February 9, 2011

An Unknown Roman Artist's "Torso of a Satyr" *

More pictures I took at the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh.

* This is a perfect example of a museum giving a work of art a title. When museums, galleries and curators give a work a title it is often called a “descriptive title.” This is a practice that I am thoroughly opposed to and it happens much more often than you might think.

This sculpture obviously had a head, arms and legs at one time, however, if you read the descriptive title “Torso of a Satyr” you might be mislead into thinking it was sculpted to be only a torso. Instead of educating visitors about what they are to look past (the effects of time or damage) they are lead to believe it is part of the work.

Another complaint I have with “descriptive titles” is that they are almost always pointless. While there may be evidence that this sculpture was a figure of a satyr (and I have no complaints with that part of the title) isn’t it obvious that this is a torso? Very often descriptive titles are merely an identification of the subject that is obvious to everyone. Why not call it “Torso of a Satyr with a Naval and One Knee?”

There is an assumption of legitimacy when it comes to titles. Most people assume that the artist gave the work the title, but this is not always the case. Unfortunately descriptive titles are almost always presented in the same manner as a legitimate title.

I think there is an assumption that all works need a title, which is not true. Titles are not a necessary part of art and works can be thoroughly enjoyed without them.

All in all, while descriptive titles are usually pointless I wouldn’t mind them so much if they were perhaps written in a way that indicated that the title was not given by the artist, such as in a different font or in parentheses.

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