An Open Letter to John Van Buren
4, December 2008 § 2 Comments
Dear Mr. Van Buren,
As the end of the semester approaches and we are all working diligently on finishing and preparing final pieces for the exhibit, I am moved to write you a letter to express my gratitude again for making the last few months possible. You have not been far from my thoughts through this experience, as I am aware that it was your generosity that helped manifest this. As I mentioned in my past email to you, the decision to attend the Aegean Center was a heart-centered and passion-filled one — a departure from my anticipated next step of attending a master’s or law degree program. Reflecting on these amazing months, I cannot believe that I could have continued my life without having lived this! As a result, I would love to share a long-awaited update on how I have been.
I had never been to Italy before, and considering my Italian-American heritage, was so excited for our time at the Villa. Apart from the amazing food (from which I have acquired many new recipes!), the art history component was the most effective and sustainable way that art history can be taught. I wrote home to my family saying that I felt like all of my childhood art books had come to life! We recently had a discussion in my painting class about the important connection that new artwork has to tradition. If my time in Italy was demonstrative of anything, it was the importance of understanding the ancestral artistic mastery in the Mediterranean. I feel confident that I can walk into any church and assess its history based on time period, architecture and the intention for construction. In addition, I feel comfortable with my ability to identify the defining characteristics of most 12th-17th century Italian art — such an amazing amount of material taught to us in just one month! I particularly loved Bellini’s works (I am spending one night in Rome before I depart to the US and am hoping to go to the Bellini exhibit!), especially his ‘Sacred Conversations’ in Venice. In addition, Simone Martini’s ‘Annunciation’ and Donatello’s wooden sculpture of ‘Mary Magdelen’ were very memorable. The Sistine Chapel was exciting to finally see in person — I actually attached a drawing I started of one of the Sybil’s. I am planning on turning this into a painting or pastel piece one day. I know I will return to Italy again in the future, and hopefully at that point will be able to speak a bit more Italian!
Since arriving to Greece, I have continued the Ancient Greek part of Art History which has been fascinating in the context of the Renaissance work we observed in Italy. In addition to Art History, I am taking Basic Drawing, Oil Painting, Life (Figure) Drawing, Photo History and Greek Literature. Since I had never oil painted before, the first day of painting was exciting and also a bit reminiscent of being younger and trying something new for the first time — I realized how long it had been since I had been a complete beginner at anything! My first painting assignment was spent largely trying to understand how to control the paint — how to thin it, what brushes to use, how to do an under-painting. Afterwards, we started using color and I learned how to mix paints effectively and to stretch a palette to its limit by just using 3-4 colors. Since I have recently started feeling more comfortable with the paint and mixing colors, I am trying to pay more attention to things like brush stroke and composition. I have attached four pictures of the paintings I have done, since unfortunately you will not be able to see them at the show! The attachment is the third oil painting I did and is a study of how ‘reflections’ can be rendered, using the earth palette. The next painting is the first that I did using the prismatic palette (so much brighter!). I chose a zoomed in composition of the familiar chairs at the school, specifically because of how nostalgic they will be for me after leaving here. I was a bit worried that they looked too graphic, but after playing with shadows and negative space, I hope they have a bit more character to them.
The next painting I attached is a study we did of a master by using a method of modeling our painting from a dark background up with whites. I originally intended to do a self-portrait, but found this John Singer Sargent painting and felt instantly excited about it. Sargent uses so many glazing techniques and is fantastic at rendering the form with simple and deliberate strokes — a technique I would love to achieve! It was a great study to attempt and a very important exercise in understanding glazing.
The last attachment is my landscape assignment. I wanted to depart from my more controlled and tight initial paintings and attempt something with larger brushes. I bought 2 large brushes and a roller and really enjoyed this one — I am struggling now, however, with whether or not I should add more rocks in the bottom right corner to make the composition more interesting.
I recently had a conversation with Jane about how to improve my artwork and we discussed that while I achieve clarity in my work, my next challenge is not to just ‘illustrate’ something as an exact copy, but to learn how to render an image that provokes an emotion in the viewer. Today we did a portrait of a classmate and I spent time making choices about shadows, definition and mood and I actually feel positive about the outcome. I will forward along a picture of that when it is finished, if you’d like, so you can see the progression of my work.
It is so apparent to me how much I have learned here and also how much learning I have to go still. I never imagined where this experience would lead, but I knew it felt right… I realize now as the semester concludes what an incredible turning point it has been. I look around and notice light and color differently– the negative space between objects, the shapes that shadows make in a composition, the temperature of color. I have in the past compartmentalized art in (and out of) my life. When I began this program, I had the fear that my time here would be a departure from myself and after 3 months, I would return and revert back to the ‘Aimee’ I was before, scared of embracing and creating art. This time has awakened a familiar part of myself that is both natural and true. The delight and gratitude I feel to wake up every morning and have nothing else to do but paint and draw is very revelatory for me in terms of understanding what makes me happy! I am in the process of integrating this experience and realize how much I want this learning process about art and the Self to continue — as they are largely part of the same process. For the first time in my life, I see a long-term commitment to develop and foster this passion. I cannot imagine a better place to learn than this program. John, Jane, Jun, Jeffrey and Liz are a remarkable group of teachers — who extend beyond the classroom and understand the importance of self-improvement, self-love, building community and becoming better in touch with the land and nature. It is truly admirable that you take such an interest in the Aegean Center and its students — I can confidently say that you are not only supporting people’s artistic journeys, but also allowing them the opportunity for the larger journey to the Self. Paros is a magical place that inevitably awakens a sensual and archetypal connection to the earth that I will forever take with me.
Thank you again for all of your support, well-wishes and practical generosity. I apologize that this email has come late in the semester, but it seems like a great time to reflect, integrate and share all I have learned. Please let me know if you would like me to send any more drawings along to you. I am actually in the process of writing a blog post about Basic Drawing class and will be attaching more of my drawings to the entry. If you check the website, keep your eye out for it! In addition, I have some video footage of me stretching canvas and painting. I am scrambling to cut and edit it into something small, but if I get a chance to, I will send it along. It will probably be a great way for you to see a personal view of the students that you support here at the center!
I am hoping all has been well with you and that this email finds you healthy and happy.
Bravo! Great letter that expresses many alumni sentiments, I am sure. I know that I was again washed with appreciation for the help I received from John.
Paros and Italy altered my life forever and forever changed who I am. I live my life on a different path–a better path.
Aimee, I was just going through old files looking for testimonials as I design a brochure, and found a letter you had written me. I googled you, just to see how you’re doing, and am soooo pleased to see your travels, your education, your art!! Love~ Amy