In the phrase "art education", the second word, "education", must mean something - something that is not the same as, say, "stimulation" or "confidence building" or "networking". Let me risk a definition: Education means learning to think and act in the presence of the great minds and practitioners of the past. It means knowing upon whose shoulders you stand. For a painter, photographer, sculptor, a writer, it means studying the ideas, achievements, and techniques of the great masters throughout the millennia. Only by knowing what has been accomplished can you know what still remains unsaid. T. S. Eliot loved Shakespeare, Michelangelo copied Masaccio, Ansel Adams echoed W.H. Jackson, Picasso appropriated the brilliant ancient Cycladic and African art. Their kind of classic art is an art of knowledge, dedication, and love. A true understanding of the past, and the craft of your chosen medium, becomes a compass to help you move forward through your life and art.
In the past students needed only to learn their teacher's style and that of his rivals for tradition was passed on as a matter of practicality. This is no longer the case. Today the whole of the tradition is readily available, and there is no central style, so a student is forced into making decisions about subject matter, mood, technique, and purpose. Choice has made things more difficult and consequently more tempting to sidestep craft. Studying the past, examining and empathizing with man and nature, and looking into oneself were never easy; freedom and choice are a burden most wish to escape.
Skill is a proof of sincerity. Everybody can point to a big name who has little skill and whose ideas are ephemerally exciting. Blank canvases, found sculptures, poems pasted together from the phone book. For the artist with the right marketing personality, this can prove successful, for originality is highly valued today. But the kind of originality that involves debunking the tradition and doing something outrageous, and the kind that involves developing the tradition are not the same. The first, for the lucky, can bring fame and fortune. The second requires long, hard study and is not interesting to media potentates and art market moguls. Even the impressionist colorist should know how to draw, even the free-verse poet should get at an inner beat in structured language, even the manipulator of computer techniques should know how to turn out a good print. Analysis is a practical matter, thus we care more for the process and achievement of work than for talk about it.
"What education can do, with good practice and compelling philosophy, is to secure a disinterested and protected space in which some of the essential critical and symbolic material is released for further analysis and artistic development, for education is essentially a transformative activity... The Aegean Center, yes...that place of hope.” –Peter Abbs.
I would like to close by sharing a piece of a letter I received from the critic, Franklin Einspruch, familiar with our program, that succinctly and poignantly sums up the Aegean Center.
"It may sound strange, but following the travails of contemporary art, the postmodernist project seems to have run its course. Its greatest proponents are dying off or thoroughly ensconced in comfortable perma-jobs. It's adherents are starting to spend a lot of time trying to figure out what's next. What's next, of course, is what you've been doing for over four decades at the Aegean Center - establishing a possibility of faith in art that anyone is welcome to join should they choose. That will take different forms in different places, but the nihilism that has permeated the art world for four decades has finally run up against simple physics. Nature abhors a vacuum, even a vacuum of belief."