Monday, February 2, 2015

Opera and Representational Art

American Goldfinch, Great Blue Heron and Killdeer at Manayunk Canal. Third Color in Probable Four Color Reduction Woodcut by Ken Januski

Opera!?! I'm sure the connection between opera and representational art will seem very hard to believe to most readers. Though my knowledge of, and even experience of opera, is very small I have spent some time listening to and reading about it over the last six months. Unfortunately I've seen and heard none in person.

One of the books I've been reading is The History of Opera by Carolyn Abbate and Roger Parker. In many ways it's ridiculous for me to be reading this because it's aimed at people familiar with opera, which I am not. Still it does complement the Listening to and Understanding Opera course by Robert Greenberg from The Teaching Company that I've been listening to for about six months.

One of the main themes is the constant pendulum swing in opera between freedom for the music, especially the singers and strict adherence to the text, to the story being told.

I got a kick out of reading about this conflict because it's the one I experience in art ever since I turned from abstract art to representational art, specifically wildlife art, and even more specifically bird art.

As I've said many times I'm quite bothered by the seemingly blind adherence to photographic 'fact' that seems to dominate so much bird and wildlife art. Where in the world is the art? Where is the artistic expression? I found this surprisingly parallel to what I read about opera. The only difference is that it seems that more often it is the strict literalists calling for reform, asking and demanding that the music be truthful to the story, not an afterthought. Often melody and song have been the leading factors in opera. The story trails behind. And then the pendulum swings back the other way. It seems to be a steady conflict. The only difference that I can see in my comparison with representational art, especially wildlife art is that the pendulum has rarely swung in the more expressive direction.

In my own work I cannot deny my familiarity with art, art history and all the great and powerful art that has been made over thousands of years. It's impossible to deny the expressive possibilities of art. At the same time I do want to keep some attachment to the story, or in bird or wildlife art, those so-called 'facts' of description.

The debate as to how true I should stay to the colors of the scene along the Manayunk Canal has been a big factor in deciding which colors to use in my current woodcut. Color is just as emotionally powerful as song and I think it's foolish to deny it. So I've finally decided on a dark purplish blue for the third color of the woodcut. I spent a lot of time proofing and thinking and finally came up with this color.

The final color will probably be black, both for the goldfinch's wings and for the water. But the dark purple blue almost functions as a black so instead I might let it function as black and just use a lighter gray blue for the Great Blue Heron and some other areas. It will continue to be a debate between song and story, or wildlife 'fact' and color and art.

Below is a photo of the full image of the print. Because the ink is taking longer to dry than I expected the print itself is taking longer than expected.

American Goldfinch, Great Blue Heron and Killdeer at Manayunk Canal. Third Color in Probable Four Color Reduction Woodcut by Ken Januski.

No comments: