Editor’s note: Ann Robinson Davis is the author of one of our most popular articles. “Clean your Studio Heal your Artself!” (From Metal Clay Artist Magazine Winter 2012) We received the most interesting notes from readers about this article…including a letter from one person who credits this article for having saved her life! The article dealt with letting go and cleaning up our studios. We are pleased to share another article by this author. This time it is a “HOT TOPIC” among artists!
There has always been a fierce debate in the art community (all the arts) about whether to name or not to name your work.
In school, back in the 60’s I was never taught to name anything. If I produced a crazy lace agate ring, well that was what it was called, with the added place it came from, such as Mexican Crazy Lace Agate Ring. As I matured as an artist I began having specific ideas about my work and how I wanted to express an idea. The urge to create was subjugated to the urge to have meaning. I used to do a lot of production casting (big money, big burnout) and my biggest sellers always had a name. And that was purely happenstance, because I’m not fully aware of when I started giving names…It seems to me an organic process, it just happened. Of course this is just my opinion on the subject, so no judgment, just discussion.
A little history of naming art:
Where are the bodies buried? In classical times all art or any importance was given a name. So much art was commissioned…sometimes the art was named after the person who bought the gem and had it set. Everyone knows the Hope Diamond, and Liz Taylor’s diamond necklace. It’s convenient to talk about a piece with a name…I think publishers like it, as Christine Norton said when asked to write an opinion for this piece, “So should we talk about Michelangelo’s David or statue number 4?” Hmmm it seems the question answers itself. My favorite artist Benvenuto Cellini has a piece entitled, Perseus with the Head of Medusa 1545. It really cannot be seen as anything else.
But what about the abstract artists? If you’ve seen one Rothko sunset, it’s much like another but in a slightly different color…maybe numbers are appropriate? I personally can get lost in them while other people can’t see what the hoopla is all about. And I respect that. Jackson Pollack, the father of gestural painting, named his pieces at first but he became so popular that he began numbering them. I’ve read several biographies about him and would suggest that he stopped naming his work due to burn out.
Another factor in choosing to name or not to name a piece could relate to how the artist experiences the art that he/she creates. I experience art as a huge emotional rush, I’m a visual person, I can almost taste the colors. I was so overwhelmed at a Rousseau exhibit at the Smithsonian that I got light headed. The colors hit me that hard, I was breathless and in heaven. But the same emotional pull for color just about did me in at the Smithsonian Tower, where the last Rothko’s were hanging (that boy painted whole walls). They were black…just different shades of black, greeny black, bluey black…and I couldn’t breathe…. I told my hubby, “I have to leave.” Did Rothko’s work have names? I don’t know, on the way out I read a plaque that said he committed suicide soon after finishing them….
And then there is Miro…who I worship…and Calder…who put into 3D and motion most of Miro’s work. And of course there was the whole poetry thing about Miro’s constellations…but I digress, the poetry did nothing for me…but the paintings spoke to me. The 3D moving objects were just the icing on the cake!
That brings me to another exhibit…Robert Ebendorf, an American icon, his “Walk on the Beach” series. Seen with the totality of his work….At first my gut feeling was “ewhhh” but then my intellectual understanding kicked in and I was into his work. One necklace was made from the little plastic tabbies that you pull off of bottles of juice sold at beach-side. When I first saw it, I thought “Why?” then I read the plaque (oh thank heaven for curators!) it had personal meaning and they had all been scrubbed clean. My point is without the name, I would have said, “What the heck?” But with the name I realized he was making a statement on our throw-away society…and his time spent walking with his daughter on the beach in a new town. Poignant, yes, important, I think so.
Back to my personal point:
Each artist has to decide for himself. There is no right or wrong. If it has a name, pay attention. The thought could be part of the art…some people think in words. If it has no name, maybe it’s based on feelings and try to connect. If you can’t, not a problem you just experience art in a different way. After all…we are individuals…some of us are visual (our greatest sense is through our eyes) some of us are audial (primary sense through our hearing…think Beethoven), some of us are kinesthetic. I asked some of my friends who produce jewelry art what they did and if they had an opinion on this subject. It seems that to ‘jewelry makers’ this mostly doesn’t matter. But what I have learned is to respect the decision of the artist. It’s personal! ~ Ann Robinson Davis
Comments by Jewelry Artists about naming their work:
Sherry Chaples: I rarely name my work. However, I recognize that naming your work can start a conversation with a potential collector and help you share your story. A name can convey many things from communicating the vision or inspiration, increasing the perceived value of a piece, to create another level of meaning. I’ve had a few experiences with named pieces – One time while showing a piece to someone they didn’t see what I saw. I learned that making a potential collector uncomfortable doesn’t bode well for sales!
While I do have a couple of designs I sell on an ongoing basis, almost all my work are unique designs. This would lend itself to naming each piece; however, the reality is that I create hundreds of pieces in a year, and I find naming stressful. It just does not come naturally to me. Often I’m on deadline to create for shows or having enough pieces for a gallery.
When I list my pieces in my online store I don’t name them either. No one searches the internet for the “Fractal Rainbow” necklace. I focus on describing my pieces in a way that people searching will find my work easily.
All this being said, maybe someday I’ll be able to develop this skill – Enabling each piece to feel more special by giving them names that help potential buyers connect better with my work.
Christine Norton: I generally like and appreciate when artwork is named. It sometimes points out an aspect of the work that I may not have noticed; it may add to the “story” or message the artist is trying to convey; and, as a collector, it adds to the perceived value of the item. (It makes for great cocktail talk – “Oh yes, I own “insert artwork name here” in my private collection.) Naming seems like something “real artists” do with the expectation that their work will someday be shown in a museum or gallery.
Lorrene Baume-Davis: I love naming my jewelry…. It isn’t to ‘tell’ people what I meant, so they ‘get it’. The naming is for only me. If people say they like my pendant with the pearl and enameling… cool. The naming is what I ‘felt’ upon completion.
Karen King: As both a collector and an artist, I can state without hesitation that I do not name my work. I can’t see any reason to do it, but I can understand why some jewelry artists might head down that path. If a jewelry artist is entering a juried competition and needs to define their intention for a piece or needs to align with a theme for a show, a name for an entry for a juried show makes sense, especially if the show has a theme. A name can have the effect of driving a certain impression in the jurors’ minds that demonstrates that the artist used the show theme to form their work and understands the rules of the juried selection process. To me, naming the piece can easily be part of the competitive process.
That said, who would walk into a gallery and ask for a piece of jewelry by name? Very few people would unless they had seen a picture of the piece published in a public forum. Buyers typically ask to see work by the artist. However, in the kaleidoscope world which is a very visual medium, all scopes are named by the artist, and it serves as the artist’s catalog with the intention of evoking a certain response to the images being viewed. Collectors routinely refer to scopes by name and the value of a scope in the aftermarket is linked to the name, especially if the artist has won awards for that scope. As a personal collector of fine craft of many different mediums, I am far more interested in the artist, the workmanship, the design, the wear-ability, etc. and do not consider the name of a piece when making a buying decision. This is especially true of jewelry. I don’t believe a name adds any real value to an item of personal adornment for me since the value is wholly subjective and “in the eyes of the beholder”. If there is a strong visual connection to the piece, the wear is acceptable, and the price point works, an artist’s work intended for personal adornment will be purchased, regardless of the name. In all honesty, I have never purchased a “show piece”, that is, a piece of jewelry made for purposes of competing for an award. In the jewelry world, most successful show pieces are far to elaborate to be worn.