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Art actually has two quite distinct branches, which can be categorized as right brain and left brain. The former was once considered god-inspired (unconscious) and the latter merely mortal, lacking the divine, an area in which we were basically on our own (conscious). Though speech per se is a left brain activity, music, song and poetry are right brain activities, and both sides of the brain can understand speech. So far as I know, all ancient performance was chanted or sung in meter and rhyme.
The Iliad begins with an invocation of the Muse, asking her to sing, through the medium of the bard, of the wrath of Achilles. The ancient idea that poetry, song and dance were dictated by a divine presence, and that the performer was only a more-or-less suitable vehicle for divine revelation, was not to my knowledge applied to the arts of drawing, painting, or sculpture. Indeed, the elevation of the plastic and representational arts to equal status with the liberal arts did not take place until the Italian Renaissance was well underway.*
While there are Muses in overlapping profusion for the right-brain activities of dance, song, mime and the many aspects of poetry, there is not so much as the shadow of a Muse for the dominant left hemisphere activities of drawing, painting, sculpture or architecture. By itself, this provides an insight into the ancient mind. Speech seems to have been more highly valued than any other human attribute, perhaps because it was perceived as the great distinction between people and animals; perhaps also because it was the means by which the gods communicated with mankind.
The Roman poets identified the Muses with the Italian Camenae: prophetic nymphs of springs and goddesses of birth, who possessed a grove near the Porta Capena at Rome. The sacrifices made to the Muses were libations of water or milk, and of honey.
The Homeric Muses (the thinkers) were originally nymphs of springs, then goddesses of song and later, of different kinds of poetry. In the works of Homer (who interestingly enough was portrayed as blind, thus reinforcing the importance of hearing over other forms of perception of the divine, and speech over other means of divine communication), the Muses are the inspiring goddesses of song who dwell among the gods and sing at their banquets under the leadership of Apollo Musagetes.
The Muses were the daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne, the personification of memory. They were also presented as the children of Uranus (sky) and Gaea (earth). The three ancient Muses were Mneme (memory), Melete (meditation) and Aoide (the bard). Their number later expanded to nine, and at last to ten. Hesiod first gives the usually accepted names and number, and they are portrayed this way in Herculaneum paintings. Chief of the muses is Calliope (beautiful voiced), the Muse of epic poetry-her symbols are a tablet and stylus, sometimes a scroll; Clio (to make famous), is the Muse of history-her symbols are a scroll or an open chest of books; Erato (loved one), the Muse of erotic poetry and mime (she's still in business, inspiring rap musicians and street performers)-her symbol is a lyre; Euterpe (well pleasing), lyric poetry and music, especially wind instruments-symbolized by a flute; Melpomene (the singing one), tragedy-her symbols are a tragic mask, the club of Heracles and a sword. She wears the cothurnus-a boot worn by tragic actors-and her head is wreathed with vine leaves. Polyhymnia (abounding in songs), is the muse of sacred hymns, rhetoric and mime-she has no single attribute but is represented sitting in a pensive posture; Terpsichore (to delight with dance), choral dance and song-usually represented by a lyre; Thalia (the blooming one), comedy and merry or idyllic poetry-is symbolized by a comic mask, shepherd's crook and a wreath of ivy.
Urania (the heavenly one), the Muse of astronomy, is symbolized by a staff pointing to a globe. That there should be a muse of astronomy is not so strange as it may seem: Pythagoras contributed the notion that there was such a thing as the music of the spheres. He ascertained that the pitch of notes depends on the rate of vibration, and since the planets move, they must therefore make sounds. Since they move at different rates, they must make different sounds and, as all things in nature must be harmonious, these celestial sounds must also harmonize, creating music.
Bringing their number to an awkward ten, the latecomer Arethusa (a nymph who, pursued by the river god Alpheus, was changed into a spring), is addressed by Virgil as the Muse of pastoral poetry.
Basically, the Muses are creatures of sound. That there should be a Muse of mime-silent performance, the opposite of sound-serves somewhat to reinforce the notion of the importance of speech than otherwise. Muses told the poet, musician, choral dancer or historian what to say, sing, chant, recite or perform. They did not concern themselves with "artistic vision," this despite the enormous percentage of the human brain dedicated to sight. I envy those who have a Muse. We who have been chosen for representational art feel so alone sometimes.
* The liberal arts, so-called because their pursuit was the privelege of liberi, or freemen, were in the middle ages the seven branches of learning: grammar, logic, rhetoric, arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy.
My posters begin as small black-and-white drawings, which are then photo-copied and colored with gouache. When I arrive at a satisfactory painted sketch, I ask the client to come by and take a look. If the color-sketch is approved, I then begin the actual work of turning a drawing into a full-color printed poster. The original drawing is a "key-line," which means that it not only is a rendition of the subject, but also contains information that tells me, as a printer, where every color belongs in the final printed piece. Consequently, the drawing sometimes looks more like a contour map than an identifiable representation. The drawing is photographed and enlarged in a specialized type of large camera called a "copy camera." This step provides me with a negative that is the same size as the final, printed poster. The master negative looks just like the original drawing, except that it is larger, black where the original drawing was white, and clear where the original was black. The master negative is then contacted onto a fresh piece of film. This "positive," as it is called, provides me with a second master negative, from which all the subsequent negatives, one for each color-called "color separations,"-will be made.
In the process that I use, the color separations are made by hand, one negative and plate for each color in the finished poster. This is quite different from the kind of color printing that you see on the cover of a popular magazine, as well as the kind of printing that is used for reproductions of works of art. If you were to look at the cover of a magazine, or an art reproduction, you would see that it looks like a faithful, full-color reproduction of a work of art, or an original photograph. If you were to take a magnifying glass, and look closely at the printed image, you would see that it is not actually a picture of a tree or a house or a person, but actually a large number of tiny colored dots, arranged in regular patterns, all over the paper. You would notice that there were only four colors: red, yellow, blue and black. In mass, these tiny colored dots create the illusion of an image. Your eye cannot resolve the many tiny dots individually, but instead takes them in as a whole, much as it would if you were looking at a lawn. You don't see, or pay attention to, every individual blade of grass-instead you see a velvet, green, continuous expanse. You don't pay attention to every leaf on a tree, you just see a tree. You don't pay attention to the individual trees in a forest, you just see a forest. It's the same for a reproduction of the Mona Lisa. You don't pay attention to the myriad tiny colored dots, you just take them all in and your eye and brain process the information so that you see an intelligible image. This type of printing is called "four-color process," and uses a limited number of colors to create the illusion of images made of many colors.
The kind of printing I use for my posters is different. It is called, "solid-color lithography," or "solid-tone lithography." This is in distinction not only to four-color process printing, but also to "continuous tone" printing, in which shades and tones of color are created by small, irregular blotches of color. An original color photograph, for example, would be a good illustration of continuous tone reproduction.
One of the limitations of four-color process is that it cannot faithfully reproduce anything like the range of colors that the eye is able to see. An advantage of solid-color printing is that it allows a much greater range. The disadvantage is that it is difficult to create the impression of a continuous tone. This is easy to do with four-color process. So, everything is a compromise. If you want a smooth graduation of tone-appropriate for reproducing a photograph or painting-you lose density and range. If you want the maximum density and range of color, you find that you cannot easily get smooth graduations of tone. Therefore, I design my posters with both the restrictions and virtues of solid-tone printing in mind.
With solid-tone printing, each color is individually printed from a separate plate. Each plate is made from a separate negative. Each negative is made from the master positive, which is painted by hand, following the key-line, so that the area for that particular color is solid, and will transmit no light. This painted positive is then photographically contacted to a fresh piece of film, which when developed has a large, clear area which corresponds to the particular color desired. When the color separations are done, and every color in the original sketch has been faithfully transformed into a separate negative, I begin making the plates from which the printing will be done. There may be as few as one color or as many as twenty-two. The Berkeley Symphony Orchestra poster is made of twelve separate plates, plus one extra plate called a "touch-plate." I will discuss this later.
The plates are made by direct contact with the negatives, and are therefore exactly the same size. I begin printing with a light color, such as a grey or tan. With this first plate, I print not only the color that will be visible in the finished poster, but in addition, the complete original key-line. This allows me to register-that is put every new color exactly where it belongs-each succeeding color to all the others.
When the printing begins, I tack up the original drawing and refer to it throughout. Color is a function not only of the shade and hue and so on, but also of two other exterior factors: the source of light under which it is viewed, and the other colors that surround it. Consequently, I follow the original sketch faithfully, as decisions that were made while looking at the original as a whole will be difficult to copy without this reference in front of my eyes. I compare each new color to the original, and try not to depart from it without careful consideration. With the Berkeley Symphony poster you will notice that the first color down is a rather dark, greenish grey. But, if you look at the finished poster, you will see that this grey-which represents the lightest part of Kent Nagano's dress shirt front and other highlights, has been transformed into a color that you might think of as a cool white. This is a good example of how colors change according to their surroundings. Each color is mixed separately to match the original sketch. I mix the color by eye, and when I think I'm getting close, run a few sheets through the press to see how it looks. This "hit and miss" process can go on for quite a while. I need to have enough ink to last for the whole run, which is somewhere between a pound of ink for moderate coverage to four or five pounds for heavy coverage or a long run. I use a few basic ink colors: transparent white, opaque white, yellow, cyan (pure blue), reflex blue, magenta (pure red), warm red, rubine red (cold), and black. With these colors I can faithfully create combinations which will satisfy most of the demands made by the eye.
I print the posters on a photo-offset-lithographic press. The sheets are printed one at a time, though rather quickly. Barring interruptions, the press runs at 3600 impressions per hour. Since the press runs vary from a few hundred to as many as five thousand, this part of the process is relatively quick. Each plate is mounted on the press in sequence, and the color to which it corresponds is completely printed before another layer of color is put down. Aligning the image on the plate with those that have preceded it is called registration. A second important part of printing is getting the ink balance and density correct for the area to be printed: large areas of coverage call for copious amounts of ink, whereas small areas need only a little ink. Since both large areas and small areas of coverage are often found within the same image, it is important to make them look alike, despite the varying amounts of ink called for. A third part of my task as a printing pressman is to make sure that the paper feeds properly and continuously, and is delivered in a neat stack after the image has been laid down onto the sheets, so that I can run it through the press again, if necessary. A constant and careful eye must be aimed at the printed sheets, as well. Dirt, dust, flaws in the paper, the occasional suicidal insect, the malign influence of evil spirits-all these misfortunes demand unremitting vigilance. Things go wrong all the time.
The colors are printed one at a time, usually only one per day. This is to allow adequate drying time between them. Lithographic ink takes about twelve hours to dry so that it can be handled without smearing. The more colors build up on top of one another, the longer this drying time can be, so the roughly 24 hours that elapses between colors insures that the sheet will be thoroughly dry on the next pass through the press.
As the colors are laid down, I take a few sheets from each pass and set them aside. When the poster is finished, there will be a set of what are called "progressives," which form a record of the printing process. So, with the Berkeley Symphony poster, the first sheet contains only the lightest grey. The second, the lightest grey and a light tan. The third, the lightest grey, the light tan and a darker tan. Colors are often printed on top of one another to create a third color, which is a combination of the two. This goes on until the last color-in this case a black-completes the series.
When the poster is finished, it may be that I have discovered a mistake or feel that one or more of the colors is not quite right. When this happens, I make what is called a "touch-plate," which allows me to add another color. In the case of the Berkeley Symphony poster, I felt that the last color-black-was not dense enough. With every other color in the spectrum you can claim that whatever you ended up with is what you intended, and nobody can say it wasn't. But, everybody knows black. So, I made a second black plate, somewhat smaller around the edges so that registration would not be a big problem (this is called a "stay-in"), and laid down another coat of black ink.
The interesting thing about this poster is that, at every stage, it seems to reflect a different aspect of Kent Nagano's complex personality. First, the outline-just a sketch of an idea. Then through the sun-bronzed athlete, the contemplative thinker, the demanding compulsive, and at last the integrated whole. People are made of many layers, too.November 15, 1995