Magazine article Verbatim

Untitled

Magazine article Verbatim

Untitled

Article excerpt

High on the list of things I find no less annoying than the eyesore presence of the Universal Product Code on magazine cover art and colorized TV prints of classic films noir is the untitled painting. My response to untitled paintings is well-phrased in the title of Woody Allen's piece on the art [sic] of mime, namely, A Little Louder, Please. Does an artist who doesn't title a painting think, I always wonder, that a picture is worth a thousand words and therefore a title would be the analogical equivalent of the proverbial hick from the sticks showing up in the big city? As a writer, I like words and their amazing capacity for clarity and precision as well as floridity and figurativeness. It seems to me that a painter who forgoes their use as part of his creative act is missing out on a good bet, the collaborative effect of language and visual imagery used in tandem. But perhaps the simple truth is that I feel snubbed in the presence of an untitled painting, like someone who wasn't invited to the party.

In any case, I'm all for words and pictures getting along amicably. It may be that they are like the contentious and self-absorbed members of a vaudeville team, but as Neil Simon showed in The Sunshine Boys, they can strike a happy balance with each other. Early writing consisted of pictographs, which comprised the perfect detente between words and pictures.

I don't care for untitled paintings, but they don't scare me a bit. If the artist is too snobbish or blase or (I daresay) too inarticulate to give me a handle on his work, I have no other choice than to take on the task myself. The painting becomes my private playground, the place where I can have my own little creative Dejeuner sur l 'Herb. Of course, if the painting is representational one can only have so much fun with it. A bowl of pears is, inescapably, a bowl of pears. But an untitled abstract painting automatically becomes as enticing as a Rorschach test. I'm liable to pin it to the mat with a label like Halloween in Las Vegas or Nude Mutants Abusing a Rainbow or Post No Bills. My attitude is that titling a painting may be a tough job, but somebody's got to do it.

Whenever I see an untitled nonobjective painting, I invariably think that the artist failed his own Rorschach test. I'm interested in the artist's concept of the work, but I need a little help. If he were a ventriloquist, would he let the dummy (sorry about this analogy) merely sit on his lap and stare mutely at the audience? The attitude that a title is irrelevant is dialectically lame. Coming up with the proper title might take hours, or even days, but I think it's part of the job. Hieronymus Bosch was so bad at it, I've heard, that his original titled for The Garden of Earthly Delights was Where's Waldemar?--but he hung in there and finally got it right.

I guess I should confess that some of my earliest creative influences were artists-comic book artists. I was spellbound by their ability to create fascinating pictures, an act that seemed virtually magical to me. But personally the extent of my talent in that area was to draw stickmen and to replicate the rudimentary profile in that famous matchbook ad headlined DRAW ME and which promised to appraise one's artistic talent as part of a search for prospective students for some art school. …

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