I was recently in Singapore on business, and was fortunate to be able to fit in a visit to the Singapore Art Museum (SAM), which is fronted by a huge white inflatable bunny called Walter. One of the museum’s intriguing exhibitions was called ‘Untitled’.
According to the exhibition’s notes: ‘While the appreciation of art has largely been perceived to be a visual affair, it is also a process that is often mediated by text. … If names matter, what can we say about untitled artworks that seem to say nothing, or quite possibly everything? To what extent do text and image attach meaning to art?’
As an author, I was stimulated to think about the extent to which the title of a book reflects its contents. What does a title convey if you haven’t seen the book? Take, for example, the titles of three recently published books written by friends of mine: Fractured (Dawn Barker), Bay of Fires (Poppy Gee), and Ryders Ridge (Charlotte Nash). What picture do you have of each of those books from the titles alone? Or for that matter, of Hustling Hinkler?
Book titles are of course chosen to a great extent on their marketing potential. So how would a book fare in the marketplace if it was called ‘Untitled’?
The pieces in SAM’s ‘Untitled’ exhibition came from the National Heritage Board’s collection of early drawings, paintings, prints and sculptures by Singapore artists. In line with the exhibition’s purpose, the museum invited visitors to write their own names for each artwork on show. Some of the proposed titles were displayed in slots alongside each piece, and it was enlightening to see the variety of interpretations, some showing quite sophisticated thinking.
Perhaps with books there should be a space on the last page where the reader, having read the book, can ponder on whether the title is appropriate and write an alternative title if they want to? What do you think?