Which Ancient Philosopher Are You?
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
Raphael & 北斎
15, August 2017 § Leave a comment
Raphael’s Drawings: at the Ashmolean & Hokusai: Beyond the Great Wave
At the end of the session this last spring John and I traveled to England to spend a few days in Oxford. We went to see a show of Raphael’s drawings at the Ashmolean, a collection of over hundred and twenty of his original works of art. Drawing exhibitions are far and few between and I was particularly anxious to see this one because Raphael’s draftsmanship is extraordinary and difficult to find and see in person.
It has been said that drawing, within the visual arts, holds the position of being closest to pure thought. (Elderfield) In this sense the drawings allow us to see inside Raphael’s mind as he composed images which would evolve into paintings, frescoes and tapestries. His exploratory line and his imaginative thought process are clearly on view in these works. You feel him working through ideas, expressing emotion with a variety of poses and exploring specific narratives. His drawings are derived from models, imagination, and sometimes from memory. What struck me most was the delicacy and fineness of his workmanship, the exquisite details and the accuracy of his line, his potent understanding of how light describes form. I learned that he often used a stylus to sketch out the preliminary form on the paper before beginning the drawing. This was called a blind line because it did not leave a mark. The drawing was then refined with either metal-point, red chalk, or charcoal. Exploring the spiraling tensions and revealing a staggering knowledge of anatomy he amplified the composition with interlocking negative space and groupings of figures. He was able to reveal the emotional quality of the figures with a minimum of information, sometimes showing only the back of a head or a gesture of the hand to communicate the mood. With rhythm, geometry, and poetry of line his drawings become a testament to the human form as an expression of life force.
On the way back to Athens we stopped in London and were lucky enough to see the exhibition “Hokusai: Beyond the Great Wave” at the British Museum. This artist’s encyclopedic knowledge of nature is on show with many drawings done with ink and brush, woodblock and illustrated books. Again I was struck by the detail and careful renderings, the delicacy of his work. I think it was Ruskin who said that in fine art there must be something “fine” and I thought once again, looking at Hokusai, that perhaps this is something we’re missing in much of contemporary art. It seems that the muscular, the shocking and the mundane have more value to us than careful observation and recording of form which is so lovingly revealed in these masterworks. Although the artists lived two and a half centuries apart and on two different continents, although they depict two different cultures, there are common elements to their work. Both artists express the inexpressible through the twisting forms of human anatomy, pushing to discover at some level our common humanity and our extraordinary capacity to endure. Meticulous, patient observation combined with imagination and the desire to reveal truth is the binding principle that brings these two artists forward into our world with enduring quality.
Jane Morris Pack
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
Seven 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
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 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.
Summer Oil Painting Workshop 2016
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.
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.
Slow Photography at the Aegean Center
20, November 2012 § 1 Comment
Sunday’s large format class. In Lisa Nam’s photo above, Emily Eberhart is adjusting to f 22 on our sweet and plumbed 1958 Deardorff with Piera Bochner assisting; soon to be loaded with Ilford FP4 for a carefully pre-visualized and crafted Zone Exposure.
The students very quickly grasp the concept that working with a view camera is indeed slow photography and very much a practice of meditation compared to the click-whirr hand-held reality, especially when using a tripod mounted 8 x 10.
The Aegean Center continues to value and teach the gelatin silver process. Of course part of an in-depth understanding of silver based film photography is knowledge of its history, process, tools and equipment. I believe the experience with Slow Photography is enormously important and crucial to teaching the craft, more so now than ever in this digital age of 32+ gig memory cards and hyper-active digital capture.
I am not intending this to be a negative assessment of digital photography, (those of you who are familiar with the Aegean Center know we have an excellent digital course and state-of the-art digital lab) . I do, however, want to make the point that experience with Slow Photography is important to the true understanding of the aesthetics of photography in general.
A snap by, Anvitha Pillai, of John adjusting for the challenging backlit portrait of our faithful and smiling Hygou as John chants, “Place and fall…Place and fall…!”