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.

Students in Our Villa Garden ItalyOur 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.

Epicurus.jpgEpicurus

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.”

IMG_2319.JPGFiligree 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.

Spring Flowers & Jane '19.jpgYellow & 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.

Raphael 1

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.

Hokusai 1

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

Raphael Study - Fighting sceneHokusai 3Hokusai 2Raphael 2

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

Where Am I?

You are currently browsing the Fine Art category at The Chronicle.