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.
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.
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.
by B.J. Adams, Washington, DC, USA
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
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.
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by Virginia Unseld, Black Hawk, CO, USA
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.
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Sailing Greek Seas
by Norman Ridenour, Prague, Czech Republic
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
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
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
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!
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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
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.
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Enjoy the past comments below for The dialogues…
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.”