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, October 2016 § 2 Comments
By: Jun-Pierre Shiozawa
The past month the Aegean Center for the Fine Arts marked the 28th year of its Italy program. The new group of students arrived in early September at the Villa Rospigliosi, the Aegean Center’s home in Italy. Up in the hills overlooking the Tuscan city of Pistoia, the students became accustomed to life at the Villa; classes throughout the day including drawing, photography, writing and theatre, and sharing prepared meals by the Villa chefs, who have been with the Center since the very first years.
The bulk of the Italy program involves touring the great centers of the Italian Renaissance, including Florence, Siena, Venice, Pisa, Pistoia, Rome and for the first time ever for the Aegean Center, Bologna.
In Florence, the Center was able to visit the newly reopened Museum of the Works of the Duomo featuring a new layout which recreates the facade of the Cathedral with original sculptures set in niches. We toured through the great churches and museums of Florence including the Bargello and the Uffizi. As always, the Brancacci Chapel in the church of Santa Maria del Carmine was a highlight of the tours in Florence. Inside the chapel the group was able to enjoy thirty minutes to themselves to study and admire the great fresco masterpieces of Massacio and Masolino.
On one rainy day, our bus brought us through the Tuscan hills to Siena, where we were fortunately greeted with clearer skies and sunshine. The Cathedral of Siena was less crowded than usual and we were able to admire its incredible array of sculpture and decor, its fascinating floors and the colorful Piccolimini library.
During our second week in Italy, the Aegean Center visited Venice for three days. Upon arriving, art history professor Jeffrey Carson led the tour through the Piazza San Marco and up in to the Basilica of San Marco to see the original bronze horses, taken from the hippodrome of Constantinople. The next day the Aegean Center toured the great painting museum of Venice, the Accademia and found some of our old favorites, works by Giovanni Bellini, Giorgione, and Titian.
After returning to Venice we continued our tours through Tuscany with a visit to Pisa where we enjoyed a bright sunny day in the “Piazza dei Mirocoli,” (the Plaza of Miracles) with its beautiful marble faced buildings: the Cathedral of Pisa, its baptistery, the Campo Santo and of course, the Leaning Tower. In the baptistery, Studio Arts professor Jane Pack described the innovative work of Nicola Pisano’s pulpit and we were able to hear the incredible acoustics of the baptistery interior as one of the guards made a call in to its dome which echoed with his own response.
The Aegean Center visited Bologna for the first time as well. The home of the oldest university in the world, Bologna welcomed us in its rich array of historical and religious centers, including the Basilicas of San Petronio and San Domenico. Although we were unable to see Giambologna’s Fountain of Neptune (under restoration) and Raphael’s Ectasy of St. Cecilia (currently on loan for the Pushkin Museum’s “Raphael. The Poetry of the Image” exhibition) we were taken by the austere beauty of the medieval and premedieval church complex of Santo Stefano and the energy of the city itself.
The Aegean Center students enjoyed our last meal at the Villa Rospigiliosi and thanked the Villa chefs with a thank you card and applause. Saying farewell to the Villa is always bittersweet, a mixture of sadness and excited anticipation with what lays ahead: Rome and finally Greece!
In Rome, director John Pack led the students through a winding tour of Rome’s downtown. John took the students through its famous piazzas, complete with stops for Granita di Cafe in front of the Pantheon and a trip up the Capitoline hill to view over the ancient Roman forum. The next day Jane led the group through the magical Palazzo Massimo to see its treasures including the bronze Pugilist, the dying Niobid and the lovely garden frescoes from the Villa Livia. Finally on our last day in Rome the Aegean Center woke up at the crack of dawn to visit the Vatican museum and where we had the Sistine Chapel all to ourselves, entering before any other group. We all gasped at Michelangelo’s achievements, awestruck and moved.
Rome marked the final leg of the Aegean Center’s Italian tour and the students then departed for Athens. There, under the characteristically bright Greek sunlight, art history Jeffrey Carson led the students up to the Acropolis to see the monument to the magnificence of the Ancient Athenians: The Parthenon. That night, one of the students, Aria Higgins, invited the entire Aegean Center to dine at her family restaurant, Mama Roux. The last day of touring before the students’ arrival in Paros was at the greatest museum of ancient Greek antiquities in the world, the National Archaeological Museum of Athens.
Now the students have all arrived in Paros, to settle in and prepare for the classes ahead. We are all excited to see what else will be accomplished with this close knit, energetic and talented group of students.
Thank you very much to Bruno-Ken Shiozawa for the use of his photographs for this post
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.
21, October 2014 § 4 Comments
by Jane Morris Pack
The 25th anniversary of the Italian Session now underway at The Aegean Center has been a delightful and rich experience for all of the faculty and students. In September, we arrived in Italy to find that our villa above the town of Pistoia had recently been restored to its original appearance and the 16th century painted trompe l’oeil facade on the garden side has been redone. The painted elements enhanced the plain walls with illusionistic stone work and invented windows. The paint echoes the front of the building but does not coincide with all the actual windows on the back. This use of illusion to provoke symmetry even when it does not exist was questioned by some of the students who could not understand why the paint and the architecture do not coincide. But the tradition of illusionistic painting to achieve perfection is a long standing practice in Italy. There are many false windows and arches painted on buildings to balance design.
We had the additional treat of watching the restoration painters demonstrate for us the painting technique. The Bellini family of artists, father and sons, follow a long tradition of painters using techniques which date back hundreds of years. The straight lines were drawn using a simple stick held against the wall and a sure hand in the artisan. The paint was mixed in clear divisions for the highlight, basic tone and three shadow values. As we watched, a three dimensional frame appeared before us, simply and carefully constructed by the master painter. It was fascinating to observe and humbling to understand his command of his craft. As he put on the final paint to represent the cast shadow, the frame seemingly lifted off the wall into the third dimension. We were delighted to have this firsthand insight into the time honored craft of illusionistic perspective painting.
5, September 2013 § 3 Comments
When one first sees the piazza of the Duomo of Florence it is too immense and textured to take in. Many tourists experience the city just this way, as a blur of color and moving masses of people. With our knowledgeable guide and teacher, Jeffrey Carson, we strive to go beyond the superficial and delve into the individual elements that make up this wondrous architectural monument. Students are invited to compare the three doors of the Baptistery, understand the Byzantine mosaic interior, feel the historical significance of the dome and understand the origin of the patterning on the exterior surfaces. Lunch at one of the many cafes gives us energy to continue and then sculpture and architecture are once again our concerns.
2, September 2013 § 3 Comments
The Aegean Center Fall 2013 Italy Session is just beginning as the summer winds down and the school children ready themselves for another year of study. Twenty four students will arrive in the next few days to join the five faculty in a three week stay in the Villa Rospigliosi in Pistoia, Italy. We are excited to view our favourite art works, to taste the creamy gelato and to wander the medieval streets of places like Siena and Pisa. Of course the food at the villa never fails to please us and the garden is enchanted once again as John connects the pump and the stone fountain flows musically into the pond. We have a special treat coming up as the Accademia in Venice is hosting an exhibition of Leonardo drawings. It has been thirty years since some of these drawings have been shown to the public. We look forward to welcoming the new group and having them share the experience.
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,
19, October 2011 § 1 Comment
The group of fall students have been in Paros for nearly two weeks now. Last Friday we hiked to the far valley beyond Lefkes and then returned to eat at Flora’s on the hillside overlooking Naxos on the horizon. The last few days we had torrential rains that flooded the streets and thunder crackled overhead. Classes are all underway and some readjustments are being made in schedules, what to pursue, what to drop. Everyone seems busy and determined to excel.
Italy was hot but we kept up a steady pace seeing museums and churches. Gelato was sampled and discussed and coffee took on an elevated status. The meals at the villa were always noisy and satisfying, the garden beautiful but the mosquitos fierce. We drew large perspective studies in the old chapel, photographed the fountain, sang acapella, and listened to Monteverdi.
Paros is welcoming and small in comparison to the grandeur of Rome and Athens but easy to negotiate and familiar. We have settled in, becoming a bit more independent of the group. The Greek economy may be in ruins but island life seems little changed. The beauty of the sea and the sky give us longer vistas to contemplate.
15, May 2010 § Leave a comment
The Aegean Center has been featured in the Summer Issue of Creo Magazine. The author, Silvia Viñas, wanted to highlight a student’s firsthand experience at the Center and chose Shanoor Seervai, a student fall 2009 Italy-Greece Session, to interview. (Shanoor, we miss you!)