When you see a piece of art, what draws you in closer? Maybe it’s the color or the subject matter. It could be a recognizable place. It could be that the painting evokes an emotion … either positive or negative that pulls you in. Each person brings something of their own to the viewing experience. Some artists make a deliberate choice to engage the viewer by providing ambiguity or other opportunities to interpret what is being expressed. Or, maybe nothing specific is being expressed and appreciation comes from feeling of the rhythm and balance of the colors, shapes and interactions in the piece. In other cases, the artist wants to boldly state the story they are telling.

So, here’s a question: How important is the name of the piece in terms of your engagement with the artwork? When you visit a gallery do you read all the labels? Do you only read the labels on the art that you are attracted to? If you are confused by the painting, do you check the label to gain insight? Perhaps you read the label to see who the artist is or to verify the medium. If the art is “untitled,” do you feel frustration or do you feel free to experience the piece of work with no ideas imposed upon you? Several artists I know (as well as many world-famous artists) like to leave the interpretation of the work up to the viewer and prefer not to provide a name. There is no correct protocol. It depends on the artist and her intention. It depends on you, the viewer. It depends on the place in which you are experiencing the art.

In the case of Judith Clendenning’s elephant triptych the names of the paintings add to the experience. They are masterful works that depict the power and the comradery of creatures in the herd beautifully. But when you move in closer you get a more insightful story of the inspiration behind the paintings. Judy’s love for animals is reflected clearly in the paintings but her anger at the decimation of a species is reflected in the titles. She laments that “When I think of what happens to a healthy herd, with mothers and babies, when humans just step in and take what they want just for money I get screaming mad.” Her rage is mirrored in the face of the one elephant’s portrait and her sadness is illuminated by the comparison of the herd on the right to the one lonely and isolated elephant on the left.

The elephant paintings are currently on display at Eastport Art Center’s first floor Washington Street Gallery. To see more of Judith’s works as well as other Eastport Gallery members visit eastportgallery.com. To join a discussion about artwork and names and labels visit https://www.facebook.com/eastportgallerymaine.

Works by Judith Clendenning are on view at EAC’s Washington Street Gallery: Rage (top); Post Poaching (left); Pre Poaching Herd (right). Photo by Mark Macey.