Saturday, 4 September 2010

Naming Things

I was at an art exhibition at the weekend, Trevor Bell at Eighty at the Millennium Gallery in St Ives.  It's a great exhibition, very exciting with lots of exuberant colour on big canvases.  I was particularly taken with one painting which to me seemed to radiate positivity.  Someone else said they found it menacing and angry, like being punched in the stomach.  I looked again.  I could see where they were coming from, but to me it still seemed happy rather than angry.  Then I checked out the title of the painting.  'Danger'.  

Well, that threw me.  The artist obviously intended it to be, if not actually angry, then dangerous.  There was another painting entitled 'Knife'.  That word, as both noun and verb, has negative, unsettling associations, ones that I didn't have originally on looking at the painting. (BTW the colour reproduction of the on-line catalogue isn't wonderful, the paintings are more vibrant and lighter in reality.) 

It's one of the things I like about abstract art, everybody can have their own individual emotional response to the work, and it's valid. But the naming by the artist affected my response.  When we write we have to be careful about the words we choose.  Knife - or Blade?  Are our characters drinking from mugs or cups?  Are they bone china or earthenware?  Brown like roasting chestnuts or dried blood? We create emotional responses in the readers with our choice of words, so chose carefully.  

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