Wednesday, November 08, 2006

What's in a Name

This is with regards to a post I had put up sometime ago - Unravelling the Womb. This was done with the intention of following it up with another explaning the reason for posting a wierd drawing with the curious title. The time has come.

I was reading up on paintings and downloaded random works of a few famous artists. The names of some of them struck me. They ranged from the very simple to the highly abstract. It set me thinking as to how much thought does a painter have to put into naming his creation. How pertinent is the title of a painting or sculpture for an artist. It looks like the title assumes different levels of importance for different artists. It must have been a very easy task for some - One of Renoir's painting shows a girl with a watering can standing in a garden. Renoir called the painting A Girl with a Watering Can (1876) - it can't get simpler than that. Thoreau would have been mighty pleased with Renoir.

Dali takes it to the other extreme - The Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory (1954). It is tough to conjure up a picture on hearing the title. It is equally tough to make any sense of it on having a look at it too. It has a fish, lots of bricks, a couple of leafless trees, watches that seem to be melting with the hands floating over them. It seems that to Dali this painting symbolises "the psychological effect that the advent of the atomic bomb had on humanity"!!! (Wiki's my source) I bet you a million bucks that there was no way you would have come up with that unless you had heard or read about it.

The point is that the title can be very straightforward in many cases and it can often be vague with no obvious connect to the painting. Does a seemingly cyyptic title enhance the appeal of the painting by making the viewer try and think about what was going through the artist's mind when he was creating the work of art? I think it does. The average man would walk past Renoir's painting thinking Aaah, girl with the watering can, how sweet, those are very pretty colours. The same man will stop for more than a while at the Dali trying to figure out what the boxes and the jellyfish have to do with memory and disintegration.

Another enigmatic one is Paul Gauguin's painting that is called Where Do We Come From, What Are We? Where Are We Going? (1897) Bill Watterson's Calvin had a very ready answer to Gauguin's queries. "I came from my room, I'm a kid with big plans, and I'm going outside!". Gauguin would not have agreed. His masterpiece portrays more profound thoughts. Gauguin's thoughts on the whole of humanity. The characters in the painting depict different stages of life. The painting is to be "read" from the right to left, starting with birth and ending with death and beyond.

I think artists stopped being concerned with just the composition, form and colours. They wanted their paintings to have a character that was an extension of the artist themselves, wanted the painting to portray opinions and philosophy. The titles have thus kept getting more obscure with time (or so I feel).

Painting Eras of the last century and a quarter - Impressionism giving way to the Post Impressionist period followed by the Expression, Abstraction, and Fantasy and then Surrealism.

Monet (1840-1926) - Water Lily Pond (1899), Impression: Sunrise (1872) (Impressionist)

Renoir (1841-1919) - Girl With a Hoop (1885), On The Terrace (1881), Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette (1876) (Impressionist)

Paul Gauguin (1848-1903) - The Yellow Christ (1889), The Spirit of the Dead Keeps Watch (1892) (Post Impressionist)

Van Gogh (1853-1890) - The Potato Eaters (1885), Still Life with Absinthe (1887) (Post Impressionist)

Dali (1904-1989) - The Persistence of Memory (1931), Soft Construction With Boiled Beans (1936), The Metamorphosis of Narcissus (1937), Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bumblebee around a Pomegranate a Second Before Awakening (1944) (Surrealist)

Calling a rose a rose is not going to raise any eyebrows. Calling it Layers of Love on Thorns might add a new dimension to it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I had a print of the Renoir in my bedroom as I was growing up. For me thats a flashback to childhood.
As for Perumazhakalam - in the end the female characters were empowered only on the return of the husband from the Saudi Arabia. Whereas in Dor, Kukunoor preferred to end the movie with the 2 women finding strength in their frienship...