Ken Smith Photo Journal

Archive for February, 2014


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reverie 1

As often happens in my creative process, the feeling and the work produced occurs prior to making a title. There are working titles…this series included Flower1, Flower2, etc., just to get the work to a place it may be referred to. I first want to get the work made, and then live with it for a time to know if I even want to keep it. I continued to work on the images in this series, that number 14 so far.

Titles, and especially those for a series, are difficult because they can seem like they are a ‘conclusion’. There was a time when I wanted to not use titles on my work at all…just Untitled 1, Untitled 2, followed by the year created. But galleries did not like the ambiguity, and truthfully I wasn’t sure about that path either. What I was afraid of in making a title that encouraged or suggested ‘feeling’ was that the title could convert the visual art experience, into a literary one. Meaning, with enough words, one could explain what the viewer ‘should feel’, instead of the work taking that role. The title, if wrong, can send the viewer to another place entirely. The title summarizes and puts into a word, what one is essentially saying is wordless – the visual art. So no wonder there is trepidation in deciding on a title, and I know other artists deal with the same quandary.

I would love to have each and every viewer ‘get’ what I am trying to express in my work, but it does not seem correct to suggest an aesthetic place the viewer should go to after reading the label below the artwork. Is it ‘impure’ to use words in a visual art piece at all? A good question, I say to myself.

But over time, I’ve come around to accepting that the title of the work, is descriptive of the state of mind I was in when I thought about the work in progress, or what I felt when I first saw the completed work. Sometimes I still title work clinically, such as, Standing Nude, or Winter Aspens. But when I have a series in mind, and images have a continuity of style coming from the beginning, I am hard pressed to simply call them Flower 1, Flower 2…

So, when I came to a pause in making this latest series, I struggled to find words that would surpass my uncertainties about titles, not be trite, or plain. One that could live up to what I hoped the finished work would aspire to. I wrote down lots of titles, but none survived my scrutiny. Finally, I asked a friend who knows me well, even to knowing my struggles during the last year with personal loss. For all that had come about in my life, was sure to be there in the work. He knew my state of being, and he had seen some of the images I had made so far. I also explained my difficulties with titles, though I know he has heard it before. I described as I might in an artist statement, what I was putting into the work, what I was feeling about this series. I told him some of my ideas and that the words were either cliches, or had the wrong poetics. Such is the dilemna, in what might seem to be a simple part of making the work.

The next day, he sent me an email with a word that was perfect. He had the distance, and yet the familiarity with my work and me, to give me the ideal title. The new series, reverie, lower-case with airy syllables that breeze off the lips, and a meaning that says it all. “Diffuse and dreamy character; a dreamlike state of mind.” The title suggests where I am in my work, in this time in my life, without divulging too much. I can leave it up to the viewers to each find their own feelings and personal connections when they encounter the visual work that waits in front of them.

reverie 1. Pigment ink print on cotton printmaking paper. 26″ x 20″.

image copyright © Ken Smith 2014 all rights reserved.

Written by Ken Smith

February 17th, 2014 at 10:45 pm

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