Titles historical

Terry’s way with titles is basically the same as Motherwell’s, although seems very different. The fundamental difference is that Atkinson is more of a modernist, since no matter how specific their references his titles are always reflections on the role of the title itself, and the overall title of Motherwell’s Elegy series effectively turns the works into illustrations.

As discussed in the previous post, Atkinson’s titles show that the largest extent of the boundary of any work is in the (collective) mind of the viewer, hence essentially unfixable. Interesting that the rambling, multi-voiced verbosity of Terry’s titles makes the works less illustrative, maybe because he starts out with the intent to illustrate. Motherwell starts from the opposite position, so has more to lose by allowing the poetic to enter; Atkinson can only gain as it becomes ever more clear that all understandings are fragile, and all meanings dubious. Autonomy fails, but the victory is slight, as all intended meanings, however worthy, crumble to dust in one’s hands. Should a title tame the unruly work, giving it a meaning we can all understand and agree on, or should it make it more difficult to allegorize the overflow of knowledge out of the material thing?

Robert Linsley, Sea Cliffs: The Intersection of Two Faults 1999

Conflict within and around the title is also the conflict between art and society, not yet pacified, despite what many think.

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