14, November 2011 § 1 Comment
My junior year of high school, I realized that I needed to change. It began with the unnerving sense that I was following a trajectory of always looking forward to what comes next (next week, next assignment, next form of schooling) without being able to revel in my present moment. I was a student who would stay up working until 12:30 at night and then wake up at 5:00 the next morning to do more work for days on end. I loved school. I was hungry for the knowledge but the pressure I felt to succeed, to achieve, to excel beyond expectations was forcing me into a corner and my body couldn’t handle what I demanded of it. I was exhausted, getting sick all the time, and worst of all, time was whizzing by. At the rate I was going, I felt like I was racing for something, but I couldn’t say what it was.
I knew I had to take a gap year before college because I wanted so desperately to stop everything and look at life from a new angle. I wanted the time and space to immerse myself in my passions in totality and to strive to perfect them. To be surrounded by creativity that would inspire me to bring out my own. It feels somewhat surreal how perfect the Aegean Center is turning out to be for those needs.
Stepping into my new world, I found that the changes occurred naturally. I started writing in a word document on my computer called “My happiness project” multiple times a day and jotted down random thoughts, quotes, and sketches in journals. I vowed to stay off of Facebook and my quality of life swelled immediately. I gave some long and hard thought to the concept of generosity, and finally figured it out in full what I assumed I had known all my life; share everything and the world will be even more beautiful! I started listening to podcasts about energy healing and stopped wearing shoes most of the time. I’m not exaggerating… I found peace.
Perhaps the most surprising thing about all of this is how much work I am actually doing. Hours are spent in my painting studio, the music room practicing arias, vocal exercises and breath technique, in my apartment writing short stories or sitting somewhere outside, drawing for Jun’s Basic Drawing Class assignments. The difference is that it doesn’t feel like work. In fact, I dropped the phrase “getting work done” in my mind altogether, because now I know it’s not about being finished with something. Rather, it is about the moments that go into creation. When I stopped seeing the final result as being the objective, I learned to feel where I was, what I was doing, to feel my process, feel the present moment.
I stopped eating as fast as I could. Stopped editing my creative writing with the intention of pleasing any eyes but my own. Stopped scribbling down schedules for myself planned down to the minute. I slowed down. I started doing stretches and laughter yoga every day. Miraculously, I somehow had more than enough room in the day for what I wanted to do. Without Facebook or TV shows or texting, I found that I was incapable of wasting time. Whether my moments went into drawing in my sketchbook, cooking for my friends, sleeping, having a conversation with someone face to face, or standing silently and feeling myself breathe, I was living in a way that was healing and refreshing. I finally felt that I owned my actions and that I was doing everything for myself.
Early on, there was that inkling of dread in the back of my mind that said this was all too good to be true. Maybe I could live my months in bliss here, but ultimately I would go back home and feel once again swallowed by deadlines, checklists, and the saying my mother learned from her days of pastry chef school playing in my head to “move with a sense of urgency.” But as the days have unfurled and I keep getting happier and happier, less and less stressed, that sense of panic I felt looses its hold. To the questions that I have been asking myself from the moment I stepped into the Villa Rospigliosi in Pistoia: “Why can’t real life be like this? Why can’t creativity govern me all the time?” I suddenly dare to answer “It can.”
24, October 2011 § Leave a comment
It’s hard to believe that three weeks have already come and gone here on Paros. Italy seems a distant memory as classes begin to unfold and the students settle into their work. Despite busy schedules, enthusiasm remains high both in and out of the classroom.
Each of us is here for a different reason, trying to figure out our own path in life. Though we are ultimately here for ourselves, a sense of family has formed among the students and, with that, an understanding and growing respect for one another.
For me, this term hasn’t gone at all what I had expected. I have been forced to look at myself in a new light, one that doesn’t allow me to shy away from the uncomfortable realities of my shortcomings and gifts. The importance of learning about the self is emphasized just as strongly as expanding academic knowledge and artistic skill, as well as the appreciation and understanding of nature and our surroundings. At times the island is just as much a teacher as the rest of the faculty, and its wisdom is revealed in different ways each week, particularly on the hikes. Being immersed in nature with no distractions other than Earth itself feeds the soul in a way nothing else can.
To continue John’s ongoing countdown, one more week of classes lies ahead before we enter break and the term quietly passes the halfway point. But for now all we can do is live in the moment – take in the light, embrace the weather, and continue working diligently.
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.
11, August 2011 § 7 Comments
As Paros is an island, you’ve got to take a boat. I didn’t immediately realize the significance of this until I was on board the ferry and motoring away from the hazy landmass of Athens. Out in the middle of the Aegean– long, long before the sea appeared to me as brushstroke washes of ultramarine blue and viridian green– I felt as though I was not only traveling but emigrating.
Surely I knew what I had signed up for: I wasn’t leaving an impoverished, famine stricken land carrying all my portable property for a chance at a better life on Paros. I was vacationing from New York City to learn how to paint. Yet, there was a palpably different feeling to this trip.
Our incredible professor (and my friend of some years from Minnesota), Jun-Pierre Shiozawa, collected us individually from the ferry port as we arrived. We were taken to our quarters, a small set of apartments only 200 paces from the sea. I was shown the cafe in town were we would receive our free student meals. I was shown where to shop for our own groceries. I was shown where to walk to reach the classroom. I was even taught the particularities of the Greek toilet. These basic instructions heightened my sense of emigration. I wouldn’t only be taught how to paint, I would be shown how to live.
During our first classroom session we had received an outline detailing our expected arrival time for each day, the topic to be covered during the day’s class, and the start time and subject of the evening lecture. Still, many details were omitted– would we paint indoors or on excursion? If we are going out, where are we going? What will we be painting? Can we choose what to paint? The intentional vagary bothered some of our fellow students. Answers to these questions were occasionally demanded. I was exhilarated.
Each day unfolded magnificently. Early in the morning we had time to do as we pleased. I would wake early to take a dip in the sea, sketch or paint, and take a walk to town for a fresh baked spanikopita or Greek yogurt with honey. Classroom time was dynamic. Jun-Pierre would instruct on a topic of focus and provide a variety of hands-on exercises. For example, on the class period focusing on color Jun had us create a variety of color wheels using a particular color family and using a variety of wet and dry brush techniques. After creating these wheels he had us wash over them with various colors to understand their effects. We would break from one in the afternoon until four-thirty. We could do whatever we wanted during the break. Many of us chose to eat lunch at our designated cafe, Cafe Distrato. Some of us would then swim, shop, or nap. Often for the resumption of class we would take an excursion to someplace on the island such as a superlatively beautiful hillside, monastery, or windmill overlooking sea and rock where we would practice applying the day’s classroom instruction. In the evening there was often an optional lecture offered by a professor at the Aegean Center. Night would mean dinner on our own, perhaps a final night swim under moonlight and then sleep. Sleep! The kind of sleep that comes quickly to those who are satisfied, exhausted, and content to be lulled by soft breezes and the sound of the sea.
After our second week of studying, exploring, and tasting something wonderful happened. We were more relaxed, our personalities had settled in to one another. I gathered the distinct sense that it became less about what we expected from the class and more about being able to absorb everything we were being offered. Our work reflected this. Our conversations and deportment reflected this. We had a rhythm and a little livelihood on Paros, no matter how transitory. Rather sadly, following our student show it was time to leave.
We came by boat and we left by boat. New York and the old life were calling. It was time to strip myself of my Greek sandals and my responsibly cultivated tan to once again return to pushing my plow through fields of ones and zeros. And after so much! I had eaten incredible locally grown food. I had mastered zigzagging from shadow to shadow in order to avoid the summer sun. I had learned how to draw, to paint, to see. Now, it was time to return. I may not always have fresh urchin roe, but I’m forever changed. I know because I did not merely visit, I had emigrated– even if it was only temporary.
The ferry approaches on the horizon. Hot people queue haphazardly in bunches, luggage awkwardly in tow. Up until the last moments there are kind words, embraces, and well wishing. It is unlike air travel: the airline security acting as a hermetic seal between your destination and airport-land and all airport-lands connected by flying tubes of recycled air. With air travel you enter on one side of the tube and come out uncomfortably on the other. This produces an illusion that destinations belong to differing neighborhoods within a grand scale world-metropolis. Objects seem closer than they appear. Traveling by boat is different. Up on the deck of the boat you can see the land and your loved ones standing there, all getting smaller and receding slowly into the distance. They recede just as slowly as the thought, wouldn’t it be great if I could stay forever?
30, May 2011 § 1 Comment
Some important things I have learned since being at the Aegean Center, in no particular order.
by Jacklyn Massari
- Jun-Pierre is capable of making up songs about anything.
- Don’t ever underestimate the Aegean Center staff even for a SECOND. You will feel stupid for doing so.
- Talk to Jeffrey. He’s a bundle of wise information and advice of the best kind.
- Jane Pack uses teaching techniques that will BLOW.YOUR.MIND.
- Go on the “John Pack Friday Hikes” no matter how tired or sick you may feel. They are rejuvenating.
- Don’t ever think you are too advanced to take a basic drawing class. Because you’re not.
- If you don’t go to Delos, you are a fool.
- If you don’t sit in on one of Liz’s Photo History classes, you are also a fool.
- If you don’t go to John Pack’s color lecture, you are definitely a fool.
- Don’t ever draw from photographs unless you are using them as a reference.
- Walk slow on the marble when it’s wet, especially if you are wearing flip flops.
- Be openminded. You will discover so much about yourself.
- Ask Jun-Pierre to critique your paintings as much as possible. He has extremely valuable things to say, so be sure to milk him for all he’s worth.
- Always do your work study chores. OR ELSE.
- The Aegean Center is the only place where you can find one professor successfully illustrating the Illiad, and another figuring out a way to make The Matrix into a musical.
- Most importantly, don’t be afraid to ask questions. About anything.
19, May 2011 § 2 Comments
by Stephanie Dissette
Paros is a small island, Paroikia a small town, and The Aegean Center a small school. I see the same thirty faces every day, and when I don’t see one of them in the course of the day, it strikes me as both strange and somewhat unsettling. I don’t have internet access at my fingertips every second either, so any time I do spend online communicating with the outside world is a deliberate decision and a scheduled part of my day. These are all things that I actually like about being here – I appreciate the intimacy of a small community. Still, when major things are happening outside of my small world, it’s easy to feel distant and separate in an uncomfortable way – how can I participate in our whole world from Paros?
When this last tsunami and earthquake hit Japan, the “Great East Japan Earthquake” as it is formally titled, I was hiking through the beautiful landscape of a Greek island. That weekend, I wasn’t on the internet once. It wasn’t until the next Monday, sitting in our regular Monday Meeting, that I heard about this disaster. If I hadn’t realized how small my world was, how small I was before, that earthquake certainly put everything into perspective. How could anyone not be affected by that news, by those images, by the suffering of humanity? And the number one question remains, what can any of us do?
That week Jane Pack told us the story of Sadako Sasaki. In August of 1945, the atomic bomb was dropped in Japan near Sadako’s home. Ten years later, she was diagnosed with leukemia, hospitalized, and told she had a year or less to live. While she was in the hospital, her best friend Chizuko Hanamoto came to visit, and brought with her a piece of paper to fold it into an origami paper crane. According to ancient Japanese tradition, anyone who folds a thousand cranes will be granted a wish, and Chizuko believed this would help heal her friend. Now, this is where the story gets a bit confused as there are many versions of what actually happened, but what I was told is that Sadako spent the remainder of her life folding these cranes, at first with the hope of alleviating her own suffering. When she realized the number of people affected by the radiation, her wish expanded to include them all.
Since her death, Sadoko has become a heroine to the Japanese people. There is even a monument to her, holding a golden crane, at the Hiroshima memorial, and the cranes continue to be a symbol of happiness, good luck, peace and longevity to the whole world. From this story, Jane hoped that we, as art students, could show our support for Japan by folding cranes.
I will never forget the peace Sadoko gave me the night we all came together to fold cranes. It was difficult at first, remembering each step in the process, folding precisely and accurately. Many of us had never done origami before, and it took time to get into a rhythm, but once we found that rhythm… pure peace. There is great beauty in the ability to bring order, design, and art into a world that is so full of chaos and disorder.
After that first night, it was Jun-Pierre Shiozawa’s idea to string our finished cranes all together and hang them from the school balconies and windows during Easter week, the busiest week of spring in all of Greece, but especially Paros because of its beautiful church, the Εκατονταπυλιανή or Church of a Hundred Doors. We met a second night to string them all together, and finally did hang them out around Easter time.
Paros may be a small island, far away and isolated from the world, but Paros and The Aegean Center care very much about their place in the world; and for the time that I am both an Aegean Center student and a member of the Parian community, I intend to do my part to prove that. The cranes, of course, didn’t change the disastrous effects of that earthquake. They didn’t bring supplies to those in need in Japan. They didn’t solve any of the radiation problems either. But on the one day that the ever-changing Parian weather allowed our cranes to hang from the school building, almost everyone who walked by stopped to look, asked us what we were doing, and discussed their feelings over this world crisis. Perhaps those simple paper birds brought some peace to everyone that day.
9, May 2011 § Leave a comment
Have you ever heard of the snowball effect? Imagine yourself standing at the top of a hill in a blizzard. The snow is perfect, heavy packing snow. You decide to construct a tiny snowball in the palm of your cold hands and roll it down the hill. As it rolls, more and more snow collects onto the snowball. It gets bigger and bigger and bigger right before your very eyes. You are shocked at what it has turned into, remembering the tiny white ball that was in your hand only moments ago. You can’t help but marvel at the outcome.
I have experienced this effect before in my life, but not quite like the one from our most recent Friday hike. The snowball effect, when involving twenty artists, is much more effective and wonderful.
After hours of hiking under our fearless director, John Pack, we finally arrived at a beach. This was our resting point for about an hour. Some students had pow wows in the sand, while others sprinted into the sea. The less daring ones slowly and nervously waded themselves into the water, which was incredibly amusing to watch.
I was giggling at the swimmers from the shore, when suddenly, a sirocco of inspiration led me to start making sand portraits.
Let the snowballing begin!
Artists tend to do unusual things sometimes. I decided to play into that stereotype and grabbed a long, wooden stick and plunged it into the sand, dragging it in a circular motion. I was making the outline of a face. Chris’s face, to be exact. He seemed a bit melancholy when he realized he forgot his bathing suit to go swimming. In an effort to cheer him up, we started building.
Jun Pierre ran right over and began building up the facial features like an olympic gold medalist, and Gabriel quickly busted out his low relief sculpture expertise. Before I knew it, there were more and more students helping to sculpt the face, contributing their priceless sand portrait ideas, and running to find beach trinkets in order to portray Chris’s accessories and facial hair.
Note: Chris is a below average model, because right as we were making progress on our masterpiece, he conveniently decided to ignore the fact that he was bathingsuit-less, and jumped into the sea with his boxers on. Impeccable timing, Chris.
The snowballing continues.
“LOOK AT THIS FOLKS!! ITS AN ART INSTALLATION!! YOU GUYS ARE DEFINITELY GETTING CREDIT FOR THIS!!” yelled John Pack, from a short distance away. He asked us how many credits we wanted. I didn’t tell him yet, but I want one million. For each of us.
The artists constructed the face. The writers discussed how a blog post should be written. The photographers (or digi-heads, as John Pack calls them) documented the whole thing on their cameras. And let’s not forget that our school director granted us as much “credit” as we could ever hope for, for our hard work. This snowballed from one wooden stick, into a memory that brought a tear to my eye as I was remembering it when I arrived back home. This experience made me realize what a team we have here. Although it was just a silly sand portrait of Chris, the amount of help, compromise, strategy, and support that went on throughout this whole process was truly moving. I could not believe the outcome, and it would not have been successful if we hadn’t all done it together. As a team. As a family.
4, May 2011 § Leave a comment
I find myself at the crossroads. I have been here before. These moments of quiet decision, where I weigh my options and take inventory of my emotional and intellectual belongings, never cease to surprise or even baffle me. At times there is a great deal of traffic: fears, dreams, possible futures disastrous and sublime, assorted vehicles whizzing through my busy cerebral motorway. In other instances life’s intersections seem all but deserted: two dusty rural roads running perpendicular in the baking noonday sun, cicadas buzzing in the heat. Still, I sit listening to the winds for small, almost imperceptible, shifts.
My work and role in America has evolved over the past year. My physical presence at home has become less important and this aspect informs me that it is time to move along. All the other guideposts confirm it. Then what of my art? Have I refined my eye since my last missive in the spring of 2010? Last year John Pack pushed me into an abstract space of colorful and textural photography, a giant’s leap from the bearing with which I had grown accustomed. I had become lost in a dense and painful bramble of artistic faith and he had guided me out into something new and exciting, but something that was, for me, uncertain and uncomfortable. Upon returning to my little village in the Hudson Valley I continued on this orientation, tilling abstract soil, using skills I had learned, reaping a solid harvest of accessible and novel work. I built a small darkroom in which to pursue my black and white silver work as I crafted my digital images on my iMac in Camera RAW and PhotoShop CS4. I began using a Mamiya c330 medium format TLR and an old Graphlex Crowne 4×5 press camera. I followed the same procedures I had learned from Liz Carson. The black and white silver work began to occupy more of my time. It was more satisfying than the digital images which I came to see as being less evocative of my own journey. I was grateful for this shift in perspectives. I am now more aware of the abstract nature of black and white silver emulsion but also how both formats can exist and inform each other.
Another signpost of the inevitability of change has been a sense of artistic self-confidence, a quality I did not possess before the spring of 2010. I was unsure of my artistic self-worth then, but when I returned to New York I found myself welcomed as a member of a small arts group in my area. Since August of 2010 my work has been displayed in several group shows and I have sold a few pieces. I measure this as a success both for myself and for those who have guided me. My mentors handed me a new and different compass with which to plot my artistic course. That device has brought me full circle and, as I stated earlier, I find myself at a crossroads, albeit with a measure more wisdom than before.
This session, besides the two photography courses and numerous lectures, I am also working with Jane Pack and Jun-Pierre Shiozawa in Figure Drawing and Basic Drawing, respectively. I now have some more tools in my visual kitbag: perspective, foreshortening, form and mass, and the powerful negative space. I will not pretend to be a painter or draughtsman but these tools are shifting my eye from the two-dimensional abstracts of 2010 to a richer three-dimensional view of light, shadow and the human form. In using this pre-visualization I have begun studio sessions with several models in both medium format silver and digital photography. This is a challenge for me. The artistic intimacy required is daunting; the level of professionalism towering; the integrity of the imagery both paramount and well-founded. In these figure studies I envision a potent, almost mythological feminine presence. I strive for ‘entasi‘, that they might better illustrate a paradigm I feel is lost in today’s modern culture: beauty, grace and the power of a substantive Earth. These artistic choices are new for me, but I am traveling a well blazed trail, a journey many have taken. In my heart I feel that they, too, must have arrived at a crossroads. Perhaps the milieu is not original, but my perspective and philosophy is at least unique.
Working in the studio has also increased my technical skill and craft, which brings to mind the poet and philosopher Peter Abbs’ ‘Axis of Creativity’: as my technical skills and knowledge increases so do the creative abilities inspired by my dreams and the unconscious. With this I can create a solid body of work, or perhaps several while I am here. My thinking is freed by my distance from New York and all that that means. The light of Paros fills my eyes with shimmering tonal varieties and the Aegean Center grants me a haven where I can explore these creative emotional possibilities. All of these principles allow a clearer vision at the crossroads, diminishing the haze and dust of indecision. The answers will come if I sit patiently, listening and dreaming. While I am sitting, listening and dreaming I will work.
4, May 2011 § Leave a comment
A while ago, in Creative Writing, Jeffrey explained to us that in Greek there are three words for love, each of them denoting a distinct emotion, a different phenomenon. The first two made enough sense to me: eros, romantic love, and philos, the love you feel for your family and very close friends. But then we got to the third, agape, what Jeffrey described as the love you feel for mankind in general. Now, I’m no misanthrope– of course I’ve felt a certain fondness for the human race at times– but at that moment, it struck me as odd that the Greeks would have come up with a completely different word for it. That, however, was before I really got involved in life here on Paros and at the Aegean Center.
This past Friday, the hike cut short by the Independence Day parade in the morning, we went to a place called Kolympithres. The bus dropped us off near a bay with water that I, someone who comes from a city where they dye the river ever St. Patrick’s Day, can hardly believe is naturally that ridiculous, perfect shade of cerulean. We walked along the beach until we got to a small mountain, and began scrambling, some more elegantly than others, up the boulders to the top. I was motivated by something John had mentioned earlier: there were ancient ruins at the top. And ruins there were– A Mycenaen citadel, with 5,000-year-old walls still standing waist-high and an incredible view of the bay. Eventually, we climbed back down the other slope over enormous, wind-carved boulders and began heading back along the beach, this time stopping to wade in. By the time we made it back to the bus stop, I don’t think I was alone in feeling like my heart was swelling; at the end of that hike, I just wanted to hug someone.
By this point, three weeks into the semester, I feel like I’ve begun really getting to know the other students. Before I came here, I have to say that I was anxious about that prospect, especially given some of the stereotypes about art school students. But now that I’m here, I am continually struck by how well our group gets along, and, frankly, by how much I just plain like everyone. Then there are the teachers, who are not only great at what they do, but who honestly care about the students and our work. I get the feeling that I’m surrounded by an incredible group of people, and that I am unbelievably lucky to be. In this place, and more specifically, in this group of people, I have come to understand why the Greeks need that third word for love. I think it’s safe to say that I have fallen head over heels in agape.
6, April 2011 § 1 Comment
I’m sitting at a cafe on the harbor in Naoussa. The keen east winds rustle the palm fronds and the gulls float above. The fishing boats sway lazily on the quay, nets and ropes lie in neat piles and coils on the decks, having been retired for the day. People sit and chat in greek over coffee and cigarettes in the sun. Nobody works here in the afternoon.
I have been on Paros nearly a month now, the time seems to slip so quickly by here. The days are full, there are always projects to work on, and so many beautiful places to explore. I’m still learning to navigate the maze of winding, narrow stone streets of Paroikia. The only way to become familiar with these streets is to get lost in them and see where they take you until you begin to recognize the eccentricities of each street.
I’ve been asked which of the classes I’m taking is my favorite, and I don’t have an answer for that. They are all exciting, challenging, and engaging to me, each has its own qualities. The world of painting in oils has opened its doors to me, through the skilled guidance of Jun and Jane. Pictured above is a nearly finished still life I’ve been working on.
Figure Drawing has brought me so much farther in the ability to accurately represent the human body on paper than I could have imagined in this short month. I will continue to use the exercises and techniques I’ve already learned as long as I draw.
Learning to develop film and make prints is also new to me. This process is a subtle and delicately balanced combination of science and magic. This holds true for digital photography as well, the science being in the incredible plethora of powerful digital tools at your fingertips, and the magic being in what you produce using them. There are also the enthusiastic and lon-linear rants John Pack embarks on, covering an enormous amount of ground in the process, from light and color theory, to camera and editing technique, to the shortcomings of the “bankrupt American educational system”, to discussing the importance of the glorious poetry that is in a good photograph.
Printmaking is also a whole new discipline to me, one that I have been thoroughly enjoying as well. The moment when you turn the press and then lift your print and see the result of your careful labor of lines is a thrilling one. Sometimes it looks better than you had hoped, sometimes it just looks like a big ink smudge, and you get to work fixing it and trying again.
I’m so glad to be here; this is exactly what I was looking for. Direct, hands-on training in the arts, taught by a group of impassioned and engaged teachers who want you to come out of this with as many invaluable skills as you can pack into your mental toolbox, and to have a rich, lively, and transformative time throughout.