An Aegean Center Fairy Tale

15, July 2014 § 2 Comments

jackiemassariglass

Egg tempera still life by Jacklyn Massari

by Jacklyn Massari

Once upon a time there was a girl named Mackie Vassari.  She was living the perfect life, according to society.  She had the perfect apartment in a cute little suburban town right next to a park.  The apartment was white, with lots of natural light, and the most precious blue tea pot.

She had a comfortable full time job that she knew so well,  she could even do her job with her eyes closed.  Mackie’s job was not far from her super cute apartment, where she liked to light candles and incense after she got home from work, while she was making chicken sausage for dinner. Yum!

She was living with a guy named Bon.  He was the All-American Man.  He had a great, stable job, common sense (for the most part), and a decent sense of humour.  He wanted to provide everything to Mackie for the rest of her life.  She would never have to lift a finger, except to paint, which is her favourite thing to do!

She was basically on the verge of living the dream.  Or was she?  She found herself thinking constantly about life.  What’s the point?  There must be more to life than this.  Right?  This can’t be it.  She was confused and sad.  Except for when she taught Zumba classes to ladies who loved shaking their booties.  But other than that, she was sad.

One day,  someone she knew from high school died of cancer.  He was so young.  She imagined that that could happen to anyone, and she immediately booked a trip to Greece because it had always been her DREAM to go there.  She wanted to make sure she got the chance, and realised that it will never be “the right time” for anything.  So just do it now.

That trip made her realise that there is a big world out there,  and she wanted more of it.  Soon after, Mackie applied to the Aegean Center for the Fine Arts.  Much to her surprise, she was on a plane on her way to the Center for her first (of three) semesters only a month later.  It seemed like a whirlwind, but pretty much the coolest whirlwind in the whole wide world.  She left Bon, her job, her apartment, and the rest of her life behind her to travel off to Paros.

Slowly slowly, she stopped thinking so much about what the point of life is.  She was just happy.  She was learning a million things about art, languages, Greek mountain tea, Greek superstitions, relationships, Italian Renaissance artists, egg tempera painting and sunsets.  She was also learning how to live simply and how important art is to her happiness and well being…and not only hers, but everyones.  She learned so many things about herself that she never would have learned otherwise.  Art opens up all those doors.

Mackie is even more obsessed with art than ever before.  Since leaving the Aegean Center, she has been working many fulfilling, artistic jobs, and slowly building her life back up again in the way that is right for her.  She lives in a small studio that shakes sometimes because it is located right next to the train tracks, and above a fish shop that smells of rotten fish sometimes (especially in the summer) and with a shower that does not work.  BUT she is SO much happier.

And so the moral of the story is:

1. Live life to the fullest.
2. Don’t wait.
3. Create.
4. Be happy.
5. Live simply.
6. BADDABING BADDA BOOM!

Jacklyn Massari attended the Aegean Center in Spring 2011, Fall 2011 and Spring 2012. She returned to the Aegean Center this summer to attend Jane’s Figure Drawing Intensive.

Summer Figure Drawing Intensive

1, July 2014 § Leave a comment

DSC02568

by Jane Morris Pack

The 2014 figure drawing intensive is underway at the Aegean Center.  After five days we are at the same point which we normally reach after the fourth or fifth week in a regular session. The students know most of the names of the bones, we have built a clay hand and foot, clay head and features, and a paper construction of the rib cage and pelvis. Our model comes in the mornings and we work on anatomy and drawing solutions in the afternoons.

We concentrate  furiously but the atmosphere is joyful.  Unfortunately the weather has been very hot here so we have the fans going continuously. We have a boat trip coming up if the winds stay down and a few more chances to eat together.  As the students are all at a high level I feel sure we will get through an entire semesters worth of work in our 12 day seminar.

photo 1

Is that tempera or oils? A Different Path for the Art History Student

13, May 2014 § 5 Comments

Louvre docent active

by Stephanie Dissette

The decision I made to study with the Aegean Center five years ago, as a gap-year student (only planning on one semester, then staying two years), has completely defined and outlined my adult life. Now, I have a bachelor’s degree in art history and a fine arts minor from the American University of Paris. I will begin a postgraduate degree this fall with Warwick University’s History of Art (Venice stream) postgraduate program. Eventually, I hope this will lead to a career as an art history professor.

When I started with the Aegean Center, I had no intention of becoming an artist or art historian – I just wanted to see the world. At the time, I thought even simply visiting Italy and Greece would satisfy: the art was a perk.

Please understand, contrary to popular belief, not all gap-year students travel in order to party and relax before getting serious about school. I can still hear my high-school guidance counselor warning, “the longer you wait to go, the less likely you’ll actually make it through college.” What an idiot. To be fair, I grew up in the southwest suburbs of Chicago, where at least three-quarters of students who continue on to higher education chose a state school, or at least stay within about 3-4 hours of home at another Midwest college or university. Students who don’t feel certain about their goals for college (what 18-year old is ever certain anyway…?) usually go to the nearby junior college, saving money the first couple years, and then finish their degree elsewhere. I bet most students my old counselor deals with (who don’t choose one of those obvious, typical paths) have no intention of continuing their education at all. I bet, just like the parents of some of my friends, that counselor was thinking, “what parent in her right mind would spend that kind of money and let her kid go that far away, just to see it all wasted on partying abroad?”

Well, my mom couldn’t spend that kind of money, for one. I had some help from my grandparents, but otherwise managed a lot of help through scholarships and work-study. And as far as sending me so far away… well, she knows there is a lot more to learn in life than what any school can offer, and looked forward to my travels. The best part of my counselor’s lack of faith in my future education: I was an honor’s student, who participated in many extra-curricular activities, and, of the 997 students that graduated from my high school that spring, I ranked in the top 10% academically. Even if none of that were true, even if I was the kind of student that chose school abroad to party as an under-21 (where it is legal), there was no way to avoid the kind of education I received with the Aegean Center.

In one word, the Aegean Center is an education in perception. Whether through the literal or philosophical reading of the word, there is perhaps no better place in the world to challenge one’s perception than with the Aegean Center. If you read this blog often, you know about the Friday hikes – the communion with nature that refreshes the spirit, but perhaps more importantly teaches purity in light, color, planes, even materials – and how they open up the world in a way many of us have forgotten or possibly never experienced. The courses follow a classical approach to fine art, based on masterworks, providing a basis many well-respected art schools have stopped offering their students. The blog also features articles the teachers have written about exhibits they’ve visited or projects they are working on. Perhaps its time to re-read those articles and recognize the freshness of their perspectives and techniques compared to the typical, contemporary take on art: a true Renaissance, if you’ll excuse the pun, in classical approach. My personal favorite: stories about the month touring Italy.

Chicago doesn’t have a very impressive collection of Renaissance art – the city is better known for its world-class impressionist collection and modern-contemporary art. The only connection I had to Italian Renaissance art in my first experiences abroad was an appreciation for public outdoor art – Chicago is packed full of that! And while I’m a big fan of the Chagall wall, Calder’s Flamingo, and the Picasso in Daley Plaza; for me, they hardly compare to Ghiberti’s Baptistery doors, Giambologna’s Rape of the Sabine Women, or the Michelangelo David. That perception, of course, is all about personal preference. I just never had the context before to understand where that preference came from. Now, I do.

And it is easier for me to make these comparisons now, after finishing my degree in art history, but getting there is its own story too. For the record, I am the wrong kind of art history student – at least traditionally speaking. Most art history students are excellent at remembering detailed information, especially names and dates; my memory does not hold those kinds of details very well. I’m lucky to get the century right with most works, and even if I can talk you through exactly where a painting hangs in the remarkable chasm of the Louvre, or break down the full story of nearly any biblical subject in an artwork and tell you why you should care about it, I will always double check my notes for names and dates. Definitely did that writing the previous paragraph here (at least now we have the internet!). And all the ways I am different or wrong compared to the typical, traditional art history student, I credit to the Aegean Center. First off, in my experience, very few art history students have a background in fine art. Many come from families that exposed them to every museum imaginable, or took a liking to art early on and chased it themselves; however, very few have picked up a pencil, crayon, paintbrush, or camera for anything artistic since they were in grade school. In fact, most would probably tell you that they are terrible at anything creative. Can anyone please explain to me how someone who does not consider him or herself creative ends up studying art history?

The truth is, as far as I’m concerned, uncreative people (or those without interest in being creative) do not study art history. The people who choose to study art history definitely have a creative side, whether they’ve acknowledged it or not. The Aegean Center embraces students with all levels of experience because they know the secret: art isn’t just talent, it’s work! Yes, anyone CAN draw. Anyone CAN paint. Anyone CAN take a beautiful photograph, then edit and print it like a real artist does. The trick is hard work, studying the great masters, and committing to practice. I may never display any artworks of my own in galleries or magazines, but I can paint properly with oil paints if I so desire, and my drawing does still improve, even when I stop practicing for a couple months now and again. The American University of Paris (AUP) does offer fine arts courses, and in fact, just recently launched a fine arts major (in addition to the minor). While most of my fine arts experience comes from the Aegean Center, AUP caught my attention by valuing the education the Aegean Center offered, and gave me full university credits for all the work I accomplished through the Aegean Center’s rigorous courses. There is currently one fine arts course AUP students must complete in order to graduate with an art history degree called “Materials and Techniques of the Masters.” I remember explaining the course to teachers at the Aegean Center, hardly containing my excitement, and then expressing honest disbelief when I realized how few students in the course had any background in the fine arts, as well as how many of them were seniors, graduating that same semester. Those students hadn’t ever specifically studied the materials and techniques used in all the works they had spent up to four years analyzing until their final semesters. Enter me: a number’s dummy, yes, but also the only one in the room who cared whether a work was made in tempera or oils… better yet, I’m the only one who could usually guess the material before asking.

Consider this: does a painting receive the same reaction, and hold the same majesty, projected in a classroom as it does when viewed in the flesh?  While I’d like to think I understood the difference as a kid wandering through the Art Institute of Chicago, it probably wasn’t until my time with the Aegean Center that I really became aware of the difference. I have shown so many of my favorite artworks to friends and family through photos I’ve taken, or pictures I find online, and they never really compare to the awe acquired in being inches away from that full-scale work. Before I even committed to studying art history, the Aegean Center was preparing me to better understand and appreciate art, architecture, and history.

That also explains why, researching masters programs in art history, I had to somehow still experience the art in person; and I couldn’t do that with Renaissance works in Chicago. Starting this September, I’ll have come full circle – back to Italy, the same way the Aegean Center begins its fall semesters. Attending a British school as an American, I’m already preparing to stand out in more ways than one. I’ll probably be the wrong kind of student, again – I wish it all started tomorrow.

Thank you, Parian family, for helping me see fully and understand deeply. I couldn’t be more pleased for what I see coming next.

Nature is the Source

5, May 2014 § Leave a comment

earth-palette-landscape

by Jane Morris Pack

John Pack knows the topography of Paros and his Friday hikes are an important part of the program at The Aegean Center.  They have been a tradition for countless years and introduce the students to the beauty and variety of landscape of the island.  After several hours of walking in the hills amongst the olive trees or clambering the stone pathways the participants always return refreshed in body and spirit.

As important as it is to experience Paros in this way there is something deeper happening for the visual artist.  The immersion in landscape is a fundamental human experience. All color begins in nature, all sense of volume, depth, texture and light.  Whereas the city environment surrounds us with angular monochromatic walls and hard vertical facets the natural environment is varied and nuanced. Bright flat surfaces are uncommon in nature, nearly every color is graded and shifts in one direction or another. The color changes that sweep over hills and sea elevate our awareness and can take our breath away.  Natural landscape echoes our emotions with drama or calm serenity. We feel a surge of something like love in a beautiful scene. The painter needs to steep in this colored world, to imbue the mind with harmonies and relationships, to cleanse the eye of the artificial colors of advertisements which manipulate our lowest instincts.

The first step in the painting program at the Center is to break the hold that the primary colors have on the students by experiencing the subtlety of the earth palette: yellow ochre, burnt sienna, ivory black and titanium white. In Greece this is the original tetrachromy of ancient painters and comes from pigments extracted from the land. The warm red and yellow balanced by the cooling white and black create every possible permutation which color can undergo: value, temperature and intensity. With clean handling the blues and greens are easily obtained by mixing.  This palette often feels too limited to the beginner but opens a new world once experienced. No other colors are necessary for landscape and portraiture.

Closeness to the land revives knowledge which may lie dormant in the artist.  The combination of walking in nature and painting with earth tones gives the beginning painter a chance to expand vision and skill, and rediscover beauty.

Landscape above by former Aegean Center student Cari Adams. For more visit her website at http://www.carolineadamsart.com/.

Poem for Slow Art Day

28, April 2014 § Leave a comment

slow art day

Aegean Center student and Slow Art Day participant Julia Robinson composed a poem about our experiences at the Paros Archeological Museum on April 12th. Julia has dedicated the poem to Jane Pack, our host.

Slow Art

Ten minutes
an eternity
before we calm,
slowly
seeing through
into the mystery
of the cracks
connecting
to the heart
that created
these wonders
millenniums ago;
hearts like our own.

Archilochos calls
up through time.
The bark of his dog
coming out of hiding
along with the silk
over his shield that
he didn’t bring home
nor brought him home.
A boy is found
carrying wine
celebrating
the power of poetry
of the power of brawn.
How did we never see?

We turn to a disc thrower
his faint throw intensifying
the longer we give him;
our minds becoming
as his feet -
slowing unfolding
from their bonds
spiralling out freely
into the movement
of timelessness.

We read the headline
‘Lion eats bull!’
A stone slab
in transition of dying,
comes alive
under our gaze.
We water the
dead with our presence
re-creating:
the god power within.

Blown away by stones
their graceful humility
plunges us into awe.
Ohh face long past sculptured
I cannot see you
the Siroccos of time
have stolen your fierce lines
I feel only your soft beauty
snaking into a bird
as you dominate
the serpent hissing
around your belted waist.
You were petrifying once
your black make-up
terrifying,
but like Ozymandias
the sands of time
have robbed you of your power:
We have lost our fear.
Where can we place it now?

Overwhelmed we are
by so many ghosts
of people who lived here
– Right here -
on this island
we now call our own.

Calming down
we ground in a funeral:
sling shots bearers
never had a chance against
the fighting arrows
walking through the battle.
We circle the urn
but stop dead at the figure
who rising
is depicted again
as they extract the spear
from his side;
ancient story board
animating his life
his death
telling of his tragedy.
Women, hands in terror,
look on aghast
pulling at their hair;
we feel it, and cannot move on.

Leaving a memoir of the past
the warrior remains inside
long gone;
we communicate with them
the dead
this arcane memory
worn thin through time
lives on all too faintly
as we gather around today
trying to grasp
what happened to you.
What happens to humanity.

Time moves on
we look at a head stone:
a man talking animatedly
as if this day would never end.
His last conversation
into eternity.
What is he saying?
To honour the dead?
Hubris of time;
we cannot read
only ‘have to’
name of the deceased
words for the dead.

Was his secret discerned
only by the patient woman?
Relationships
come back to life
the longer we gaze,
the longer we allow ourselves
to deepen in something
impossible to describe.

And so we end
with a perfect bottom
hands brush
yearning still to touch
where the sculptor
left his love
bringing bliss
into stone.
Pulling ourselves together
we admire his stability
contrasting his
strong light lines
with her, behind
as if her dress
would flutter away.
We return,
revealingly quickly,
to the wondrous buttocks
almost embarrassed
at our joy
of this undefended captive.

Slow art,
no need to rush pleasure
feeling the love
of the sculptor
as our own
giving the inanimate
our imagination.

Collapsing time
we gaze ourselves
slowly
into these statues;
for they belong to us now
they are ours,
discovering them
quite honestly,
within
our own hearts.

–Julia Robinson

 


 

Looking at “Hunters in the Snow”

16, April 2014 § 4 Comments

huntersbruegel-1

by Jane Morris Pack

To celebrate Slow Art Day I give my reactions to the Bruegel painting, ‘Hunters in the Snow”.

Stendhal, the French author, fainted the first time he laid eyes on Santa Croce in Florence. The “Stendhal Syndrome” as it is now referred to, is an overwhelming emotional reaction which sometimes accompanies the viewing of great art. The opposite reaction might be called “The Mona Lisa Syndrome” which is the disappointment many feel in front of this small, dark portrait about which they have such great expectations.

Several years ago I went to see my favorite work of art, ‘The Hunters in the Snow’ by Bruegel now in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna. I had known it only from reproduction. In anticipating my response I wondered whether I would be like Stendhal and faint in front of the masterpiece. My son promised to stand behind me when I first encountered the work, should he need to catch me. Of all the possible reactions I imagined, I didn’t expect to experience the one I had. I entered the room, found the painting, noticed it was larger than I had thought and then… I couldn’t see it. It felt like there was a curtain between my eyes and the painting. It communicated nothing to me, I felt no relationship to its story or its characters. I almost couldn’t see the colors or surface as though I was wearing dark glasses. Other Bruegel’s in the room were powerful and compelling. “The Gloomy Day” seemed to smell of loamy soil and an approaching storm. The yellow coat of a man in “The Conversion of Saul” made my heart thump, but “The Hunters in the Snow” was invisible to me. After six hours in the museum we left with no change in my response. The next day I returned to the museum and at last, the painting opened to me, the surface receded and the distant mountains shivered in the winter light.

*

The whine of tired dogs, the pitchy smell of wood smoke and the crunch of brittle snow fill the air. Dark trees etch into the grey green sky as ice skaters group and scurry across the frozen river. The hunters tramp through the crusted snow, pushing their exhausted legs toward home and warmth. Outside a nearby inn, a glowing fire melts the ground snow as peasants singe boar bristles in the flames. Nostalgia pulls on my memory, but for what place and what time? The scene is timeless and could be anywhere. It is said to be one of the earliest depictions of pure nature without religious overtones nor moralizing principals. Bruegel’s love of life, his catalog of human events and emotions, are here before us. How does this painting make me feel so much that is so hard to put into words?

*

The second day, I was finally able to see the painting as paint. The snow is not white but a warm grey brown. The figures are dark and mysterious, mostly silhouette, rounded though few details show. The yellowed branches in the foreground are far more important in the true painting than I had thought as they establish the plane on which the viewer stands, everything else sliding down the hill into deep perspective. The figures on the ice become progressively more transparent as they recede. Black birds rend the air, creating motion. The geometric shapes of snow topped roofs lend abstraction. But all of these elements do not explain the hold this painting has on my soul.

Color and linguistics

10, April 2014 § Leave a comment

russell barlow

Six years ago Russell Barlow came to Paros to tutor Gabriel Pack.  They read all the Greek plays and all of Homer, Herodotus, and Thucydides as well as most of the extant Greek literature.  Russell taught Gabriel drums,  they memorized the countries and their capitals.  It was a successful year for both of them.

Russell returned for a few days last week coming from Germany where he is studying on a Fulbright. He spoke to students and faculty last Monday night at the Center about linguistics, its various areas of study and a bit of its history.  In a humorous and charming talk he presented the quirkiness of language, its impact on our thought processes and the debates that surround that idea. We were all asked to participate and interact with the information so the room was lively and noisy as we tried out sounds and sentences. He talked about pragmatics, morphology,  semantics, phonology, and syntax among others.

The study of names of colors has played a large part in the investigation into the nuances of language formulation in the brain. Russell sparked a spirited debate when he spoke about the three primary colors as the photographers and the painters in the room each tried to dominate the argument (we have a running debate between the two groups). Russell offered us a middle path, suggesting the pairs red and green, blue and yellow. He suggests that true color perception lies between the overlaps of our capacity to read chroma.

We all enjoyed this glimpse into the linguistic mind and Russell’s evident enthusiasm for his subject. He will go on to do a doctorate in linguistics next fall in Hawaii.

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