I’ve been thinking a lot about titles lately. As a choreographer (and a director of a pre-professional ballet company that presents the work of young choreographers), coming up with a title that works for a dance is an endeavor that is quite often much more difficult than one might think. In dance, titles are frequently the names of the music used in the choreography; I have been guilty of that on many occasions: ”if it’s good enough for Balanchine, it’s good enough for me” and “no one in western Oklahoma cares about the title” and “f*^& it, I can’t think of anything else” are my common rationalizations for titling a dance work after its music. Of course, sometimes the dance work is ABOUT the music, and then it’s more acceptable in my mind; if one is trying to present a visualization of the music through dance, then of course, the two can share a title. But usually I think that’s the easy way out.
In my opinion, titles should set up the viewer, give them a frame of reference with which to absorb the work that has been deemed important enough to be given a title. Many a time have I been frustrated because the title and the work seemed to have no relationship. Maybe that is the point in our current post-post-modern world, but my tendency is to think that the artist didn’t value his or her work enough to give it a title that would elucidate it for the audience. And that is a shame. Art is supposed to communicate something, and unless one’s goal is to express alienation, disconnect, and randomness — which, again I admit could be the point in our current post-post-modern world — then making one’s work more difficult to understand because of a careless title is not doing anybody (artist or audience) any good.
My friend Cam has begun a blog (sixtyor2.tumblr.com) in which he writes very short screenplays, and part of his process is asking for title submissions to generate ideas for these super shorts. This is another reason I’ve been pondering the issue of titles: I wanted to submit some ideas to him, but fretted about what to send in for a few days. And I got to thinking…why was I sweating it so much? It would just be a few words between friends; he might use them, he might not; and the actual production of a relevant piece of work was placed in Cam’s hands, not mine. But still, fretting.
I joined Tumblr to follow Cam’s project, and in trying to figure out what it was all about I set up a blog titled “Untitled.” I’m sure there’s a way to rename it, but I couldn’t figure it out…in trying to do so, I set up another, separate one, so I decided to cease and desist my efforts for a bit to avoid creating a plethora of blogs that would probably never be utilized. And that’s when I really started thinking in-depth about the issue of titles and why I find them so important.
That sense of the IMPORTANCE OF TITLE was why I was hesitant about what to submit for Cam’s work — I was trying to figure out how he would interpret each of my title ideas, where he would take them, whether they would be the catalyst for something wonderful or whether they would be completely uninspiring. And then I realized, none of that mattered.
My friend, an artist whom I admire and think is immensely talented, was asking others to play in his world, to share in his process. It was an invitation, not an adjudication.
I submitted several title ideas; one has already been scripted.
Art springs from all sorts of places within and without us; goes through innumerable adjustments, edits, and shifts of focus; speaks to some and not to others. It is indefinable, ephemeral, even as it is the most tangible presence in my life. It brings both pain and joy, often at the same moment. And while I still think that titles are very important for the discrete installments of work that artists produce through their lives, providing valuable information and that all-important frame of reference, I’m keeping the blog “untitled” — who knows what that might inspire?