The Aegean Center’s New Intensive Block Curriculum

30, April 2017 § Leave a comment

A New Way to Teach

Based on fifty years of teaching experience and an awareness of the evolving profile of the contemporary student, the Aegean Center has transformed its program schedule. We have introduced intensive scheduling within a newly formatted twelve week session.  We continue to offer core subjects in drawing, painting, photography, and creative writing. Art history and literature classes are still held. Core studio classes are scheduled every day for two weeks followed by a Bridge Week in which assignments, special projects and cultural activities occur, but regular classes do not meet.  Then two weeks of intensive instruction resume and this pattern repeats throughout the term. This intense learning structure has proven to be enormously successful in our summer program. We see this evolution as a way to make our program more vital and responsive to our students’ needs. As an independent school we are able to respond personally and immediately because we are small by design, unaffiliated with mainstream corporate education, and, without the weight of administration and policy statements we can implement changes efficiently.
Blog 29 April '17  
We find this new format is very beneficial. The average student coming to our program is highly connected to the world through social media, but often scattered by too many commitments and pulled in too many directions.  They are enthusiastic, energetic but unfocused at times.  We have discovered through teaching short intensive summer classes that time spent going in depth into a subject translates into a profound pedagogical experience. In two weeks we can cover a month’s worth of material and the student retains this knowledge longer and with more comprehension.  We have a clearer idea as teachers what each student in the group requires and how they best work through problems.  Students are able to work steadily and calmly and don’t tend to procrastinate and leave work until the last moment. It eases social situations as people get to know each by working side by side, promoting conversation and amiability. We also know from research that learning a new skill requires deep concentration followed by down time to allow it to sink into the subconscious mind. When the subject is renewed  the learner finds the information transformed and readily applicable.Rebecca & HeiguThe above was written as a first announcement of our change of program. We are now in our 5th week of its first trial at the Center. The overall consensus is that it is a true success.  I have been able to progress much more quickly through the material with far more student comprehension. In the first two weeks for instance, I taught basic drawing every day for two hours.  As a class we were able to cover what would have taken 2 1/2 months in the old format.  Because we could delve into topics that were going to be taken up in figure drawing in the subsequent intensive, the students were far better prepared to handle the demands of drawing the model when the time came.  As I taught the figure drawing class I saw that students already had the concepts of perspective, negative space, cross contour and geometrical forms in their hands and minds.JP 8x10 B The intensive program builds relationships rapidly between the teacher and students as we get to know each other on a daily basis. The students themselves seem to bond more readily and comfortably too as the social contact takes place around classes and art. From solicited comments  from students I hear that they are learning quickly but not feeling overwhelmed. During the Bridge Week they each found a different rhythm. Some took it easy the first half but worked hard later in the week to complete assignments. Others spread their time out and enjoyed having their own schedules to decide when to come to the studio and when to relax, read, or socialise. This Bridge Week some of them have planned a three day trip to Santorini at the weekend.The best aspect of the intensive for me is that I can readily read the level and engagement of each student and the group as a whole and I can adjust my lessons to keep forwarding their skill levels. It is not easy for them to procrastinate and the work becomes a daily habit. I like having the Bridge Week to introduce other activities; book craft (taught by Silina) the first time and monoprinting this week. It invigorates the program and gives the students a new and creative use for their recently acquired skills. John taught a view camera workshop and Jeffrey is taking them to the museum.Blog StudioThe majority of the students are doing both photography and painting, nearly all are doing drawing. The overlap of differing aesthetics and media is mind expanding and challenging. Having two or three teachers a day who require that they be attentive is hard work I’m sure, but they seem to be up for it. I feel a lot more relaxed at any rate as the daily unfolding of the lessons keeps me focused without the break between classes which sometimes scatters my momentum.

Εγκύκλιο Παιδεία • Liberal Arts

3, February 2017 § 2 Comments

“When we ask about the relationship of a liberal education to citizenship, we are asking a question with a long history in the Western philosophical tradition. We are drawing on Socrates’ concept of ‘the examined life,’ on Aristotle’s notions of reflective citizenship, and above all on Greek and Roman Stoic notions of an education that is ‘liberal’ in that it liberates the mind from bondage of habit and custom, producing people who can function with sensitivity and alertness as citizens of the whole world.” –Martha Nussbaum, Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education, 1998

libeal_artsSeven Liberal Arts: Francesco Pesellino: 1422-1457 Florence

While hoping to find a way to take a much needed sabbatical many years ago I made some phone calls in search for a person to take over my job for a semester. I talked to a woman who taught at a well known academy in the States, someone who I felt could teach drawing and painting simultaneously as I had been doing for years at the Aegean Center.  I gave her the outline of the program; a three month course, in Greece, teaching 20 hours a week, covering the gamut from printmaking to oil painting.  She brushed aside my inquiry but not because she felt the weight of long hours of teaching, or because the responsibilities were onerous, but because she would need to teach drawing and painting concurrently.  She said that a student needed a full year of basic drawing, followed by a full year of figure drawing before they should be allowed to touch a brush. When I explained that being a single semester abroad program prevented us from spreading out the curriculum in this way she dumbfounded me with her response.  “Well”‘ she said, “I consider myself a fascist when it comes to art instruction”. I thanked her for her time and promptly hung up.

In relating this story to students I often wondered whether the fascist intent was sanctioned by her academy or if it was just her own perverse mindset. I have unfortunately seen and heard of teachers who felt their method was uniquely correct and had no tolerance for other viewpoints. In art classes the slavish adherence to what is fashionable and a blindness to tradition can narrow students responses. As teachers we must all ensure that our students learn the basic skills that will serve them in future no matter which direction the art world takes. I am deeply committed to obtaining and practicing these skills, but to be a self proclaimed fascist in order to attain that objective is repugnant. Recently I contemplated her response again and thought about it in context to the current political climate. It still horrifies me and I still fight against the dictates that her statement implies.

The Liberal Arts were conceived to educate citizens who could uphold the highest ideals of the Greek and Roman cultures.  Rhetoric, grammar, logic comprised the trivium and to these were added the quadrivium of arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy. Over the course of the centuries a liberal arts education has come to means something broader but it still indicates a course of study which seeks to inculcate a student to uphold the fundamental underpinning of a democratic society. The arts, especially the visual arts, play a role in embedding memory, culture and history into the minds of citizens.  The museum plays its part as well as the galleries, publications and criticism. The arts aspire to imagination, forward thinking, to uphold aesthetic ideals and keep sensitivity alert. This perhaps is why the first thing many dictators do is imprison the artists and poets. But art can also be fashioned into propaganda and can in itself become weighted down with rules and dictates. And apparently teaching art can become fascistic as well.

If we are to remain an open society we need to teach the creative process and embody  it as well in our teaching. I try to foster a creative environment in the studio along with emphasizing the discipline that learning an art form demands. Strangely, many art students do not feel creative. The striving to make something of merit often stifles the urge to begin. Creativity requires a certain amount of mess, of boredom, of play and practice in order to perform its magical alchemy. Rigid hierarchical formulae do not help to promote its appearance. We cannot be creative if we are being taught that conforming is the most important requirement.  This is why so many students feel that being creative is a rare gift rather than a natural outcome of their nature, too many years spent in graded, monitored, tested classrooms can kill off the ability to create. Often beginning students are intensely creative before fear and compliance knock them back into simply performing for others.

I stay in my job with pleasure, it keeps me involved in my passions and engaged with young clever minds. I teach drawing and painting but I also feel my job is to awaken students to their own nascent creativity. To engage in the creative process is to grow as a person and as a citizen of the world.  Within the beautiful environment of the Center with its multicultural milieu, with imaginative and intellectual activities and trusting relationships the creative is allowed to emerge.     :Jane Morris Pack

“Those persons, whom nature has endowed with genius and virtue, should be rendered by liberal education worthy to receive, and able to guard the sacred deposit of the rights and liberties of their fellow citizens; and . . . they should be called to that charge without regard to wealth, birth or other accidental condition or circumstance.” –Thomas Jefferson, 1779

Figure Drawing Workshop

19, July 2016 § Leave a comment

Jane Morris Pack

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Model in “Plane Suit”

Learning to draw the human figure is a challenge and demands a clear understanding of how to capture form.  It is also a difficult task to do in two weeks but the eight students attending the Intensive Summer Workshop did an amazing job of pulling it all together in a short time. We worked from the model for two hours every morning and then after lunch the projects included working in clay and drawing the bones and muscles. Learning to draw the basic geometric forms was given particular attention as they are the building blocks for all form.  We investigated perspective, built a clay head, foot, hand, nose and mouth.  The students traced their own proportions life size on paper and then added the skeleton and muscles to those drawings. On the final day, as a creative exercise, we hung paper cutouts onto a line and played lights over their forms to suggest movement.

Since drawing is such an intense activity we needed a few distractions to smooth the steep learning curve. One night was spent watching the stars appear from a vantage point high on the mountain after sunset, on another we had a wine tasting of six prominent Greek varietals, and lastly a full day was enjoyed on a wonderful boat trip around the neighbouring island of Antiparos. Thank you to all of my wonderful and enthusiastic students from whom I learn so much.

Annelise Grindheim’s Drama

10, July 2016 § 1 Comment

by: Jeffrey CarsonAegean Drama.jpg

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.

Annelis.jpg

Annalise Grindheim

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.

 

Summer Oil Painting Workshop 2016

30, June 2016 § 1 Comment

Jane Morris Pack explains the Impressionists assignment

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.

Chandler Davis [Detail]

Marketa Kemp

Alisha Mehta [Detail]

Erin Jones

Erin Jones

Drawing and Theatre

8, June 2016 § Leave a comment

By Jane Pack

Annelise teaches theatre at the Aegean Center and I teach figure drawing. This last semester she was taking my class and I was taking hers. We often heard our words to students echoing each other, she commented that I sounded like a theatre teacher and I frequently wanted to break in on her classes and exclaim, “The same applies to drawing!” Of course the arts are grouped for a reason, as creative endeavours each challenges the practitioner to move out of their comfort zone, to search for meaning, to communicate feeling. But drawing and acting seem to have a particular resonance with each other, similar vocabulary can be useful in each: gesture, rhythm, movement, weight, form, vision. And each requires intense concentration, a challenge to refresh and renew our approach each time, a thoughtful and deep presence. It has been said that drawing, of all the visual arts, is closest to pure thought. And acting has that same intensity, the need to be in continual focus or risk losing it all.

I urge students to challenge themselves to use new approaches for each drawing, to keep themselves from being bored with their own accomplishments. I teach craft and expression side by side, but push technique so that the students can think emotionally and still be outside those feelings enough to communicate them. In theatre one loses oneself in a role only when the self steps aside and allows the dramatic impulse of the playwright to come through. I found I was thinking almost like a draughtsman when I was crafting my role: what shape, what form, what movement, what rhythm. And the actress, Annelise, considering how a drawn gesture communicates tension, where the human form expresses emotion, what the speed of the line or its weight can do to change the depiction.

Each discipline has its magical storytelling moments, each includes the element of audience although that is profoundly more weighted in a performance on stage. Still, the draughtsman is performing too, the moment the pencil encounters the page. Most importantly, with practice and discipline, each art brings us closer to our unique self and wakes us up to the present.

Flaxseed Oil, Psyllium Husk, A Bit of Chalk, Oil Paint & Pinch of Risk…

27, March 2015 § 1 Comment

I wrote a few notes to myself at the beginning of this semester about what I expect from students in my classes. These include a desire that they engage deeply with their work, that they find ways to discuss their progress and their process. I want them to take more responsibility for their learning, to risk more and to be able to play with the material to allow spontaneity. I place similar demands on myself as an artist and an educator. This semester is no exception. I am introducing a new painting method which involves hand refined linseed oil and chalk. This method is somewhat complex at the beginning to explain but allows for more freedom and energy in the paint handling. I wondered what details I need to add and when and how they would adopt the information I was giving them. Would they be able to handle the complexities of the system?  All my energies are devoted to communicating clearly the nuances and the particulars.

I take a risk altering my teaching methods each semester. There are some moments that feel as though I were on a high wire without a net.  I prepare my lessons but go off in various directions as the moment takes me. I throw away the script and sometimes improvise wholesale.   I suppose all teachers with years of experience can do this but I have often felt that vertiginous drop in the lower stomach when you realize you are in free fall. But I am willing to take the chances and the students benefit. I’m not bored and hopefully neither are they.

Hand refined oil and chalk as additions to painting have been researched by Louis Velasquez and Tad Spurgeon, each of whom have valuable insights into this historical method. It involves purifying the organic flax seed oil with alcohol and using psyllium husks to hold and retain the mucilage which is released from the oil. I have been playing with it for just about a year and I find it redefines oil painting.  It requires some investment in time for the preparation of the oil but speeds up the painting process considerably as the oil dries quickly and with great body and gloss. It creates effects which resemble early master works which I have been unable to achieve with modern manufactured paint.  I felt it was worth the extra work and effort to introduce this new paint to students.   As it is my first semester doing so, I await their results before I can judge. The risk will probably pay off, but at any rate allowing the students to watch me take the risk could be just as instructive.RefinedOil

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