31, December 2019 § 2 Comments
Epicureanism. Living gracefully within the garden of nature.
The Aegean Center students and staff spend a month each fall living and studying in the Villa Rospigloisi, in Pistoia, Italy. Besides classes in drawing and photography, we learn about Renaissance art and travel most days to see masterworks, returning with gratitude each evening to our villa in the hills. We often linger in the garden in the hours before dinner, watching the light play over the 400 year old magnolia trees, listening to the fountain splash and enjoying the aroma of food coming from the kitchen. We have few distractions, plenty of time to converse, and delicious home cooked meals. The combination of study and simple living create a joyous and rewarding month.
Our Villa Garden in Tuscany
The fact that we are studying in Italy and Greece compels me to introduce a short conversation about ancient philosophers to my students. To make this interesting we read short synopses of seven different philosophies of the ancient world and see which of these resonates with their ideas of how to live a good life. Through a series of questions most of my students this term decided that they identified with Epicureanism. One student decided he was a nihilist, though that wasn’t on the list, and a few were drawn to Neoplatonism.
Epicurus was a 3rd BCE philosopher who believed that through elimination of fears and desires (ataraxia) people would be free to pursue simple pleasures to which they are naturally drawn. His followers were known as the Garden People and worked to banish superstition and cultivate a rational understanding of nature. Unlike many other philosophical discourses, women were allowed and urged to join his circle. Epicureans felt that discovering simple pleasures and living a prudent life leads to the greatest social happiness, that understanding the power of living within nature’s limits was essential. The word Epicureanism is misunderstood now as advocating hedonism but the philosopher himself said that a person can only be happy and free by living wisely, soberly, and morally. He said, “Nothing is enough for the man for whom enough is too little”. Our intention is to create an arts program with echos of this joyful search for individual happiness. We stress living with few material requirements, eating food prepared with pure ingredients and being in nature. We have no pretensions to luxury and yet we provide a wonderfully rich and fruitful atmosphere in which students can achieve their best . When simple wants are satisfied we have a deeper appreciation for the aesthetics aspects of life, of beauty, of art.
In contrast to my students, I tend toward the Stoic philosophy. Again, modern understanding of this philosophy misinterprets Stoicism as merely censoring strong emotions. Marcus Aurelius and Epitectus elucidate the philosophy of Stoicism as a guide to find peace; integrity being the chief good. Epitectus said, ““Happiness and freedom begin with a clear understanding of one principle: Some things are within our control, and some things are not. It is only after you have faced up to this fundamental rule and learned to distinguish between what you can and can’t control that inner tranquility and outer effectiveness become possible.” What he believed was true education consists in recognizing that each individual has their own will and cannot be compelled or hindered by anything external. He felt that individuals are not responsible for the thoughts that arrive in their consciousnesses though they are completely responsible for the way in which they use them. “Two maxims,” Epictetus wrote, “we must ever bear in mind—that apart from the will there is nothing good or bad, and that we must not try to anticipate or to direct events, but merely to accept them with intelligence.”
Filigree of Wildflowers on Paros
And, “Wisdom means understanding without any doubt that circumstances do not rise to meet our expectations. Events happen as they may. People behave as they will.” Finding that my ideals on how to live aligned best with the Stoics I also realised it aids my teaching; empowering me to honour each individual‘s place in the hierarchy of learning, reconfirming that competition has never been an effective teaching tool. I also recognise that what I say and what I teach will be taken by each student to mean what they interpret it to be and not always what I have said. Patience and being an attentive listener are paramount in a teacher but Stoicism also illustrates that 14 different students will have 14 different approaches to a given lesson. Each student will need specific help to elicit their best qualities. It’s not about meeting my standards as much as it is about their comprehension. And, of course, a teacher must accept that each group has its own personality. Fortunately in this group, they were mostly Epicureans by nature.
Yellow & Blue Paros Spring
29, October 2016 § Leave a comment
Clearing Storm at the end of a brilliant day
As the last days of October come in with clouds and cold winds, we have arrived at our half term break. Some of the students will be travelling, but the majority of the group are choosing to stay in Paros to work in the studios and the digital lab. It has been a busy and event filled semester. After returning from Italy we introduced the landscape of our lovely island with several hikes, the first was a walk above Lefkes to the inner valley beyond the windmills. There among the olive trees John read an entry from his journal from the time he lived on the Navajo Reservation in Arizona. It never fails to move his audience and this time there was a deep quiet as he finished. His words touched us all.
John reading from his journal under the olive trees
Last weekend we sailed around Antiparos with Captain Tasso and had a meal at Zombos, a restaurant at the southern end of the island facing Despotico. We had just strolled about the new excavations of the ancient temple, getting a glimpse into the working of the restorers who are rebuilding the facade of the temple. The winds came up as we finished our meal and Captain Tasso felt we needed to start back to avoid the oncoming storm. It caught up with us anyway and we all got wet, but the students sang and huddle together and we were rewarded with a full rainbow as we turned the corner toward Paros and home.
A few days ago Dimitra Skandalis gave a guest lecture on her work just before she returned to her new home in San Francisco. She shared her ideas and her passions with students and brought along some samples of the work she does with seaweed. She is a former student who is originally from Paros. Her exhibition at the school this summer was her first solo show here on the island.
Now with a much needed break to consolidate information and clarify goals, the students will come back to finish the semester work and prepare to display their efforts for the final exhibition in the first week of December.
Cliffs of volcanic detritus on the backside of Antiparos.
Enjoying the Rain…Hoddies!
:Thanks, Ken Shiozawa, for the photos and being Student Extraordinaire
10, July 2016 § 1 Comment
by: Jeffrey Carson
The origins of drama are mysterious. But my intuition suggests that all drama starts in awe of the world, its powers and unseen powers, its passions and irresolutions. Drama has its roots in religion, cult, magic, poetic rapture, birth/sex/death, and natural wonder. I think this is true of anonymous Passion plays from the Middle Ages, Shakespeare’s investigations of everything human and beyond, ghostly Japanese Noh, rollicking Restoration comedy, throbbing opera, and even the great realist works of the last century-and-a-half, whose master is Henrik Ibsen.
I did not mention ancient Greek plays because these astonishing works – we have thirty-two of them – seem to know this about themselves, and consciously embed themselves in primitive ritual and, with music and poetry, political realism.
The Aegean Center’s drama teacher, Anneliese Grindheim, knows these things, and her love and understanding of the Greek plays informs her work here on Paros. Last autumn she produced a condensed version of Lorca’s frightening tragedy, “The House of Bernarda Alba”, which, in image-loaded verse, shows what happens when society’s rules try to squelch the natural joy and passion of life. Working with small forces – students and a few local friends – Annelise trimmed the work to its essentials – she has an amazing ability to do this with respect and accuracy.
This spring’s work was even more ambitious. It was Ibsen’s “Lady from the Sea”, a realist drama. Redacting again, Annelise found the poetry and intensity curled deep in the Norwegian master’s realism (she is Norwegian herself). The play is a liminal work, and we are never sure what will happen as the symbols keep being transformed. The actors performed it on the beach, sometimes on sand, sometimes in water. The growth of the heroine’s soul and self into maturity, and its salutary effect on her husband, were aided by movements derived from dance, by declamation derived from poetry, by masks, and by the sea itself – wavelets, gulls, breezes, briny clarity. Liminal indeed.
I’m fortunate to work at the Aegean Center with such skilled practitioners of their arts as John Pack, Jane Pack, Jun-Pierre Shiozawa, and most recently, Annelise Grindheim. What will she come up with next? I may write a poem about it.
30, June 2016 § 1 Comment
The Aegean Center summer workshop, Oil Painting Innovations, concluded this last Saturday with a successful exhibition at the Center. The five painters showed four paintings each, sharing the space with the watercolour and the photography students from the other workshops. The walls were crowded with excellent work all of which showed a high level of skill and aesthetic involvement.The painting class followed several historical methods chosen for their instructive value; Venetian heightening with white on a dark ground from the 15th century, Flemish floral painting from the 17th century and Impressionist still life from the 19th century. These methods were explained and then explored in order for the students to maximize their understanding of the principals of structured oil paintings. A fourth exercise, which dealt with the painting of an all white still life, was chosen to challenge color mixing choices and the necessary lowering of tone which oil paint dictates.
The process of hand refined linseed oil which we began using a year ago at the Center was demonstrated and became our medium. It’s unique properties allow us to forgo solvents. The oil is stronger and shinier than the store bought tube oils. The handling is fluid, each touch is recorded. It creates a tough film, maintains textural elements of brushwork and keeps its color integrity when painting wet into wet. We were in the studios every day for six hours six days a week. The new oil paint made it possible for us to continue working without the need for long drying times and so the layers went on quickly. Working on four canvases with different criteria kept us energized. Thank you to my students for their enthusiasm and their dedication.
15, July 2014 § 2 Comments
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.
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.
13, May 2014 § 6 Comments
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.
13, December 2012 § Leave a comment
Dear John, Jane, and Jun– my lovely teachers from a year ago–
It is true that everything changes for the better after a time at the Aegean Center. Looking back one year ago we were hanging that final show. This week I am hanging my university’s final show. I can only hint at the personal growth, joy, and creative productivity that has occurred between the two. I know that this incredible moment, which is yet unfinished, began while I was on Paros immersed in what I can retrospectively see is one of the best and most unique communities that exist anywhere. Paros opened me to loving a place, loving a craft, and loving myself, and those lessons have continued to guide me as I make my way back in the States. Thanks to all of you for that.
I didn’t know it then but the time spent in Italy and watching Jane and Jun do their painting work gave me a strong interest in narrative and classical technique. When I came back in the winter I began studying egg tempera and have been working with it since then. I was also awarded a scholarship to go study fresco this summer, and now work in both. Early in the year I started on my Honors thesis, a year-long independent project in the student’s discipline. My thesis is the work I am hanging in the show and I will be defending it to my committee in two weeks time.
I wanted to share this with you because I feel it shows how much I absorbed while in Italy and Greece and the tremendous impact you have on your students. I think of you all and things you have taught me often. From you, John, I think of lessons about midtones, I am not even joking. I truly want to make the midtones in the paintings sing. I also think to really see things and appreciate. From you, Jane, I think of lessons about the figure, some tips on glazing, and how to be a woman and an artist all at once. From you, Jun, I remember many painting techniques learned, and I see how to be a young figurative painter with verve. All these lessons and more went into completing this project.
The painting project I conceived for my thesis is a narrative polyptych “afterpiece” in egg tempera. I wanted to explore the process and flow of bliss, vernacular space here in Orono, and feminine creative power. I started painting early this spring and finished last week. The painting is eight feet wide and five and half feet tall, structurally organized as a hinged triptych, with multiple paintings on each panel. There is silver leafing in the sky and I built the frame in a timber-frame style, learning much about carpentry! It is almost a house in itself. The center panel mimics annunciation paintings, but with a twist. The bottom panel is a hell montage inspired by Bosch. The outer two are symbolic landscapes compiled from my town here.
That’s all. I’m so happy to share this with you and to look back a year ago and remember it all.
As for the future, I am graduating in December, working on my portfolio this spring and summer, and headed out for residencies in the fall. I am applying to some in the states but really hoping to get over to Europe where I can learn more about the sort of painting I am interested in.
My best wishes to all of you, and thank you, thank you, thank you,
10, December 2012 § Leave a comment
Twice every year, The Louvre Museum (Paris, France) offers a special opportunity to fine art and art history students all over the city – a few Friday nights during their extra hours to present works in the museum, in their first language, in their own words. The fine artists create new pieces, based on works on display in the museum, and exhibit their work alongside their inspiration. Art history students express their passion for some of the best art history has preserved for the world by presenting them, after months of research and preparation, for anyone who comes to the museum on those nights ready to listen.
This year’s theme is “What do you see?” And I am honored, as a current Art History student studying at The American University of Paris, France and as an alumna of The Aegean Center of the Fine Arts, Paros, Cyclades, Greece, to be participating in this special occasion for the second time.
When I mentioned this project to one of my previous professors on Paros, he asked if I would share this experience on The Aegean Center blog, which seems more appropriate than ever considering the work I am presenting this year – the Cycladic Figurines. Yes, that’s right; after a year and a half in Paris studying art history, I chose to focus my presentation on some of the earliest works of Ancient Greece. Something must have stuck… thank you, Jeffrey Carson.
Of course something stuck! Three and a half years ago now, when instead of going straight to college, I chose to take a gap year and attend The Aegean Center, I never could have guessed I would be here now, in Paris, about to present at the Louvre. My time in Italy, studying the Italian Renaissance almost entirely through on-site lectures, and then Ancient Greek art in Athens and on Paros, again, seeing first-hand what I was studying… well, I cannot really explain how much that defined me outside of the obvious: I am an art history major, on an ancient art track, and a fine arts minor in Paris today.
Following the presentations, AUP students are asked to write a short essay about their experience in order to receive credit from the university (following).
By happy coincidence, the final JOP night was the same night as The Aegean Center Student Showcase – hey, if I could not be on Paros that night, awe-struck by the creativity and skills of a new generation of artists, might as well be standing in the Louvre in Paris, explaining to whomever happened to stop and listen why he or she should be awe-struck by some of the earliest figurative work in history!
Thank you, Aegean Center, for getting me this far. I expect this is only the beginning…
With love and gratitude,
(A Paper By: Stephanie Dissette)
For this season’s “Les jeunes ont la parole,” it was my pleasure to present the Cycladic figurines of Pre-Classical Greece. While not my first choice, these figures were amongst my preferred works, as they embody much of why I am here today, in Paris and at AUP – tying-in with the Ancient Art and Architecture course I am currently enrolled in and the Ancient Art track I chose within my Art History Major; and perhaps even more importantly, keeping me connected to Greece and Greek art, my “roots” for why I chose to study Art History to begin with. The theme for this season, “What do you see?” also perfectly accompanied my presentation in particular, as the Cycladic figurines come from approximately 2800-2300 B.C., a period which has virtually no written documentation. This allowed me, as I was studying, and my audience, as they were viewing, to acknowledge an important part of Art History – a lot of what we consider historical fact will only ever be guesswork; in which case, though there are of course those who make a point of becoming experts in the field, anyone’s guess is as good as another’s, so long as one has evidence to support one’s theory.
And so, to begin my presentation I would always ask the audience to look closely at one or more of the figures in front of them, and explain to me what they saw, encouraging all suggestions given and recommending they start out very simply. Reminding my audience that I am a student, I would explain a bit about what it means when we give a formal analysis of a work, and invite them to follow in suit without fear of giving an incorrect perspective. Again, I find these figurines perfect for this sort of exercise in their simplicity – with less “action” or distraction in front of them, the audience is forced to stick to the basics. In this case, many discussed the gendering (about 40% said male, about 60% female), the shape and size, the material used (mostly when prompted), and the prominent noses and strange folding of the arms. Many, of course, also looked on with blank stares until I fed them a few possible answers. My favorite description came a couple of times, which was a comparison to the heads of Easter Island – brilliant! This proved to be the perfect introduction, allowing me to continue with a more in-depth analysis and investing my audience in a stake of the “final answer,” which was of course that there is no right answer.
But without getting too stuck on that, I would proceed by telling them about the Cyclades, the Eastern Greek Islands where the figures originated and where most of them were found. I offered two maps: one of grander Greece and the Aegean region, allowing a placement within Europe and one that focused in on the Cyclades Islands, and offered a close look at Paros, the island where the marble originated. Usually, I would take a moment to express that these figures are essentially the root of all Greek figurative sculpture and that Parian marble is still considered one of the best types in the world, was used all the way into the Late Hellenistic period in Greece (with sculptures such as the Venus de Milo), and that one can still visit the Ancient Marble Quarry on Paros. With the maps still in front of my audience, I would also explain the connection these islands shared with each other and even out as far as Egypt, Crete, and Turkey through trade routes, which may help explain some of the influence the figures might have received from other cultures as well as some of the influence they had on future figurative sculpture. Not every group I presented to really needed all of these details, but I did try to get as much of this information as possible to provide a context for these figurines which we know so little about, so few people have ever seen or cared to stop and notice, and to express why one should care about them at all. Whether I made it this far or got stopped in mentioning the Venus de Milo (which many a time required me to give a mini-lecture on that sculpture instead), this always connected me with the next big point: across the board, the grand majority of historians who wrote about the Cycladic figures believe them to be female. I was able to point out the delineated pubic triangles many of the figurines shared, as well as the apparent breasts. For a counter-example, I brought out images of two similar figurines from around the same era that historians believe to be male, as they are missing those two main components. Strangely enough, both of those figures are active, one playing a flute and the other a harp, whereas the female sculptures seem only occupied by holding themselves. This brought up the question, what is there purpose?
Now, here I usually pointed out the stands holding up all of the figurines, and asked my audience if they felt any of these figures could stand on their own. The consensus being no, I also drew their attention to the strangely angled heads of the figures, and suggested that should they be lying down on their backs, the figures would be well supported by their heads. Again, it was time to reiterate that everything I was suggesting is entirely my own perspective based on the many different sources I drew from, and that especially from here on out everything I could offer would be opinion-oriented. Drawing on an old professor’s perspective and words, I offered this phrase to my audience: “Out of the womb, into the tomb; out of the tomb, into the womb.” I argued that the arms crossed around the front of the figures emphasized the fertility or even possible pregnancy of the figures; and considering that nearly every figurine found by archeologists (our only reliable source in excavation) were found in tombs. To me, this combined with their inability to stand, made these figures the perfect symbols of the cycle of life, and perhaps made them an invaluable part of the burial ceremony of the early Cycladic Greeks. This would also explain why they are found in so many different sizes and levels of finishing – should they be a necessary item for burial, no matter what class or income, everyone would need one.
Finally, though this sometimes mixed into to other areas of my presentation, I would focus on some of the stranger questions relating to the figures. While I previously discussed the odd shape of the head, it was also necessary to explain why the only obvious facial feature was the nose. Here is when I would point out Figure 9, which still retains just enough of its original paint to delineate the drawing in of an eye and eyebrows. There are a few others that show paint markings on the face, and one that shows some within the incisions between the toes of a figure. This always opens up a wonderful conversation about the painting of sculpture, something that very few people seem to be aware existed quite commonly in Ancient Greece. There were also those who seemed unconvinced by my fertility argument, referring to other examples we have of “fertility goddesses,” all of whom are very voluptuous. This is another difficult question, and all I could draw upon was my own experience. Keeping in mind the Greek mentality throughout all of what we call Ancient Greece was idealism, I referred to the kore and kouros figures, the idealized versions of Greek youths, considered the best that society had to offer at the time. Then I talked a bit about the Greek diet, which especially in the Cyclades relied mostly on fish, local weeds, and wine – all very light, non-fattening foods. Perhaps the Greek fertility goddess would be slim and fit, whether or not she is meant to symbolize pregnancy or abundance.
Overall, the best aspect of my experience was when someone walked away saying they were impressed, they had never known anything about these figurines or this time period in art before and now know and care about it, and that they were interested in continuing on through the room in chronological order to explore what came after these beautiful, simple figures. I thoroughly enjoyed sharing my opinions with all that were willing to listen and encouraging my audience to have their own critical opinions of what they see when they explore art. Participating in this exercise at the Louvre always makes me appreciate Paris, museum culture, and my decision to study Art History more. I am honored to have been a part of this season’s “Les jeunes ont la parole,” and look forward to participating again in the future.
Fitton, J. L. “Marble Figurine of a Woman.” The British Museum. The British Museum Press, 1999. Web. 02 Nov. 2012. <http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/highlights/highlight_objects/gr/m/marble_figurine_of_a_woman.aspx>.
Hendrix, Elizabeth. “Painted Ladies of the Early Bronze Age.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, New Series 55.3 (1997-1998): 4-15. JSTOR. Web. 01 Nov. 2012.
Hendrix, Elizabeth A. “Painted Early Cycladic Figures: An Exploration of Context and Meaning.” Hesperia: The Journal of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens 72.4 (2003): 405-46. JSTOR. Web. 01 Nov. 2012.
Hoffman, Gail L. “Painted Ladies: Early Cycladic II Mourning Figures?” American Journal of Archaeology 106.4 (2002): 525-50. JSTOR. Web. 01 Nov. 2012
Mertens, Joan R. “Some Long Thoughts on Early Cycladic Sculpture.” Metropolitan Museum Journal 33 (1998): 7-22. JSTOR. Web. 01 Nov. 2012.
Mylonas, George E. “Cycladic and Mycenaean Figurines.” Bulletin of the City Art Museum of St. Louis 40 (1955): 1-14. JSTOR. Web. 01 Nov. 2012.
Neer, Richard T. “Crete and the Cyclades to the Late Bronze Age.” Greek Art and Archeology C. 2500 – C. 150 BCE. New York: Thames and Hudson, 2012. 22-24. Print.
Papadimitriou, Nikolas. “Cycladic Art Museum.” Museum of Cycladic Art. Nicholas and Dolly Goulandris Foundations, n.d. Web. 01 Nov. 2012. <http://www.cycladic.gr/frontoffice/portal.asp?cpage=resource>.
Preziosi, Donald, and Louise A. Hitchcock. “Burial Practices.” Aegean Art and Architecture. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1999. 52-54. Print.
Renfrew, Colin. “The Development and Chronology of the Early Cycladic Figurines.”American Journal of Archaeology 73.1 (1969): 1-32. JSTOR. Web. 01 Nov. 2012.
15, October 2012 § Leave a comment
At the core of the Aegean Center, lies the philosophy of the Sanctum, the Center’s special space for students in the hill village of Lefkes. If the Center is an oasis for the Classical arts in a wasteland of post-modernism, then the Sanctum is an island refuge from the din of the over-connected, banal networks found in the supposed modern world. In my own experience I have found the Sanctum to be a place of healing, a fountain of renewal after I had been drained dry by societies pressures and the indecision of identity and character.
In 2010 I was still connected to old rhythms, still dancing a tired, limping waltz leftover from an exhausting home-care commitment in which I had willingly labored since 2004 and human aid work in Bosnia in 2007 and 2008. That fresh spring day I had not intended to come to sit in the clear light of that quiet room. I had wandered around Lefkes hoping to take some interesting photos in the streets and the surrounding area, but found myself, quite by accident, at the Sanctum’s door. The students had visited the place a few weeks before with John Pack. He had told us something about himself that day and opened up his heart in both joy and sadness. I inserted my shiny, new key, turned the lock and walked in. I put down my day-pack. It suddenly felt too heavy to bear. The muted April light shining through the windows illuminated the soft pillows, colorful rugs and a small wooden writing desk on the floor. There were only earth tones, nothing jarring to the senses. There was a painting on the wall, some wooden tables, a few simple caned chairs. The air was cool, scented with oregano growing in small pots. In comparison I felt heavy, ungainly, somewhat unbalanced. My mind was buzzing with a dull grey drone and I found myself asking questions as old as Paros: “Why am I here? Who am I? What is my reason? Where am I going? What will I find when I get there?” I sat down roughly into the pillows, grateful for their softness, kicked off my shoes and fell into oblivion.
I awoke an hour later feeling more calm, but still pensive. I had dreamed. I understood that it was acceptable to feel uncertain, to ask these questions of myself. I didn’t need the answers today. Perhaps they would never be satisfied. To keep searching would be better than ending the quest with a quick, efficient, modern answer. I had discovered this vital truth, a truth I knew in my heart, in a little room in Greece, surrounded by silence and light. I returned to Paroikia that afternoon, transformed.
So what is the philosophy of the Sanctum? To be honest I am not entirely sure, but I know that there is one important rule: No electronic interference or devices: no mobile phones, no internet, no recorded music, no games. Nothing that would distract the mind from the important experience of ‘being’, as opposed to ‘doing’. We come to the Sanctum to learn who we are, just as we come to the Aegean Center to experience something we do not have in America, or wherever we are from. With any luck we leave that behind when we step off the boat from Athens. We search for something more meaningful in a world measured by ‘things’ and a vertical technology. We disengage from the cacophony of an incorrectly defined progressive era, step over the marble threshold and into a clear and quiet room. We put down what we carry.
– John D.C. Masters, Paros, 15 October, 2012
9, October 2012 § 1 Comment
(Administrator’s Note: The Aegean Center for the Fine Arts blog is back! Sorry if you couldn’t find us for a while — we were having some technical issues! Visit us again for more news and notes from the Aegean Center!)
Sitting on the top deck of the 5:30 p.m. Blue Star ferry, I pulled my black moleskin journal out of my backpack. “Why I am going to Paros,” I wrote at the top of the page. I stared at the blank sheet.
I had dreamed of returning to visit Paros and the Aegean Center since the day I left almost three years ago, but now that the moment had arrived, I was more nervous than excited. None of my friends from my semester were returning with me—What would I do on my own for an entire week? Did my teachers want to see me as much as I wanted to see them, or was my visit an imposition? Had I built Paros into an unrealistic fantasy in my memory, and was the bubble about to burst? Did I really expect being there to answer all the huge, existential questions about my precarious future that were running through my mind?
I chewed on the back of my pen. “Because I love the beach,” I wrote, drawing a line through the words immediately after. “Because the baklava at the bakery is the best in the world,” I wanted to make myself laugh. “Because I need John’s advice,” I tried again. “Because the last time I was lost and confused, I went to Paros and swam in the Aegean Sea and calmed down, and I’m counting on the magic still being there.” Not entirely satisfied with this list, I snapped my journal shut. The sun was turning a rich orange as it sank into the water and the wind was thick with salt and anticipation, reminding me of the sunsets I had watched and painted from the church by the Paroikia shore.
When the ferry finally pulled in at 10:00 p.m., the port could not have been a more different place than the cold, deserted town I had left behind three Decembers ago. Tourists flocked up and down the waterfront. Hotel staff and car rental services accosted disembarking passengers before they could make it past the windmill. Every bar and restaurant was packed beyond capacity. I rubbed my eyes in disbelief, feeling more anxious than ever. But my feet did not falter once as they walked through the Plaka, turning onto Market Street towards the school building. Behind me, the noisy evening erupted into a flurry of fireworks to celebrate the assumption of Mary. “What am I doing here?” I muttered to myself.
I first met Jun when he was busy at his exhibition “Sacred/Wild,” but he still took the time to welcome me back and help me settle into my apartment. My initial apprehensions retreated and I fell asleep to the sound of the wind in the olive groves. When I arrived at the school the next morning and saw John and Jane, any remaining uneasiness disappeared entirely. “We’re so happy to have you,” they welcomed me. Within moments, I felt no different than I had as a student, stopping by the Uffizi during one of my breaks between classes. Before I could ask, John handed me a key to the school and encouraged me to use it as much as I needed to. Soon, Jane was making travel suggestions for my upcoming trip to Turkey and we were pouring over books about Istanbul. Our conversation meandered, from the potential to study the similarities between Indian and Greek philosophy to journalism in the digital age and, most importantly, the texture of the week’s myzithra. I was finally home.
Hours later, at a table at the Albatross laden with my favorite Parian foods, I remembered one of the most valuable lessons I learned at the school: to appreciate good food. From our elaborate dinners at Villa Rospigliosi to the simple meals I used to cook with other students at the Aegean Village, food is a central part of the Aegean Center. I began to see food as much more than the basis for sustenance: it is an experience to be revered and cherished. At my first Monday morning meeting as a student, John opened with the words, “I want you all to promise me that tomorrow morning, you will buy a pomegranate and break it over Greek yogurt and honey for breakfast.” I didn’t really like pomegranate, but the one I ate to fulfill this promise changed my palette forever.
That was October, and this was August— it was too early for pomegranate. Now was the time to eat honeydew and water melon, and I was not about to argue with the land. On Paros, eating seasonal food acquired new significance. I became more attuned to weekly weather transitions than my own desire for a specific food. I realized that fresh, local ingredients and spontaneity are critical to a good meal, but even more essential is good company. As students, we had carried our small stoves to one apartment, pooled together the produce we had bought earlier that day and cooked dinner with each other.
Three years later, over plates piled with fresh gavros and calamari, luscious beets perfectly complemented with skordalia and horta, and tomatoes with creamy myzithra that instantly put all other cheese to shame, I remembered how much I loved to eat the Aegean Center way. As we passed the plates around, each of us was careful to serve ourselves so that everyone else would have enough. Sharing was far more important than self-indulgence. How we learn to eat is symbolic of how we learn to take care of each other and develop a heightened sensitivity to our surroundings.
The Paros I had returned to in the summer was remarkably different from the winter Paros I remembered, but its beauty still left me breathless. My friends (the ones who have never been to Greece) often tease me that my relentless praise for Greece’s natural beauty makes me a perfect candidate to work for the Greek Tourism Organization. Ever since I left, I have dreamed of the narrow, cobbled streets of Paroikia, weaving my way through white washed walls, blue domes and pink bougainvillea creepers. I have insisted that the sunlight on Paros is more luminous than anywhere else in the world and that the deep purple and turquoise water of the Aegean has mysterious healing properties.
Returning to Paros reaffirmed that its landscape instantly calms me. I spent my days visiting old haunts and discovering new ones. I realized that Krios was no longer the far beach I used to hike to in the winter; it was one of the busiest beaches on the island, and a ten-minute ferry ride from the port. Lefkes, however, was still deserted once I walked out of the town square and into the mountains. Hiking past abandoned windmills, through the terraced landscape studded with ancient olive trees, I returned to my solitary Paros. The sirocco was particularly violent that day, but with no one but the wind to listen to, I found the same inner quiet that I had come looking for. Suddenly the questions that had been on my mind since I left New York three weeks ago no longer seemed insurmountable.
I rediscovered my old running route to the Valley of the Butterflies and went swimming at the Cave of the Nymphs, each time feeling immensely grateful to connect so intimately with the earth. I have grown up and lived in large cities for most of my life, and the ability to appreciate nature is one that I have gradually learned. Learning to love Paros, and by extension Greece, was easy, because I was introduced to the place through John’s love for the island. Friday hikes are as much a part of the curriculum as figure drawing or art history. As students, we learned that although we spent most of our time in Paroikia, there were worlds beyond for us to explore. Three years later, my interest in wandering around the island was still fresh. Where would a familiar path lead me if I turned left instead of right? Where would the land lead me if I left the path all together?
Paros reminded me that it is possible to live slower and more deliberately, and that the benefits to watching the sun set and moon rise every evening are immeasurable. I felt the same unencumbered joy each morning when I woke up simply by choosing to listen to the waves. I realized that I could call more than one place in the world “home,” because even after I left Paros, I continued to carry its wisdom with me.
Being at home on Paros was possible because I was also coming home to family. The Aegean Center is not a semester- or year-long program: it is an opportunity to belong to a close-knit community for life. From seeing familiar faces around Paroikia to meeting students from different semesters who were also there, every day was an affirmation of the school’s inclusive and supportive community.
When I met Jeff and Liz in the school courtyard, they asked me not five but twenty-five questions about how I was, what I had done in the past three years and what I planned to do in the future. Our conversation picked up exactly where it left off when I used to sit in the dark room with Liz, pouring over my test strips and telling her what was on my mind. At the school, we develop relationships with our teachers that go far beyond typical student teacher interactions. Our teachers make the effort to get to know us, take care of us and remain genuinely interested in who we become after we leave. Reconnecting with John, Jane, Jun, Jeff and Liz reminded me that I had learned much more than fine arts skills at the school. Their experience and insight has taught me a way of life that I constantly seek to recreate when I am physically not on Paros.
One week later, on my way to Athens, I was back on the top deck of the ferry with my journal. “I could write pages and pages about this past week. But all I need to say about it is that it was perfect,” I wrote. Visiting Paros brought back beautiful memories and allowed me to create new ones. It reminded me that the bliss I had experienced as a student was still there, and will always be there, waiting patiently for me to return.