Titles long and exuberant

Through all the recent thoughts on this blog about backstory and titles, to my mind one approach really stands out as less problematic than any of the others, and that’s Terry Atkinson’s very long caption-titles. His titles contain in themselves abundant backstory, in fact they eliminate the distinction between the three modes of literary supplement that we’ve been discussing. They also have multiple characters and multiple voices; they open sideways, forwards and back into history. And the works are completely unembarrassed by their own theatricality; there is none of the nervousness or even paranoia usually associated with the “eyes” of criticism. In addition, the titles give pleasure, and pleasure of a complex kind; they are amusing, they have rhetorical strength and drive, and they are unique. Their anger doesn’t diminish the pleasure, in my view, it makes it stronger—tendentious art succeeds as art if it is not qualified in any way. The illustrated example is a good one in that it suggests a lot, and tells a pretty involved story, with fewer words than he sometimes needs, although in his case, more is always more. And, in fact, the painting also has something to say, in its texture, its drawing, and in what it fails to accomplish. But in the more strictly abstract works (such as the one linked above) the question of the arbitrariness of both signs and matter is in no way resolved. But then how could it be?

Terry Atkinson, Bunker in Armagh #17. Daughter having returned from an armed mission being greeted by her mother near a Christmas wreath

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