The dialogues


Dear Artist,

What’s not to love about Greece? Whitewashed houses cling like rambling flora on gem-like islands set in a silver sea. There is also glory to the place where democracy began. The first significant philosophers were in Athens — Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. In their minds there would be enlightened ones, the “philosopher kings” who were adept at dialogue. These early thinkers believed in trying ideas on for size. “It is the mark of an educated mind,” said Aristotle, “to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” These philosophers thought the job of ordinary people was to wisely place better folks in power. The idea of substituting experimental and cordial thought for pat answers has influenced western thought and art ever since.



Aristotle (384 BC – 322 BC) inherited the spirit of the Academy of Plato and wrote on art, physics, poetry, theater, music, logic, rhetoric, politics, government, ethics, biology and zoology. “Art,” he said, “is the capacity to make, and involves a course of proper reasoning.” Aristotle understood that self-control was the basis of progressive and flourishing civilizations. “I count him braver who overcomes his desires,” he said, “than him who conquers his enemies, for the hardest victory is over self.”

Aristotle was an advocate of the hands-on approach, both in theory and in practical matters. “For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them,” he said. The Aristotelian method has influenced the arts of teaching, mentoring and self-help. “Try this and try that” is the system he recommended, and the making of art means a personal dialogue with art itself.


What remains of the Agora from the Acropolis. Plato, Socrates and Aristotle held forth in this area.

Aristotle, who envisioned the potential nobility of politicians, also held creative persons in high esteem. He felt, however, that artists needed a touch of madness, ribald humour and a love of amusement to function effectively. Like Socrates and Plato before him, he found art to be primarily imitative of Nature, and felt artists were motivated by Muses. These creatures, who took the form of young ladies somewhat like the beautiful goddesses of Greek mythology, had the power to drive men both crazy and forward. In the macho and male-dominated culture that was Greece, this seemed like a good idea at the time.


We travelled on the 67 m M/Y Apoise owned by friend Dave Ritchie. Dave has a few of my paintings, some of them on board.

Best regards,


PS: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” (Aristotle)

Esoterica: I’m laptopping you from the deck of a yacht, the M.Y. Apoise. We’ve just slipped our lines at Piraeus, the ancient seaport of Athens, and like the warring triremes of Aristotle’s time, we are moving into an Aegean sunset. Earlier today, from the height of the Acropolis, we looked down on the Agora, the market place where both commerce and intellectual life flourished. Here, the academicians held forth to any who might listen. In such places one is impressed with the value of dialogue. The privilege of dialogue has not always been available, and must forever be sought and sometimes even reinvented.


Positive dialogue
by B.J. Adams, Washington, DC, USA


“Once Read, Not Forgotten”
recycled paperback books
by B.J. Adams

Many years ago, for a TV show, Steve Allen wrote a dialogue between historic characters of differing eras, often including the Greek philosophers. These were lively discussions, not arguments, debates, or simple conversations, but brilliant dialogue concerning philosophy and events surrounding their particular time and life. They were wonderful, profound and entertaining shows. We need more of this kind of positive dialogue.




Greece through mud-coloured glasses
by Peter Brown, Oakland, CA, USA


Graffiti in Greece

What is not to love about Greece? How about that Athens is now a hell hole of pollution? How about that the ancient monuments are being destroyed by exhaust emissions? How about that Athens is completely covered with graffiti, and abandoned buildings? Socrates was put to death. Aristotle was completely wrong about everything he said! What are you talking about? Plato was an idiot. Their democracy was based on slavery. Their wealth was based on slavery. Athens is a pit hole. Even Greeks today will admit to that. I have been there. I have seen it with my own eyes.

There are 3 comments for Greece through mud-coloured glasses by Peter Brown

From: Maxx Maxted — Oct 16, 2008

You see what you want to see, half full or half empty?

From: Vincent — Oct 17, 2008

Actually if you replace “Greece” and “Athens” with “States”, this comment would ring even truer.

From: Mary — Oct 17, 2008

What are walls but a poor man’s canvas? Creativity begs to be set free, wherever it may be.


by Virginia Unseld, Black Hawk, CO, USA


“Santorini Sunset”
pastel painting
by Virginia Unseld

In September of 2007 I celebrated my retirement from teaching art in public schools by traveling to Greece. Visiting the museums and monuments in Athens allowed me to see up close the beautiful ancient Greek sculpture and pottery I had taught to students for almost 30 years. Santorini, Crete, and Lesvos presented diverse landscapes and architecture. An overflowing sketchbook and a digital camera recorded many images that provided inspiration for pastels when I returned to Colorado. The trip also inspired me to move beyond the small bedroom studio and to take a risk. I am now renting a large studio space, working at producing art full time, and building a website.

There is 1 comment for Greece-inspired by Virginia Unseld

From: Liz Reday — Oct 17, 2008

Virginia- YOU GO, GIRL! Taking the step of renting a large studio is WONDERFUL. I see creativity and risk taking as the sign that you are really developing as an artist. The forward momentum is the fire that the vestal virgins never allowed to be extinguished. I commend you on your positive upward movement!


Sailing Greek Seas
by Norman Ridenour, Prague, Czech Republic


wood sculpture
by Norman Ridenour

Very romantic but: Greek ‘democracy’ was based on slavery. Not much has changed except we now keep our virtual slaves abroad and out of sight. Too bad we do not use our opportunity to create thought, not guns. We are much more like Romans.

Greeks did not sail at night. Since they only coasted it was too dangerous because they could not see reefs, rocks, headlands and such. They only coasted because they needed fresh water daily. Modern experiments in a reproduction trireme show that each rower needs 2.5 quarts of water per hour. With a hundred rowers this is a lot of water per day.

Other than that I am very jealous. A return to Naxos is planned.



Mulling Aristotle’s taste
by Anahi DeCanio

While doing a little background research for a recent article, I found out Aristotle was much more of an elitist than I remembered. If he were alive today, what kind of art would he collect? Which artists would he admire? Would he hang with the darlings of the big auction houses or find beauty in an undiscovered treasure at a small local exhibit?

How often do artists get tempted to please the market and not follow the path for the pursuit of excellence? Has the proliferation of uber collectors and mega galleries fostered art for art’s sake or is it just another product of “Greed is good”? As an artist with bills, I certainly don’t object to making money but it seems like the proverbial line in the sand has gotten much blurrier.


Prosperity in art
by Brett Busang, Washington, DC, USA


“Porch, Seminary Avenue”
acrylic painting, 16 x 30 inches
by Brett Busang

Isn’t GOING to Greece rather literal-minded? For those of us who are a bit short, such travelocity appears rather self-indulgent. Besides, you can read old Aristotle at a homeless shelter — or any other place that may lack silver seas and white-washed houses.

On the other hand, I have often considered prosperity in art subversive — which is to say, I mostly endorse it. Until recently, I made a decent-enough living selling pictures. I regarded every sale as a triumph of sorts — a triumph not only against the lock-step of job-and-family, but against the tyranny of dealer-versus-painter as well. I was even literal-minded enough to go to Vienna — a thing I had resisted for a while. (The pictures I painted there were adequate, but, to my mind, conventional. I think I’d have to stay there a lot longer to do something worthwhile.)

Whatever the case, you are a lucky man and possibly know it. Being in Greece might, for all I know, enable you to couch an argument with greater facility — or respond to an attack with a dollop of coolly reasoned bavardage. We po’ folk, however, have to do the best we can in Northeast DC or Syracuse, NY. And sell our paintings to people who have to pay for them with a sack of dollar bills.


Seed for creativity
by Linda Saccoccio, Santa Barbara, CA, USA


oil painting, 22 x 24 inches
by Linda Saccoccio

These ancient minds were consciously discerning, something that needs reviving in these times of fear and the mass media blur. One thing to add is Sappho! She was an amazing female in ancient Greece. Here is a little excerpt about her poetry:

“Sappho employs irony not for its own sake or to maintain a safe distance between herself and her subjects but as a means of revealing contradiction, a way of staging it. As Williams Carlos Williams puts it, Dissonance (if you are interested) leads to discovery. Sappho is interested in ironic dissonance not for the poetic fission it produces but as a means of opening the doors of perception.”

We need to get clear and come out of the fog of so much delusion, illusion and deception, and be inspired to question and reflect. This is a seed for creativity and evolution.

Excerpt from: Sappho: A Garland, The Poems & Fragments of Sappho Translated by Jim Powell


Greece, Yes!
by Paula Timpson

Aristotle said, ‘Excellence comes from what we do over and over, again…’ breathe, Live in pure days, dreaming — painting ‘reality’ led by heart! Poetry seems to be the yellow color of all flowers, blessed by children’s smiles, they are forever singing joy! Rest, essential to hear our heart-beats rhythm, creates music from stars shining, mornings, awakening into the dawn — where ‘Anything is possible’ beyond Self- Trust in the magic of every moment, where deer leap and salmon rise high, touching blue sky!

There is 1 comment for Greece, Yes! by Paula Timpson

From: Anonymous — Apr 27, 2011

Now this is really creative and heartfelt and says it all. Great writing with feeling and seeing beyond.


Art and the economy
by Jimmy Mac

For those of us who go to work on a daily basis, manufacturing the dream world that is represented by the press, media and our own idealistic version of how the real world should be, we are wondering,

“Where in HELL does ART fit into the MESS we are in???” I love your rhetoric, but I wish you would tell us how to make a buck.

(RG note) Thanks, Jim. We may be in far deeper than we think. Events over the next few weeks will give an indication. It would be wonderful if we could get back to the “business as usual” of even a few months ago. Remember, though, it’s greed, ignorance, speculation, bad moves and false prophets that inflate these bubbles, and the popping of bubbles has never been pleasant. And as in previous hard times, some artists will have to settle for other work. Creative Darwinism is more lethal when there is less fodder to go around.


Art as Lament
by Wendy Head, Adpar, Wales


“Face 1”
original painting
by Wendy Head

I was very moved recently by the way visitors reacted to a lot of work I had done in empathetic response to the suffering of people after the Tsunami. I had kept the drawings and paintings away from my main exhibition, because I thought them too sad and traumatic and I wanted the exhibition to be a happy and uplifting one. However the public’s reactions, appreciations and thoughtful conversations, when they saw them, was a real lesson to me. I learned not to make assumptions about what the general public will make of difficult art and I felt very humbled.

Because of that experience I want to write my final year dissertation about ‘Art as Lament.’ It is not difficult to find much historical, religious and political work but I have to put great emphasis on current, absolutely up to date, practise. Can any of your worldwide readers and artists guide or help me in my research and perhaps point me in new directions?

If anyone wants to see a lot of the work I did in respect to ‘grief’ it is on my website.

There are 2 comments for Art as Lament by Wendy Head

From: Darrell Baschak — Oct 17, 2008

Wendy, Face 1 is a powerful image. I don’t think it will be very hard for you to find evidence of suffering in this world, either in your native country or anywhere else. It is a noble journey you are embarking on.

From: Andrea Colby — Oct 17, 2008



Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for The dialogues



From: m.m.panas — Oct 13, 2008

What’s hot in modern art that the average painter on canvas can observe and see what responds to her and she can become a part of.

Even better- what is most hot?

From: Dimitri — Oct 13, 2008

Ohmygod, are you in Greece my friend Robert? Come and meet me in Athens, I have no good art to show.

From: Cheryl Webster — Oct 14, 2008

AAAAH – Maybe I can call myself an artist one day for I do have a touch of madness, a ribald sense of humour and a love of amusement! Thank you Robert Genn and Aristotle. How come they never told me this at school – perhaps it was too dangerous – Ha Ha!

From: Melissa Evangeline Keyes — Oct 14, 2008

Greece! I spent three weeks in Athens last holiday season. Why does everyone wear black? There was even a black Christmas tree! At a party, ALL the people wore black. Amazing! And there are almost no children.

From: Pete Hemmer — Oct 14, 2008

Forget the bust of Aristotle, I want to see the yacht!

From: Steven — Oct 14, 2008

You said, “The privilege of dialogue has not always been available, and must forever be sought and sometimes even reinvented.”. Did you really mean to say this? I mean, the “privilege of dialogue” would seem to be the most fundamental precept of democracy. Why would something so fundamental to the success of ANY democracy need to be “reinvented” (ever)?

Your statement is nonsensical. I would suggest “defended” – NOT “reinvented”!

From: Irene — Oct 14, 2008

My dream is to visit Greece. Sometimes I think that if…I was in such an amazing place would I be able to NOT create? And about the external inspiring us to paint or create and thinking about all the quantum ideas that have been in the air…how much of that external beauty is simply a projection of my own inner beauty which in turn allows me to perceive it that way? Because I’m not even there but I can see and sense it all in my imagination! Just a crazy thought…

From: Rick Rotante — Oct 14, 2008

“When dialogue between people fails so will society eventually fails.”

Where are the Aristotle’s today? Do we feel today there can be no new thought where it affects our inner morals, our social codes? Have we been so diverted from what really matters that we have no time to sit and think on life anymore. Where are the Walden’s, Plato? We forget that the thinking of Aristotle and Plato were revolutionary at the time and not accepted at first. Suspicion and mistrust of these thoughts made it a dangerous place for “free” thinkers.” Some were persecuted as is done today.

For Steven – you must be under twenty-one! Free speech, such as it is, is not a god given right, it’s a right that has to be defended every generation. It’s no secret that free speech is denied and persecuted even in America. “Re-inventing” was the correct word used. “Defending” is also the correct word. We reinvent what has been said and told us but are lost whenever tyranny and injustice prevail. It happened in Aristotle’s time, in the forties, the sixties and is happening right now. For those in power, free speech is dangerous and causes people to ban together in agreement against those who would oppress the many. So we find new way (re-invent) what we say to get the point across using today’s vernacular. Though Aristotle spoke a prosaic language that seems outdated today, his words need to be re-invented to be understood by today’s people.

From: Mary Sheehan Winn — Oct 14, 2008

How can anything beat posting from a yacht on the Aegean? I’m with Pete Hemmer. Pictures of the yacht please and bon voyage!

From: Nathaniel — Oct 14, 2008

Hi Robert, I’m not usually one to make complaints over minor details but I thought It might be fair to point out that your statement “The first significant philosophers were in Athens–Socrates, Plato and Aristotle.” might be considered a little bias. Early Chinese philosophy for example, can be traced back to around 1000BCE and Confucius himself lived in the middle 6th century BCE, about a generation before Socrates. Since these schools of thought are still studied in universities today, I think it is fair to consider them significant.

From: Nick Stone — Oct 15, 2008

Greece is often touted as the “birthplace” of democracy. It is worth noting however that this was a slave owning culture in which women had no vote. Democracy has been abused, distorted, conflated and used as an excuse for all manner of twisted politics ever since.

From: Harriet Howell — Oct 15, 2008

What is lacking in our current democracy is true dialog. We have a lot of people yelling at each other, but very little listening and (especially) thinking. No one, from the president to the local zoning committee wants to hear anything that contradicts their chosen course of action. Most people seem to want quick fixes/answers that absolve them from the personal responsibility of actually thinking. True dialog is a most dangerous activity in an intolerant society and rarely goes unpunished.

From: Rick Rotante — Oct 15, 2008

One has to keep in mind to get anywhere you have to have been somewhere else. Greece was a slave owning society and women did not have the vote, but that is what was and the society of Aristotle, Socrates, Plato was one in which they were trying to change this thinking. Democracy didn’t drop like a stone from the skies, Democracy is an ongoing process, the circumstances that prevailed in ancient time do not diminish the thinking and eventual changes taking place at that time. Up until the founding of this county, the signers of the Constitution had slaves, but they again where forming a union to abolish this kind of injustice.

Women vote today and have parity (for the most part) with men. This too is evolving. Change may be slow, but only in an ever-changing democracy can these advances take place. They happen thru dialogue like this.

From: Nick — Oct 15, 2008

I’m all for dialogue. Sometimes I’m a bit nettled that democracy is assumed to be “a good thing” to the extent that we feel justified in imposing it on cultures who don’t understand/embrace it. We forget all too easily that full suffrage in this country, (England,) was only granted in 1928. We have been democratic for less than a century. Being British, I of course make no comment on US democracy.

From: Joyce Goden — Oct 15, 2008

Pete and Mary, I have been told that the Greek moon is very nice.

From: Sandra Kessler — Oct 15, 2008

How wonderful to be in Greece. I know the area and it is indeed a privilege to be in the presence of such amazing souls. So wise was Aristotle when he said our greatest victory is over ourselves. You once said that habits are more important than messiahs. I am struggling with the artist within that wants to spread my wings and fly and try new things. I am also in the throes of grieving and am trying to overcome staying inside my condo three days running. Do enjoy yourself.

From: Valerie Kent — Oct 15, 2008

So what you are saying is:

The JabberTalky

Beware the thought police, my child

The words that bite, the ideas they snatch

Beware the great silencing herd, don’t shun

The dialogue they try to snatch.

From: TJ Miles — Oct 15, 2008

Ironic you being in Greece and its environs at the same time as myself. I have just finished an exhibition in Cyprus yesterday and fly back to Ireland tomorrow to wind up another exhibition in Dublin on Friday. Then home to Spain for a much needed rest before the next round of painting. Hope your trip goes well. Yammas!

From: Charon Roberts — Oct 15, 2008

I would just like to thank you for the continued letters that arrive in Inbox 2x weekly esp this week as you are in Greece on a Yacht, something I have done before and just thinking about it… those blues and turquoises, well what more can I say , ENJOY!!!

From: Elsha Leventis — Oct 15, 2008

I hope, Robert, that you had time to walk through Plaka – to sip a beer or wine over Greek delicacies. Enjoy your trip.

From: Ruth Ann Mitchell — Oct 15, 2008

What a timely piece. We leave for Athens on Oct. 18th. Perhaps we will see you there.

From: Kathy Weber — Oct 15, 2008
From: Jan Lanoue — Oct 15, 2008

It is wonderful to be able to listen to others’ ideas and freely give your own… mark of an educated mind. Even better to be able to release our ego of our ideas and through our differences, find a more complete view. Solutions can be found that way.

I love listening to everyone’s ideas here. It is like music, different notes combining can create beautiful harmonies, in the right spirit.

From: Fay Fairbairn — Oct 15, 2008

Greece has a character and ancient history that is very compelling. The first night that I arrived I went to Seunion – The temple of Poseidon – and watched the sunset. It was magic. I live close to Port Dalhousie on Lake Ontario and that is one of the rituals in the good weather to watch the sunset and we can also see the Toronto skyline. Water and waves fascinate me and keep me sane. I have just finished a painting of the sunset and sail boats at Port Dalhousie – my son has it and he is also a water worshipper – just won the salmon derby here.

From: Vern Mattioli — Oct 15, 2008
From: Stella Reinwald — Oct 15, 2008

You write: Aristotle understood that self-control was the basis of progressive and flourishing civilizations. “I count him braver who overcomes his desires,” he said, “than him who conquers his enemies, for the hardest victory is over self.”

Oh Robert, you sly devil. In this over-the-top emotionally heated American election, which candidate comes immediately to mind when one contemplates the above wisdom?

Thank you as always, for a fun albeit brief “side trip of the mind”.

From: Rick Rotante — Oct 16, 2008

I applaud your staff for printing the “dissenting” sounding letters. It proves again to me that Democracy is at work here. Allowing dissention is the cornerstone of dialogue for all people. I admit to being a cynic at times, though I try and keep it at bay here and show a positive attitude. Cynicism is easy, making changes takes something more, It’s not a perfect world and it may never be, but without people standing up; and having the right to stand up for what they believe, change is impossible and societies are doomed to live in the deserved hell they create for themselves.

There will always be those who will try and take away individual human basic rights and freedoms and control the many for their own personal advancement. It’s an innate human trait to want to dominate others and our environment. It makes us feel more secure. Our rights must not be taken for granted and have to be defended for every time tyranny raises its head. Societies have always lived under the threat of loss to personal freedoms, but here we are trying, maybe in vain, to change things. The times may change but the issues remain the same. I agree we shouldn’t force ideals down the throats of others, we should lead by example, Unfortunately, we’ve set a bad example lately because we’ve become greedy and let others take charge over our lives.

Democracy isn’t perfect, but then neither are we. We live and die under the laws we make and the people we choose to govern our lives.

From: Kathryn Sorci — Oct 16, 2008
From: Julia Cromartie — Oct 16, 2008

It was Aristotle’s rejection of the atom… not divisible… no concept of empty space in it as Democritus proposed… that set science back because he (Aristotle…) was the respected mind of the time… I loved teaching this to my students… i.e. Keep an open mind… Would that entail dialogue…

From: Anna West — Oct 17, 2008

I hope we can see some of your pictures of Greece posted soon. Please give us some help on capturing that Aegean Sea blue. When it is “that color” it looks fake when it doesn’t look fake it looks like any other sea or ocean. We have been there 4 times and always take the ships to islands like Crete. Its so inspirational to see how important art has been to civilization.

From: Anon — Oct 17, 2008

Julie – do you also teach your students that half the decisions they will make in life will be wrong?

From: Jan Ross — Oct 17, 2008

Our first daughter was conceived during a visit to Greece! Maybe there’s something magical in those beautiful waters? The music, food and fresh air provided during a cruise to the islands no doubt contribute to a romantic mood.

From: Lyn Cherry — Oct 17, 2008

I would like to point out that the United States is a republic, not a true democracy.

From: Dayle Ann Stratton — Oct 17, 2008
From: Dayle Ann Stratton — Oct 17, 2008

Lyn, both democracy and republic mean pretty much the same thing: one is from old Greek and one is from Latin, and both mean essentially that power derives from the people. And the founders of the United States used both terms to differentiate our style of government from monarchy and theocracy. Either way, decision making can be direct (as at the local level) or by elected representatives. Our history shows many abuses of this principle, but over time our sense of who is included in “all the people” is coming closer to fulfillment. Ancient Greece was not a democracy in any sense we understand the term. In fact, our form of government and sense of decision-making owes a lot more to Native American institutions than to Greece.

From: Joyce Goden — Oct 20, 2008





Unexpected Landing

oil painting
by Theresa Beckemeyer, Colorado, USA


You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.

That includes Peggy Woolsey who wrote, “MANY parts of Greece were not ‘male dominated.’ Check out the Minoan cultures which had a huge effect on Crete, Mycenae and the Cyclades. Athens was, for many reasons, one of the only ‘male-dominated’ Greek states.”

And also Anna West who wrote, “Thanks for bringing my memories of Greece back, so full of amazing art. It’s my favorite country to visit. I hope you write about the complications of painting the white marble and white houses vs. the deep “fake looking” blue Aegean. It’s a real challenge.”

And also Betty Billups of Sandpoint, ID, USA who wrote, “My family came from Greece… Built the family home in VA in 1663, which is still inhabited by one family member. So much history — abroad, as well as here in the States.”




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