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
13, October 2016 § 2 Comments
An advertising professional based in Dubai, Aanchal Sethi is currently taking a sabbatical to attend the Aegean Center’s fall semester. Here is a post from Aanchal’s own blog, reposted here in full with Aanchal’s permission.
Rebirth in Italy
I stand in the corner of the dining room with a champagne glass in hand listening intently to the toast Jane is making. My eyes, trying to hide the tears that are developing look deeply into the bubbles that surround the rim of the class. My heart, open and full, speaks to the smile that forms on my lips.
25, August 2016 § Leave a comment
By: Jane Pack
Dimitra Skandali is showing recent work at The Aegean Center this summer in her first show since she was a student here many years ago. She is from Paros but now lives and works in San Francisco. She has participated in many international exhibitions. Her website can be viewed here: http://www.dimitraskandali.com/
I imagine this story. Dimitra is walking the shore near San Francisco when a bit of drifted seaweed caught in the sea foam pulls her mind toward Paros. In this expansive space she feels herself to be part of a larger whole. She has come to America to attend graduate school but certainly whatever California offers it isn’t the peaceful calm of Paros in winter. She may have felt alone and displaced for some time after arriving, before the schedule of classes and studios acquired a rhythm to dull the ache for home. I imagine this story because my experience was similar when I left America for a life in Paros over 25 years ago. I too looked for small reminders of the familiar while delighting in the extravagance of the new. Our journeys echo one another’s although we switched places, our paths overlapping for just enough time to recognise each other as fellow travellers.
When one is in a new environment, in a different country from one’s birth, the everyday small occurrences are the ones which pull you up sharply and make you feel an alien, the choice of breakfast foods or the way people queue or don’t. It often comes to perceived differences in manners, knowing when to shake hands or when to exchange kisses. But feeling outside a community can be an advantage as well. We feel immune to social forces, stand outside of society’s demands. In Paros I feel freedom from the small defeats that my parents and teachers may have inadvertently put on me. Whether they implied that a goal was beyond my social standing or that a neighbour might look askance. But in Paros I am excluded from this social weight. I am not Greek so the rules don’t apply. I believe that Dimitra’s success may hinge on a similar impulse. Standing outside the game one sees the rules more clearly. She has taken the best that American education has to offer and she has run with it. Her successes and her show record attest to the conviction that hard work and dedication give results. She has often spoken to me about how much more difficult that same progress would be for her here in her own country.
Dimitra’s work speaks of transitions and patterns, juxtapositions which trigger new thoughts. Her use of natural materials echo the smells and sounds of the sea, of the Aegean, of the Pacific. The rooms full of seaweed invite us to feel the ocean swells but also admire the handiwork of traditional crafts in the in the crocheted strands. Delicacy and energy, it is this combination which strikes us.
Dimitra was my student over 20 years ago. She has since long surpassed my mentoring and has made a name for herself in the international art world. Her return to the Aegean Center for this exhibition coincides with the 50th anniversary of the school. I can’t think of a more fitting tribute to our mission than to have this exhibition by a Parian, a former student and who has gone on to succeed in America and beyond. What I experienced coming to Greece and the similar feelings that Dimitra has translated into her art epitomize the education we provide at the Aegean Center. The strength of the experience at the Center comes from a combination of dedicated teachers and the disorienting effects of living in an unfamiliar environment. The mind opens up, the habitual patterns are broken and the teacher has only to ask the questions which lead the student on to new ground. The subsequent shift in consciousness helps us to see within ourselves and tap into the creative spirit.
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.
3, June 2016 § 1 Comment
The fiftieth anniversary of the Aegean Center prompted us to create an alumni residency program this spring. Seven students have returned to share some time with us over the past weeks, each bringing a new perspective to the current group of students, sharing their work and their stories since leaving the school and inspiring us with their adventures.
Holly Lynton, now a fine art photographer, shared her work with us three weeks ago. Holly was a student at the Aegean Center in 1992. Her work has been evolving along certain themes: ecology and sustainability, people working in concert with nature, and documenting disappearing ways of life. Her work, both black and white and color, reveals forgotten or lost aspects of the rural American worker. We will look forward to another visit in the future for an update on her work. For more images please see her website: http://www.hollylynton.com
Claire Huffman was a student just last fall and has been backpacking through the Far East since her departure. She spent her two weeks here painting, making books and attending classes. We were all impressed with what she accomplished in such a short time, including three paintings and more than a half dozen books. She will attend the University of Pennsylvania in the fall.
Jessie Parks gave an impressive lecture just a few days ago on her odyssey through Kurdistan photographing the refugee crisis and life in the migrant camps. She is still editing her work as she came directly to Paros after her sojourn there. We saw a wonderful selection of images and heard of the hardships as well as the joys of these people caught in the crossfire. Jessie was a student in the fall session of 2011, we remember her for the wonderful photos she did of the nuns at Thapsana. Her work can be seen at: http://www.jessieparks.com
We are also very happy to have Ashley Cudderford with us. She has been very supportive of the school and is here working in the digital lab and renewing her acquaintance with the island. The same can be said for Valerie Jorgensen who is also working with her photography again and plans to stay for another week.
We enjoyed a visit from Lis Carney and Lily Barberich several weeks back who both made innumerable monoprints, joined classes and felt they were home again. They attended different sessions at the Center in the past but became friends once they met in New York where they both live. This was their first time spending time together on the island. They made a presentation of their work to the book making class before their departure. Lis works as a freelance photographer in New York. Lily works as an interior designer and has her work on: http://cargocollective.com/lilybarberich/watercolors
All of our alumni are special, we love your loyalty to the school and your support. We hope to see many more of you over the next years in residencies.
27, May 2016 § Leave a comment
Judy Voboril passed away on May 20th in Paros, Greece. She was born in Prague, Czechoslovakia in 1943 and fled her country during the Russian invasion in 1968. Italy accepted her as a refugee and she stayed in Rome for one and a half years before being given asylum in America. She lived in Los Angeles for ten years working as a graphic designer then returned to Europe in 1979 living in Paros for many years, painting full time. After the collapse of the Soviet Union she returned to Prague in 1991 for the first time since it had fallen under Communist rule. She lived in a home beneath the Castle which was close to her former home. Judy was an painter who worked in oils, acrylics and watercolour as well as being a superb draughtsman. She worked with the Aegean Center every year as a translator during the September stay in Italy. She came to love Italy when, as a young art student, she went to Florence to be a part of an international team to help recover art works damaged in the terrible flood of 1966.
Judy, Giuditta, or Jitka as we variously called her, was an important part of the Aegean Center as well as our personal lives. Her presence with the school every September in Italy was vital to its operation as she smoothed every aspect of running the program there from talking with the cooks to translating the official speeches of the Mayor’s receptions. Her sense of humour and her honesty were admired and valued by all of us. It was these qualities of her character we counted on to see us through the demanding weeks we spent in Italy every year. Her sophisticated understanding of Italian culture and art taught us how to negotiate the terrain and to know what was important, what was vital and what was hidden beyond the text book versions of the art and culture we saw. She often surprised us with her profound insights into things as her quiet demeanour hid the depth of her feelings and breadth of her knowledge. Italy aside, Judy was family to us here on Paros as well. We had a closeness that was rare to discover among those not related by birth, she was a sister in our hearts.
Gabriel Pack knew and loved Judy. In a recent conversation he described quite eloquently how Judy influenced his life in many positive ways. He spoke of how he enjoyed her forthright and curious nature, “She spoke her mind, didn’t suffer fools gladly, but was never mean spirited. She understood who she was and didn’t let negative experiences cloud her enjoyment of life… I learned a lot from Judy, a lot about life.” Well said, Gabriel. And, O, how clearly in our minds’ eye we can see her wry smile when she quietly endured an “idiot”; her proud eloquent posture and that long blond twist of hair always adorning her straight back.
Judy was an avid and discerning reader, a wonderful artist, a true friend and a generous spirit. Judy was so many things with so much wisdom about life and how one might live it well, no matter the adversity or hardship one must pass through along the way.
We will miss her terribly.
-John and Jane Pack
JITKA VOBORIL By Jeffrey Carson
My wife and I first met Judy several decades ago, a day or two after she arrived on Paros. She lived near us and so we often met. This was often on the beach of Parasporos, where she used to sunbathe and read contemporary fiction in three languages. In those days the beach undulated with sand dunes, and hosted few people; there was no road, and the long path there wended its way through a wet meadow fluttering with little blue butterflies. Judy was easy to talk to, knew a lot about culture, especially art of all periods, but also literature and film. She was a dedicated and successful artist herself.
One quality in her that I came more and more to appreciate was her nearly infallible ability to spot what was genuine in both art and persons, and what inauthentic. Where I might dismiss an artist for good reasons, she would see quickly why he painted, and praise it. If people were highfalutin and lacked this genuineness, she dismissed them easily, even acerbically. Did this lose her friends? Not at all; she had many dozens of friends, and those who met her more briefly remembered her – she had personality.
When a friend dies, there are certain conversations you can no longer have, and a mode of communication has gone. Now we have lost her I am especially having these conversations in my mind, for she was an original. Our common friend Lisa Dart, a poet, wrote me, “She was a lovely person. Vital, passionate and intense. I liked her fierceness, her big smile, mischievousness, her upright walk and the way that lovely plait lengthened her back. I can imagine how you and Liz must be feeling at such a loss. I hadn’t realised you had known her so long. And, I think there’s no way to figure out getting used to loss and remaining alive, human.”
I think none of us wants to get used to her loss, for so many of us were strengthened in our thoughts and sentiments through knowing her.
Judy in Pistoia at our favorite osteria, la Botte Gaia
6, April 2016 § Leave a comment
By: Jane Pack
“The geometer’s aim therefore, is to imitate the universe symbolically, depicting its central paradox by bringing together shapes of different geometric orders, uniting them as simply and accurately as possible and thus creating a cosmic image.”
The Ancient Greeks have long been admired for their geometry. The tools of the trade of the Greek geometers were the compass and straightedge. Yet the simplest puzzle, drawing a square of equal area to a given circle forever eluded the greatest of Greek minds. Only in 1882 after 2,400 years of attempts the task of squaring the circle with compass and straightedge was proven impossible.
Before the Greeks, Egyptians had been building pyramids and measuring the land with pegs and knotted ropes. So, given that the word geo-metry literally means ‘earth measurement, what if we reverted to the tools of the Egyptians to draw our circles and squares upon the earth?
In 2013 my students and I decided to draw out this problem on the beach following a diagram illustrated in Jon Allen’s book, “Drawing Geometry”. Then this year I was contacted by a mathematician from Australia named Jonathan Crabtree who read my previous post with great interest. Jonathan’s vision was to have his simple solution for squaring the circle drawn on Greek sand in honour of Archimedes. Legend has it that Archimedes, author of “The Sand Reckoner”, may have been drawing circles in the sand at the time of his death at the hand of a Roman soldier. Jonathan wondered, “Could Archimedes have been squaring the circle?”