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
14, March 2016 § 1 Comment
Clean Monday, Καθαρά Δευτέρα, is celebrated today here in Greece. It is the first day of Lent when the faithful begin 40 days of fasting in preparation for Easter.
Traditional foods are served which emphasis austerity and deprivation to echo the fasting of Christ in the desert. In Paros the devout eat pickles, food without oil, and animal flesh only without blood such as kalimari and octopus. Eggs, dairy and meat are absent from the table. These rules make sense for an agricultural society which must protect the brooding chickens and the young goats and cows so as to assure the next generation. There will be kite flying and family picnics if the weather is good, being out of doors allows us to witness a burgeoning spring with the world returning to abundance and production after the winter’s hush. Here on the island we have a winter that is most gentle and verdant, the deprivations others face with cold and snow are less known to us. We watch the re-emergence of new leaves on the deciduous trees resembling butterflies emerging from their chrysalis. We observe the prancing young goats and lambs. We contemplate the new growth which is all around making us aware of the cycles of nature, potent harbingers of life and rebirth.
Greeks are asked to give up luxuries during this time. Many people no longer conform to the strict diets but I feel there is something important about denying ourselves our indulgences. We grow accustomed to having far more than is necessary for our existence. Every year I try to find something which I think I need but which is not essential to my survival and give it up for 40 days. I have denied myself at various times chocolate, coffee, wine and sweets. None of these posed a particular problem for me. Far more difficult was the challenge to give up complaining which I did not manage. This year I have decided to quit looking at the daily news feed in the mornings. I find it wastes at least one to two hours of time that I would otherwise fill with more imaginative pursuits. Beginning every morning with the anxious headlines is addictive but not ultimately uplifting or productive. Perhaps I will simply sit with my coffee and dream, with luck I will begin a creative project. And so my yearly fast begins.
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
10, February 2012 § 4 Comments
From my Calendar Daybook
The previous few Chronicle entries from Jun and Jane were hailing the wonderful art seen during our winter break. I am here now to extol the art of the almond tree in my front garden.
We have been blessed with more rain and the landscape continues to green on Paros. The barley fields are full of tender green shoots that will grow hip deep to further saturate the landscape with a mix of terra verte and cadmium green. Pink Campion and deep golden-orange Calendula are beginning to carpet the terraced fields and soon the wild Gladiolas will appear along the stone terrace walls. The wildflowers cometh.
The almond trees are also blooming! Like a great ball of exploding white confetti; constellations of bright stars descending upon their branches; they dazzle.
This vision calls to mind the wild Dogwoods I remember from the Ozark Mountain forests in the early spring. One stands at the edge of the thick deciduous woodland and there floating in the complex thicket and tangle of the understorey are bright points of white light, hovering and ever so slightly quaking with any breeze that can penetrate the wood as deeply as your vision. Etherial and fine, almost fairy like, butterflies fluttering, Dogwood blossoms in the leafless forest, the myth of the Dark Wood and the promise of Light..the first affirmation of spring.
Under the hardwood canopy of the Ozarks the floating blossoms were subtle; mysterious. On Paros, the almond trees explode…they erupt. They are not merely a promise of Spring but an insistence; a command…