Success doesn’t come easily. It’s the combination of many factors, and the most important keystone is a good mentor, a person who can see the talent in one and lead him to the right path.
Spending the spring term of my high school senior year in the beautiful southern region of France is not a chance that everyone could be offered, and so it would have been stupid for me to decline that chance, but I almost made that mistake.
Why? Because this term is not about sitting by the pool on a sunny day eating fois gras. It's also not about hanging out with a group of friends and traveling all over Europe. It's about art, drawing, painting, crafting, a lot of art.
It's not that I'm afraid of art. It's just that I have never had success at it. I remember when my parents had to repaint the house every year after it was covered in shades that no one could reproduce.
I remembered quitting a painting course when I was 5 because my teacher said none of my work made sense. And I remember in ninth grade, my teacher wouldn't take my paintings seriously no matter how hard I tried, and I ended up failing that class.
It was not until then that I decided to give up, and follow what was given to me: math and science.
For Euro, I was afraid I was going to fail art again, like many times before.
If it wasn’t because of Jennifer and David Fleming, I would decline the chance. Throughout my education, the teacher was always the key element that decided whether I would be successful in the class or not.
Having taken classes with both Dave and Jen at Proctor, I knew that they were capable of bringing back to me the joy of art. And now, after 9 weeks of traveling, studying, and living with them, I can confidently say that I love art again.
It’s an irreplaceable part of me. I love to do sketches of my destinations and the places I visit. I love to mess with the brush strokes in my oil paintings.
I love to hike with that heavy paint box just to paint a good landscape view.
This week, after wrapping up our final projects, we packed up our stuff and headed to Florence, Italy, the land of Michelangelo, Leonardo de Vinci, Artemisia Gentileschi and many other great artists.
After 3 days of working on our final projects without sleeping, Anna was sleepwalking while Axel and Emi were still surprisingly energized.
Everyone was passing out on the plane.
Florence is not like Amsterdam or Paris. There are no skyscrapers, no industrial zones.
The city seems transformed into a tourist site. Thousands of tourists were walking down the main street all at once.
But like Dave taught us, we must not let the tourists cover our view of this beautiful city. The city itself is a work of art.
Everywhere we went, there were fountains, arches, statues on the sides of the walls, on the ceilings and art in the food.
The hostel in Florence was a pain though.
Eating pre-made breakfasts and dinners, and having to catch a bus into town wasn’t really my thing, but because of staying there, we met a lot of nice people. I met a photography-graduate traveler named Alex who taught me a lot about the meaning of photography along with many technical skills.
Like usual, we skipped through many “typical” sights and focused on things that attracted us as artists: The Birth of Venus, Ghilberti’s doors, and the real David sculpted by Michelangelo. We felt shame that we couldn’t spend more time admiring the level of those masterpieces.
Dave had to pull Axel away from the Botticellis because we ran out of time in the Uffizi.
Jen surprised us with her final secret and gift to us: an extended lay over in Rome.
There, we pretty much looked like real tourists: “Here is the Colosseum, next, here is the Trevi Fountain, next the Spanish Steps.” Seeing the importance of Rome (on foot!) in 3.5 hours is an impossible mission, but during our layover, we did it.
We also left Italy with suitcases full of leathers.
Now, packing up to go back to the US, I’m feeling great regret. I want to do more, to see more. I’m heading to Dickinson College to study chemistry next year, I will try to do as much art as possible.
Below are some students’ final personal reflections. Enjoy.
Whenever considering what to say to the populous about Euro, I feel we are constantly having to validate ourselves and the program to our friends, parents, and the administration. Even recognizing how incredibly fortunate we are to have an amazing art program, arts are still seen as the softer option, and as less important than traditional academics. When speaking to others we must make sure to portray Euro properly, to let people know that it is work. This constant monitoring saddens me. On Euro we learn so much, about ourselves, about living with others and about discipline. Perhaps it isn’t advanced mathematical theories nor flashcard material (which I happen to be particularly fond of), but is that the only way we can quantify important knowledge? Art is emotional intelligence. Discovering what is inside and what you wish to convey then fighting with the slippery, writhing, hazy entity and forcing it to submit to your skill and capturing it in some way is nothing short of work. What have we done without school? As a group we read more and watched less. Cooked more and tasted better. We all picked up hobbies, indulged our vices (payed for it later on the time management side), and basically learned how to get our sh... I mean lives... together. The Flemings have taught us so much, about oil, acrylic, charcoal, pen, pencil, watercolor, leather, photography, and collage; but even more than that, they let us “sleep in the bed we made” as Dave would say, and become independent thinkers who know what we want. We all learned what inspires us, what hits us in the gut and fuels us to continue not only making art, but continue to drive our passions. For Nathan that’s international politics. For Anna it’s fashion design. I know that for me I want to do medical work in my future. But what do they teach you in every CPR class, every wilderness first aid, every lifeguarding certification? First you determine if the scene is safe. Take care of yourself so that you can take care of others. Being on Euro has taught me about me, and about how I can interact with the world’s issues, questions and struggles. I understand myself through many new lenses and from different angles. I have become a better rounded person due to Euro, mostly in part to the abandonment of traditional academics. Signing off eight weeks ago we might say farewell from Anna, Nathen, Walker, Cathy, Ben, Eli, Axel, Vance and Emi; toting our GPAs and test statistics. But now I think we recognize ourselves as more than that. We see a designer, linguist, portrait-er, savant, street artist, painter, leather man, photographer and a naturalist.
Ben “Bernardo de Milo” Mello
Where to even begin? What an experience. To describe my time abroad in just one short blurb is extremely hard because I can't think of one day that wasn't fun, exciting, and new. My time in Europe has been nothing but awesome. From promenading with Dave on Tuesdays and Thursdays doing open air paintings to having dance parties in the living room after dinner some nights, the accumulative experience has been more than I ever expected. After coming here I gained more of a deeper understanding of art and who I am as someone who enjoys doing art. I couldn't thank Jen and Dave enough for being the best teachers, dorm parents, and friends throughout the last eight weeks. They truly are the Renaissance couple. At the beginning of the trip, Dave and Jen sat down with me and wanted to know where I wanted to go with art. I always seemed to like street art so they helped me develop my love for street art even though it is not their forte. This experience will be one that I never forget and will always cherish. I came on the trip not knowing anyone and the group became one that was close knit right away, making this experience even more enjoyable. Saying goodbye was harder than I expected. I cannot thank Proctor enough for allowing me to spend my last term of high school abroad.
Looking back, I can't believe that I was in France for two months because the time flew by so quickly. I really can't believe all of the incredible things that we crammed into eight short weeks. We visited three countries and several major European cities. We saw art and artifacts from as far back as the Roman times, as well as paintings by masters such as Da Vinci, Botticelli, Renoir, Monet and Picasso. Though despite all of the stunning things, some of my favorite memories were the simpler times, such as when we "promenaded" with Dave. We would get in the car and drive to amazing places to paint and explore. This particular day we painted a medieval hill town, then spent some time enjoying the view of Provence atop a hill. It is so characteristic of our time in France. We had just packed up the car and were prepared to head back to the house when Dave stopped the car. "That is just too beautiful, we have to take pictures" he told us, and so we did. I loved the spontaneity of our time in France, we really just enjoyed the moment. It was so easy to be happy all the time that I didn't realize how hard I was actually working. Looking back through my work, I can see how much I improved and how big of an impact Euro had on me. So, though it's so sad that it is over, I love being able to look back at memory gems like these and remember how wonderful the past two months have been.
When it comes to art, I believed that ceramics was my only visual creative pathway. Since I have been practicing pottery for 6 years, when I came to Europe and had no clay or wheel in sight, I was scared to say the least. How on earth could I even begin to start learning art all over again? We received Carnet de Voyages (sketch books) and I was thrusted into sketching, using pens and watercolor pencils to capture the world around me day by day. I was so surprised when I began my first sketch ever of our mountain, Mt. Ste Victoire, because while what I had created was not perfect, it was mine. The proportions were off and the sky looked like tufts of hair, but it still looked like the mountain. I tried to remember back to some of my first ceramic creations and noticed that this was the same feeling. The bowl might have had a bad glazing job or a cracked lip, but I could still see my original intent, coming through the mistakes. We began painting soon after, and while the transition from painting glaze to painting acrylic and oil was not smooth, the same effect took hold. Sure, not everything I created was good and it took me a few tries to perfect my bird, but I was starting to learn that maybe I was not confined to one school of art. Leather tooling, etching, bookmaking, cooking and creative writing all also became part of my repertoire over the course of these short eight weeks and I am so happy that I went because if I did not, I would still be stuck on making plates and vases. This trip opened me up to so many different forms of art and I think that was the point all along. My world has changed and I have European Art Classroom to thank for that!
It is amazing how time flies when living in the moment. Waking up on the final morning, where the sun was streaming into my window, evoked all of the many memories of the past nine weeks. In only a few hours I will be gone, and there would never be another moment like that one. I will never again sleep in that bed and see the morning sun create a golden haze over the field of fragrant herbs and wildflowers beyond my bedroom window. I would never again dance barefoot in the living room with the group after dinner. I would never again paint in that studio, overlooking our mountain as the sun set behind it. It is so sad to think about such things, however, I will carry these moments and feelings with me at all times. But I think the thing I will miss the most is constantly being surrounded by such an interesting, funny, loving, creative group of people. We all have developed this genuine fondness for one another. I’m not saying that people don’t get on each other's nerves once and a while but we all just simply care about one another. Not only is it amazing how quickly a place can become home, but how quickly the people you surround yourself with become family. I feel beyond fortunate that I was able to live the way I did with these people for the past nine weeks.
European Art Classroom was the perfect way to end my time at Proctor. I truly feel like I came out of it a different person. Both with a new appreciation for the arts and a newfound hunger for travel. I remember being nervous last year, because I felt that it wasn't a good idea to go to Europe during my senior spring. Now I know that it was of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I'd like to thank my parents and the Proctor community for making that experience possible. Lastly, I would like to think Jen and Dave for all of their guidance through a truly amazing nine weeks abroad.
Every off-campus program at Proctor offers something to students that no other program does. In the case of European Art Classroom, we are offered the chance to truly explore the arts, with nothing to hold us back but our own timidity. In this environment, art is the quintessential form of academics, meaning that traditional academics cannot impinge on our exploration. I found this profoundly gratifying: having spent the last eleven terms working only on my core academics, I had no time within my high school career to expand upon my interests in art. Through European Art Classroom, Dave and Jen have completely evolved my passion for and understanding of art. But more than that, they have given me the chance to explore everything from cooking, to guitar, to leather working.