Powerful Words: How Titles can Influence Perspective

Old Fall River Road in Rocky Mountain Park begins at the entrance of the park and follows the Fall River until intersecting with Trail Ridge Road.

Trail Ridge runs to the top of the Continental Divide and is a scenic favorite among visitors to the park.

It was this road in Colorado that was brought to mind when artist Jim Klein finished one of his latest paintings, “Old Fall River Road“.

Jim Klein had a moment to discuss how powerful words can be in a title, especially when applied to abstract art.

Do you think of the title and subject of a painting before you begin to create?
Jim: I rarely have any sort of topic in mind when I begin to paint. I allow for the paints and brushes to tell me where they want me to go.

Deep down in all of us, there’s a lot of images gathered from what we’ve seen over the course of our lives stored in our subconscious that resonates within us. These images can emerge at any time, often when we’re not expecting it or when we are least aware.

I’ve experienced this first-hand. Sometimes I’ll be working for hours then take a step back and recognize (in a sense) what I had been painting. But that’s not the end of it; when titling a work of art it can take a while to figure out what my subject might be or what it should be called.

Have you ever had a viewer feel differently or contradicted by what you saw fit for the title of a painting?
 Oh yes, everyone sees something different. That’s the beauty of abstract, it’s completely open to interpretation.

Have you experienced a time where what you titled a painting affected the viewers in a profound way?
 Yes, of course, not everyone will be drawn to a certain title no matter how much they enjoy the artwork itself. For example, “Fred” (pictured left) is a wonderful floral-esque painting that hung in the gallery.

The title may have hindered the sale for a while because visitors would come in, read the name, and be just put off by it. It simply did not resonate with most.

Then one day, this nice couple from Texas visited us and they clicked. The couple bought the painting right there – unusual title and all – and now “Fred” is hanging in a great home.

Do you ever ask outside sources for title suggestions?
Jim: Every so often I’ll need outside inspiration. In fact, last Wednesday evening I was working on a painting at the Art Factory and I was stuck on a title. So I took a photo of the artwork with my iPad to the restaurant across the street and asked a few tables there if they had any suggestions.

People love when they’re asked their opinion. Sometimes I’ll go out on the street and ask a passerby what they think a painting depicts or a what a suitable title might be.

Another example: before my massive painting “Russian Rye” (pictured left) sold, it hung untitled in the Gallery. One day a different couple came in who were from an agricultural background. After viewing the then-nameless artwork, they mentioned how it resembled a type of grain, Russian Rye. I felt the name suited perfectly and named the art “Russian Rye”. It was sold not long after receiving the title.

Where else do you receive inspiration for your titles?
 Nature, mostly. I am very inspired by animals and the land. Some paintings – like “Deep Blue” – are titles derived from dreams. Before this one had a title, I had a dream where that name stuck with me.

Do you try to stick to certain types of themes or formats for the titles you use?
 I tend to use nouns for my titles as a reflection of what the subject might be referencing or what I was feeling when I created the art. The only problem there is that it may become a literal description, which may squash the viewer’s own imagination. I don’t ever want to hinder that with my own.

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