhead and forest around us. One of my artist friends brought a book of poetry, and when she read the first line of the poem “Wild Geese:”
“You do not have to be good.”
I was stunned. “You don’t?” I thought to myself. As a young woman, to hear this so bluntly spoken was a revelation. It’s the opposite of everything I had been taught growing up. I listened to my friend read the rest of the poem. She loaned me the book, Mary Oliver’s New and Selected Poems, and I poured over its pages. My love affair with Mary Oliver’s poetry began at this point, and I often consulted it when trying to come up with titles for my artwork. I often don’t know what my most abstract work is about until I have to come up a title for it. Mary Oliver’s poetry puts into words all of what I am feeling through my artwork. Images of the landscape and layering that with our experience as humans. Her writing is spare and to the point.
“… Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination…”
These are a few lines from that first poem I heard, “Wild Geese,” a poem originally from her 1986 book Dream Work.
If this resonated with you, I encourage you to check out Mary Oliver’s writing at your local library. And if you like this post, please share!