Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Best, and Last, of 2014

American Wigeon at Manayunk Canal. Pen and Wash by Ken Januski.

Killdeer at Manayunk Canal. Pen and Wash by Ken Januski.

So let's talk very briefly about the 'last' of the title before we go on to the best. Above are two ballpoint pen and waterbrush sketches of birds seen along the Manayunk Canal in Philadelphia this morning. Unless a rare bird lands in the yard in the next few hours before dark they'll be the last birds of 2014.

I've been busy with bird counts, holiday prints, and the holidays over the last few weeks so I'm making a slow return to art. It began yesterday with sketches from photos, also using a pen and a waterbrush to pick up some of the somewhat water-soluble ink and use it as a wash. Those three drawings are below. A beautifully sunny, though cold, day convinced me I should take a walk along the Manayunk Canal this morning.

It was too cold to sketch and almost too cold to take photos - only the Killdeer convinced me to get out the camera. When I got home I decided to do the pen and wash drawings at the top. This is the time of year when it's generally too cold to work outdoors. So it seems that work from photos often appears in January and February. I think I prefer pen to pencil for this because I have to take more chances with a pen. I can't erase as I can with pencil. So I still learn something as I sketch but the drawings have a bit more freshness to them. In any case below are the other last sketches of 2014, two Carolina Wren sketches and one Cedar Waxwings sketch.

Carolina Wren. Pen and Wash by Ken Januski.

Carolina Wren. Pen and Wash by Ken Januski.

Cedar Waxwing. Pen and Wash by Ken Januski

My primary reason for writing this post though is not the last of 2014. It's the best of 2014. I thought of this as I was listening to some classical music CDs I got for Christmas as well as reading through The Great Fen, published by Langford Press. It was another Christmas present.

Each year for the last few years I've gotten at least one book from Langford Press. As I realized how much I enjoyed this one, and almost all books from them, I realized that they really do deserve a Best of 2014 Prize, even if it's only from me. To me there is no better publisher of books on wildlife art. That's because their subject matter is wildlife and art, not just wildlife without the art, not wildlife with art that mimics photography.

In addition they have published some books in conjunction with Artists for Nature Foundation, a foundation that tries to bring attention to habitat that is especially valuable to wildlife and also under threat, through the medium of art. So as I read this book and others, greatly admiring the art work, I also read about the environmental aspects of the area, including that of people and commerce. I mainly enjoy these books for the art. There's no denying that. But I also find it fascinating to read about the nature of the area and how it relates to man, both in the past and possibly in the future.

I know of no such projects or publishers in the US, though ANF did do a project in Alaska. It would be nice to see many of the US conservation organizations show such interest in art and its possibilities.

The other candidate for Best of 2014 is Robert Greenberg and his music courses for The Great Courses. I first started listening to How to Listen to and Understand Great Music, over a year ago. But the main influence has been this year. In addition to that course I've listened to Thirty Great Orchestral Works, and I'm part way through How to Listen to and Appreciate Opera and The Symphonies of Beethoven. I'm actually shocked at how rewarding these classes have been.

I'd also be a bit shocked if I'd paid full price for them(though it probably would still be worth it. But I've gotten them at a much lower cost through Audible). How do you put a price on something that opens up one of the most valuable things in the world, music, to you? When I first played the first lecture I thought: Uh, oh. A smart ass! Some people may come to the same conclusion, and keep it. But the fact that he jokes a bit more than I'd like proved to be of no importance whatsoever. What was important was that the world of classical music became approachable.

I've always listened to it, but never from the position of knowledge. And I don't believe that you need knowledge to appreciate any of the arts. More often it's the opposite. Art needs to first be appreciated at the gut level. Then you can add knowledge and come to appreciate it more. I shudder at docents and portable media devices in museums. They put a barrier between people and the art rather than make it more accessible.

Because of this I was hesitant about buying this course. But I was completely wrong. It is one of the best purchases I've made in my entire life. It is so nice to have both a historical framework for classical music as well as the barest rudiments of a musical theory framework. They have added immensely to my enjoyment of music.

To me some of the most valuable things in human existence are art, both visual and musical, and the other arts as well, and nature. Both Langford Press and Robert Greenberg and The Teaching Company with its Great Courses do a tremendous job of giving people the gift of art and nature. They are the Best of 2014 and of many other years I'm sure.

No comments: