This month has been busy with writing Icons and teaching classes. The Holy Cross Monastery Icon Retreat was wonderful, each participant wrote their own St. George Icon, and we had them blessed by Brother Roy on Sunday before Diurnum. It is a wonderful place to study Icon writing since we are able to be part of each day’s morning prayer and Eucharist and share meals with the Brothers and other guests in the octagonal dining room over looking the Hudson River. Truly a joy to teach there!
The prayer of St. George: “Obtain for us the Grace of heroic Christian courage that should mark soldiers of Christ” Amen.
As many of you know, the Icon is a kind of synthesis of the spiritual truths and values of the Church. It is much more than just a religious painting. It is a meeting point between the Divine and the human heart. It is a visible, created beauty, a place where prayer joins us to the image of God. It truly is an honor and privilege to be called to this beautiful practice of writing Icons.
Here are two new ones I am working on – one of Our Lady of Guadalupe and the other a Transfiguration Icon. Here are some work in progress photos:
The following is an important on line Iconographic Resource for those of us interested in the early Icons:
“In 1956, Professor George Forsyth, of the University of Michigan, invited Kurt Weitzmann, of Princeton University, to join him on an exploratory trip to Sinai. From 1958 to 1965, the University of Michigan, Princeton University, and the University of Alexandria carried out four research expeditions to the remote Monastery of Saint Catherine at Mount Sinai—the oldest continuously inhabited Orthodox Christian monastery in the world, with a history that can be traced back over seventeen centuries. The documentation collected by the Michigan-Princeton-Alexandria Expeditions to Mountain Sinai, under the direction of Professor George Forsyth (below, right) and Professor Kurt Weitzmann (pictured below left), is a profoundly important resource for Byzantine studies.” (Quote from the website link below.)
This website displays all the color transparencies and color slides in the possesion of the Department of Art and Archaeology at Princeton. The online images are limited to a size of 1024 pixels. These images are available to download and use for teaching and scholarly purposes.
St. Luke’s Guild of Iconographers- a group of Iconographers who pray and write Icons- many of whom have studied with me. Their primary focus is community through prayer and writing Icons. Here’s a link to their Facebook Page
Praying a blessing over your Icon writing, until we meet again!
This month, I have two articles that have, at heart, a re-examination of two central issues to Icon making:
First, the Getty Museum has just announced a new digital art history protest of Medieval art and it’s relationship to Christianity and culture – all issues that are part of the invisible foundations of Icon writing.
Second, Mary Jane Miller, an Iconographer in Mexico, wrote and asked if she could guest blog on a topic pertinent to Icon writing- Women in Icons- cultural biases and concerns. It’s a good topic with many more points that could made in the future. Hope you enjoy them both! As always, we look forward to your comments and thoughts as long as they are given a constructive and kind spirited manner!
A new digital art history project seeks to correct biases in how databases represent meaning in medieval Christian imagery
The French Institut National d’Histoire de l’Art (INHA) is launching an ambitious project for scholars and the broader public that proposes an innovative way of accessing medieval Christian images. By building complex and nuanced vocabularies of keywords and terms, the “Ontology of Medieval Christianity in Images” (OMCI) will allow databases to better represent how such images depict philosophical and spiritual themes that have been diminished or even ignored in current approaches.
Traditionally, Western art history has favored examining narrative aspects of medieval Christian images over conceptual ones. As art historians have adopted digital media in their work, this preference has been reflected in the structure of databases, which have tended to organize information about medieval Christian artworks around themes related to biblical and Christian places, events, characters, and objects.
However, medieval Christian artworks depict much more than narratives. In the Christian tradition, the material and spiritual worlds, and the course of history itself, are expressions of God’s law for the universe. The very structure of medieval Christian images—as expressed in their content and composition—often mirrors that overarching cosmological order.
In other words, the relationship between pictorial content and religious ideology in medieval Christian images is much more nuanced, and more expressive, than simple storytelling. The OMCI is concerned with this ontological level of analysis: the OMCI team of art historians, graduate students, and technology experts intends to build a web resource that will identify keywords and iconographical themes linked to medieval Christian knowledge and belief systems. These will be augmented by examples from the art of that period—such as the images featured above—that reflect both cultural values and Christian ideals.”
“I HAVE been a practicing Christian all my life and half of that time dedicated to the practice of painting (writing) icons. Biblical text, liturgy, and prayer are my source of strength and comfort, just like millions of people around the world. I would like to share some of the observations I have made while painting icons and at times disturbing reflections on some familiar Bible verses. Adam and Eve: the biblical story interpreted often defines Eve as being created second to Adam and responsible for original sin, which of course became all women’s greatest sin, the temptation of sexual sin. 1 Corinthians 14:34 : “Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak…”, the new testament continues with verses that ultimately prohibiting them from serving in positions of authority, the like of which has effected every women’s place in society. In actuality, beginning as early as the fourth century the dominant Christian leaders, all men, twisted and distorted Holy Scriptures to thwart the ascendant positions for women within the religious hierarchy and in christian societies in general.
The underlying teachings of Jesus Christ, the Apostle Paul, Moses and the prophets, – all call for the proper and equitable treatment of God’s children. I have always known in my heart and soul, women are not inferior to men; without a doubt, God loves humanity equally. Tragically, as an iconographer of 25 years, self taught and inspired, I have not had to look far to see that in this great tradition that I so love, the place of women in the iconographers community or in the images depicted thy have been noticeably absent until recently.
Now ironically, women may be holding the means to this great sacred art forms survival. Those who are graced with the desire to paint sacred text, have an obligation as prayer practitioners to re-examine how or why Women are not mentioned in the great feast days like Pentecost, at the last supper, or the baptism of Christ, etc. It is not God’s commandment that they are not heard of in text or seen in sacred image. When the feminine voice and new icon images are ushered into today’s church community, the addition will benefit us all. When you stand before an icon for any amount of time you cannot help but see first the beauty they have as a work of art. A well done icon is a powerful tool and often provokes insights and visions. This interior conflict for women because of our absence within the fullness of societies and the church is a worthy discussion we all need to engage in. We live in an age of great bigotry, self righteousness and personalized isolation. Including more women in Icons stimulates new perspectives on a theological issue which is still in it’s infancy.
Some might ask, why would I care about such details. If you are an iconographer you are supposed to transcribe the Bible word for word and uphold the theological doctrines which the church maintains. The problem for me is my thinking mind. Mary being portrayed as the perfected quiet servant and silent mother I feel has been a hindrance to the development of women and their voice in the Christian church institutions.
I am asking for a simple review to rectify what we all are beginning to see as misguided behavior of the past. That must change if we are to going to have a thriving church in the future. When the feminine voice and new icon images are ushered into today’s church community, the addition will benefit us all.
Inquisitive women like myself have always been around Christ listening to His message, they were there cooking and cleaning at the Last Supper, at the wedding at Canon and when He fed the five thousand. When Christ invited the children, you can be sure the mothers were there, too. These women were imbued with unrecognized human qualities: those who speak and those who contemplate, those who teach and those who administer and, finally, those who are mystics with their wisdom, living and walking among us. If we believe that God’s boundless presence is reflected through sacred text and in iconographic image, then the New Eve can and should live in communion with the New Adam to offset the gender imbalance in science, art, government, religion and all other facets of life.
World leaders have recently published a statement that declares: “The justification of discrimination against women and girls on grounds of religion or tradition, as if it were prescribed by a Higher Authority, is unacceptable.” It is time for the church “fathers” to draft a similar statement.
While I am painting new images of women in iconography, I am also challenging all denominations within the Christian church to re-frame parts of Holy Scriptures which have justified the superiority of men over women. We are told we are One body in God, called to be One mind in Christ. Let us live into that reality where Christian women will served as deacons, priests, bishops, apostles, mystics, healers, teachers and prophets, etc. through image and word. ” By Mary Jane Miller San Miguel Icons
Thank you Mary Jane for your thoughts and observations. If you have a topic or article to submit for review, just send an email. Creating Sacred Images that build our relationship to God in a strong and powerful way is most important in the times we live in. May we all keep this in prayer, for God to guide His Iconographers, women and men, to create the Holy images we need for our time and culture today.
May God bless you and keep you, and may His wisdom fill all that you say and do.
This spring has been rainy and cold here in upstate New York. Normal for Spring, but what seems to be in short supply are warm sunny days in-between! Good weather to begin some new Icons, that’s what I say!
My newest Icons were all shipped off to their new homes: Two to Seattle, The one with the Four Anglo/Catholic Saints, Father James Otis Sargent Huntington, OHC founder of the Order of the Holy Cross, Fr. Richard Meux Benson, SSJE, Mother Harriet Monsell, CSJB, and Priscilla Lydia Sellon. Also to Seattle went the Icon of Allan Rohan Crite, known as the Dean of Liturgical painting in Boston. Each of these people were inspiring in the way God moved through them in the worlds they lived in, to affect and change the status quo around them. Showing them to my five year old granddaughter prompted her to ask “Can I be a Saint?”. What a good question! So sweet!
The other new one is my recent St. Michael Fighting the Dragon which is now in Miami.
I particularly like the way the Scripture quotation in this one calls us to remember who won/wins the heavenly battle!
The Canons in Creating Icons
One of the things I deal with often with students and clients is the question “what is it that makes an Icon a good contemporary Icon?” While it’s impossible to come up with a concise definition, there are some guidelines that apply. In this month’s blog, I want to speak a little about the Canons of Iconography.
Icons are sacred, or holy pictures in that they represent either a Gospel story or a Saint and are intended to draw us into the world of heaven as we look at them. They are created by an Iconographer who lives a prayerful, fasting lifestyle and who prays while they paint the Icon. It therefore is the bearer of prayers and beauty to the viewer.
On Canonicity in Icons, the following is an excerpt from a “Road to Emmaus” interview with well-known French Iconographer, Emilie Van Taack. She was a faithful student of Leonid Ouspensky
“…There is only one rule, Rule 82, decreed by the Council in Trulo, part of the Sixth Ecumenical Council. This is the iconographic canon, in which it is stated that icon painter must follow older painter, that they must be in this stream of tradition, but exactly how they are to do this is not described. What is stated is that an icon must show both the humility of the Man Jesus and His glory as God; that is, it must manifest the Incarnation. In an icon of the Lord, you must be able to see that this man who is preseneted is not only man, but also God. You must see the Person of Christ. The Council made this rule because at this period there were still some symbolic representations, like in the early Church, representing Christ by a fish, or as a sheperd, or as a lamb – not the hypostatic representation of the Person of Jesus Christ. The Council said that all of these symbolic representations are like the shadows of the Old Testament. Since we have been illumined by the truth of the New Testament, we no longer use these old and outdated symbols, but we must present Christ Himself. Who incarnated into a human body and can be represented in the body. This is the only canon, the only rule of the Church.
In defining what is “canonical” in icon painting, we have, of course, many beautiful old canonical icons to refer to. But canonicity is difficult to define. I cannot tell you what is canonical, because icons themselves define the canons. It is a circle, and we must accept it like this. By looking at these beautiful icons, studying them, copying them, little by little they help you to see yourself this image of Christ, and then you will be able to paint it without looking to the old, because you will have it in your own heart. This is a saving situation, because in this way we cannot possess the canon: it is a free gift that God gives or takes back as He wills.”
Also, please note that there is now on this site an Icon Resources page . Please email me with suggestions about links to add there in the future.
I’d like to close here with a quote from Father Andrew Tregubov taken from the book, published by St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, “Light of Christ” Father Tregubov compiled on the works of contemporary Iconographer Gregory Kroug:
“One of the wonders of our Creator is that everything in His creation is unique. The ” Great Artificer” touches the tiniest creature with a very special personal touch, expressing His love for it. He never comes to us in an impersonal way, but instead reveals Himself in the context of a real personal relationship . The Icons , in the same way, are never made for the Church in general but for individual persons who pray before them and venerate them. God, in His boundless love, already knows all people, even those in the future; and He inspires the Iconographer in such a way that the Icon will truly be His personal revelation for those who will see it.”
This month, sharing Icons with kindergarten children in Boston was a special joy – I used pages from the Icon coloring book that they could “paint” and I demonstrated making egg tempera- they loved trying it!
Also was blessed to lead an Introduction to Icon writing workshop in Miami and Morningstar Renewal Center, directed by Sue de Ferrari. Many of the participants were students of Sue’s in a unique Spiritual Direction Training program through St. Thomas University. It was a blessed workshop in so many ways, including a Good Friday Stations of the Cross prayer walk, using my Stations Icons.
The weekly Albany Icon writing class is up and running again. To view class times and schedules got to www.iconwritingclasses.com.
In teaching Icon workshops and classes,, and particularly in giving talks about Icons to a more general audience, I realize how important it is to explain the difference between an Icon and a religious painting. I think that issue warrants more thought and explanation amongst the Icon writing community. When we consider the history of Icons, and the development of Icon writing particularly from the eighth century forward, there seems to be a development that begins to decline in levels of artistic and spiritual quality particularly in the seventeenth through nineteenth centuries.
Religious Paintings vs Icons
We can see that in the elongation of forms, the more naturalistic rendering of people and objects, and in the gradual loss of that flatness of spatial relationships. What begins to happen is that the “heavenly world” that world that operates not on the same laws as earth, but instead, the miraculous space that God inhabits.
I believe that most of us Iconographers are aware of this and the importance of not copying Icons from the Renaissance forward is part of that understanding. Does anyone know of more clearly articulated articles or books that define this difference between “good Icons” and ones that are considered “corrupted”? I think it would be useful for the Iconographic community to consider various ideas and opinions on this subject, so please email or forward relevant writings on the topic and I will try to continue to post regarding this notion of “what makes a Good Icon?”. Below is an in depth video that is interesting and informative.
“God in all that is most living and incarnate in Him, is not far away from us. altogether apart from the world we see, touch, hear, smell and taste about us. Rather he awaits us every instant in our action, in our work of the moment… he is at the tip of my pen, my brush, my needle- of my heart and of my thought.” Teilhard de Chardin
For Lent, I have been re-reading “Seeking God”, The Way of Saint Benedict by Esther DeWaal. In thinking about Icon Writing, teaching students, and community formation, there are many thoughts and concepts within the “Way of St. Benedict” that are worth bringing forward to the formation of an Icon writing community. A quote from her book from St. Benedict’s prologue:
“The Lord has himself given us the time and space necessary to learn and put into practice the service love that He continues to teach us. In this school of His let us hope that following faithfully his instructions nothing distasteful or burdensome will be demanded of us, but if it has to be so in order to overcome our egoism and lead us into the depths of true love, let us not become disheartened nor frightened and so ignore the narrow path in spite of its tight entrance-that path which leads directly to the fulness of life”.
As we move forward, please email or send your thoughts or suggestions about community formation as Iconographers.
While in Icon classes we need to teach the principles of imagery research, drawing, composition, and paint application, the spiritual life is also an important part of the process. The recent Icon retreat I taught at Holy Cross Monastery was a wonderful time of combining both as we entered into the prayer rhythm of the Monks and ate our meals and prayed with regularity and holy community as well as creating beautiful Icons of the face of our Savior.
I think everyone went away deeply happy, rested, and with their own Icon of Christ to complete the Lenten process of prayer and fasting.
Anne Marie Prono, Architect and Iconographer, was in the Holy Cross class and shared with me an article about how she brought Icons to children in Queens.
The above link is a new post by Iconographer Deacon Paul O. Iacono that is very worth reading, in that its intention is to articulate some of the principles inherent in creating sacred art.
This month I am so grateful and happy that CIVA- Christians in the Visual Arts, published a piece I wrote about Icons entitled “American Iconography”. Hope you like it!
This month, I have given two Icon writing retreats one in Sarasota,Florida, and one in Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY, photos follow:
And here is the Sarasota Church of the Redeemer new Iconographers :
Two last notes: Miroslav, an Icon board preparer in Serbia has reached out to me regarding receiving orders for Icon boards. His prices seem competitive, even with shipping, and I will be sending him an order in the next week or so. Here are some photos of his work, and he also does just gessoed panels in regular sizes, so let me know if any of you are interested in ordering one of his boards.
Last, but not least, I will be teaching an Icon writing class at Morningstar Renewal Center in Miami Florida, April 13-15 for Holy week with a special presentation on Good Friday with Stations of the Cross Icons in the garden. Please join us if you can.
Sending you all prayers for a Holy Easter and joy in Icon writing,
Wherever I go, giving talks or workshops about Icons, there is always one question people ask: “Why do you say Icon writing and not Icon painting”? Most of you who have had class with me know the answer in a general way, but because it highlights some important issues, I want to clarify even more what we mean by “write” instead of “paint”.
Discerning and describing the difference between a religious painting and an Icon is the heart of the matter. When you think of beautiful religious paintings, like Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, or Raphael’s Madonnas, or Da Vinci’s Madonna of the rocks, or countless other beautiful religious paintings- what are the differences between them and an Icon? And why does it matter?
Icons are images that contain Spiritual power and grace. They do this by the combination of prayers, Traditions of the Church, sacred geometric composition, Scriptural narratives and the intention of the Iconographer to convey the Saints in the light of the Holy Spirit operating within them.
Icons are meant to be Scripture in visual form. In the readings at Church this past Sunday, about the Transfiguration in 2Peter 1: 16-21, just after God’s audible voice tells us “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased”, Peter says ” And we have the prophetic word made more sure. You will do well to pay attention to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morningstar rises in your hearts. First of all, no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by the impulse of man, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.”
So, in that Scriptural passage is a clarification of the difference between an Icon and a religious painting – the religious painting has more of the artist’s personal interpretation and is less strictly following the Word of God. Michelangelo’s painting style is called “mannerism” and is emotive and expressive of more than just the Scriptural scenes depicted. This development from the Renaissance onward, has contributed to the marginalization of God’s Sovereignty in the contemporary world and culture. THAT is why we make emphasis on “writing” , rather than “painting”so that we can bring forward, through the Icon, a more God-centric perspective, from an earlier time and attempt to become disentangled from the Humanism that we have unconsciously absorbed from our culture.
There is a great deal more to say and document about this important shift perspective, and as always, I point the reader to Egon Sendler’s excellent book “The Icon, Image of the Invisible. Elements of Theology, Aesthetics, and Technique” for a more thorough treatment of the visual, and theological principles involved in Icon “writing”.
Perhaps in the next blog we can look at the issue of Pictorial space in an Icon- other key difference between religious paintings and Icons.
Just wanted to mention some interesting Icon Links to you all: Icons and Their Interpretation is a blog I recommend if you are interested in the meanings behind the old Icons. It is a site dedicated to the study of Greek, Russian, and Baltic Icons. Here is a link to their recent post about the Icon “Let All That Has Breath Praise the Lord”. It is a lovely Icon and really shows the Iconographic language and method of illustrating Scripture.
Also, another useful link is that for the Museum of Russian Icons in Clinton, Massachusetts. They have a variety of changing programs and exhibitions and I’m sure some will be of interest.
Last thing to mention for this blog is three Lenten Icon writing workshops I am offering before Easter – you are invited to any of these:
This month I would like to give you some of my resources and links that have a lot of varied information about Icons and creating Icons. Some of these are repeats from last year, but thought you all might like to see them here in one place:
Also want to mention the article that came out in the National Catholic Reporter, Dec. 2016: “Iconography Classes Draw non Orthodox in Search of Spiritual Images”. It is important because it draws attention to the current revival in Icon Writing classes as well as making the point that sacred images are of increasing importance to all denominations of Christianity.
“Experts say the growth in interest — and diversity of religions involved — has been building over the last couple of decades.”
“David Morgan, a religion scholar and art historian at Duke University, said the iconography tradition, which dates to the early centuries of Christianity, is designed to be distinct from more naturalistic art, which became more common in the Renaissance period.
The flatness of the image, its stillness, the large eyes of its figures and the often symmetrical style are all intentional ways of distinguishing between the ordinary world and a heavenly realm.
The two-dimensional image denies three-dimensional presence,” he said. “It says the spirit is not about three dimensions. It’s about a reality that is revealed in the image, revealed in the holy Scriptures, revealed in the sacrament, and it’s something that one needs to recognize as very special.” There is more in the article and I have included the link above.
It is hopeful and encouraging that many more people are experiencing the spiritual joys of Iconography.
I gave a talk this month at Church of the Redeemer, a beautiful Episcopal Church in Sarasota, Florida, that was well attended and the questions afterwards showed a lively interest and an awareness that Icons have the effect of strengthening our faith in many different ways.
I think that understanding our differences as Iconographers and agreeing on the important elements of Icon writing that we share are key to being part of a vibrant community. Perhaps we can all include the community of Iconographers in our prayers as we move forward in Faith as servants of God and His Church.
As we contemplate the New Year ahead, Icons have an important role to play in shaping the structure and content of our lives, for they are signs pointing the way to the future. How does that work? In my prayer practice and in my choice of Icons to write, I choose Icons that will be effective in directing my attention and prayers to the outcomes, wisdom, and direction I am seeking.
“Where there is no vision, the people perish.” Proverbs 29:18
Whatever your political leanings, there has never been a more important time to pray and to write Icons. For in choosing which Icons to write, we can call forth, through prayer, the guidance and assistance of the community of saints who have gone before us. Mysterious and powerful, the Byzantine Holy images that were created hundreds of centuries ago, contain a window into the Divine that is sometimes hard to locate in our contemporary world. In the prayerful atmosphere of meditation and contemplation with an Icon, we enter into that holy, creative space where we listen to God and receive Holy Wisdom.
Some examples of Icons that relate to this concept of praying and contemplation with a purpose are: Christ, calling forth Unity, forgiveness and discernment; Julian of Norwich, calling forth peace; Saint Anthony the Great, father of monasticism and defeater of demonic temptations; Saint Michael the Archangel, Protector of the world; The Madonna, protector of children everywhere; the list is endless. In fact,it would be interesting and you are invited to list your own favorite Icons and saints in the comments section below.
If you are interested in contributing to the American Association of Iconographers blog or if you’d like to become a member, please add your name and information in the comments section below.
In speaking about one of her Icon writing classes, Iconographer Mary Jane Miller states: “The main goal of the study is to cultivate a clear and conscious image that becomes a lasting window to the Divine” It is precisely this that Icons and Icon writing have to offer. The more clearly we pray, create our vision with God’s help, we bring God’s grace and intervention to the very world we live in. While Icons are most often seen in the context of liturgical worship within the Church, their place is also needed in our individual worlds outside the church, helping us to minister to those around us by granting us access to heaven through the Icons.
If you’d like to make an Icon workshop part of your 2017 Spiritual Plan, I will be teaching three this year. The first one will be an advanced Icon writing workshop held at the beautiful Holy Cross Monastery in West Park, NY, March 21-24. It is for those who have previous experience and wish to continue. Individual instruction and demonstrations will be provided.
May God continue to bless you in 2017, and may your prayer reach extend to all those in need in your community and in your nation and the world.
“Advent asks us to keep vigil for the Christ who comes to us anew in this season. It invites us to keep our face turned toward the horizon in hope. But Advent asks us also to open our hearts to the Christ who keeps vigil for us, the Christ who stands not on some distant horizon but, instead, is already with us, waiting for us to open our eyes to his presence that stays with us always.
As Advent begins, may you be blessed in your vigil: the one you keep, the one being kept for you. In that vigil, may you find your deepest welcome and know yourself at home. Peace.”
The word Advent comes from the Latin, “Adventus” which means coming. It is the beginning of the Liturgical year and is a time of preparation, looking forward to the celebration of Christ’s birth. As Iconographers, we rejoice in the implications of this time waiting, the coming of Christ, the Word made flesh. Truly a symbol of Icons where we write the Image of Christ in remembrance of His HolyPresence and action upon us. During Advent we open our hearts to His influence and love in joyous anticipation of a life filled with the fulness of His Spirit.
I love this Icon of Christ in Glory, especially at this time of year. The predominant colors of red, green and gold ochre are highly symbolic and offer a clarity and simplicity found especially in Advent. Red and green are opposites and in Christ, both heaven and earth are united, within the context of gold, the color of God’s Presence and light. The four Evangelists in the corners remind us of Christ’s birth as a fulfillment of both Old and New Testament Prophesies.
In the two unfinished stages of the Annunciation Icon below, written by Jennifer Richard-Morrow, they graphically depict a sense of waiting, the form is visible, but the details are coming slowly, eventually creating a dynamic picture of a very exciting event in the life of Mary.
In Advent, I think of Mary- her waiting. Keeping her focus on God, her savior, prided a faith filled context within which the waiting became joyous. Her whole being was trained through prayer and family lo
ve to honor God’s will and to rejoice that she was chosen for the difficult and perilous mission of being the mother of Jesus. She believed God was doing great things for her. God’s will, not her own. “Oh, how I praise the Lord, my savior.” Luke 1 :46.
I encourage you to meditate and reflect, with a Madonna Icon if possible. God has called each one of us. May we wait with certainty and joy as his plan unfolds.
Brother Aidan, a Benedictine monk of the Holy Cross Monastery, has a weekly blog that this week begins a meditation on Advent and fasting. “Learning How to Fast”. He talks about how important it is to allow ourselves to experience the feeling of emptiness. We need to experience hunger in order to know what we are truly hungry for.
“Although Advent is not a penitential season, it is a season of waiting and watching, a season of expectation. Our Christmas celebration will be all the sweeter if we sit in the gathering darkness of winter and allow ourselves to long for the dawning of the light rather than turning on every lightbulb in the house in an effort to cast out the shadows. Let’s relearn how to fast. It will make our feast all the more joyous when it comes.” Brother Aidan, Holy Cross Monastery
“For a true Iconographer, creation is the way of asceticism and prayer, that is, essentially, a monastic way.” Leonid Ouspensky; The Meaning Of Icons
Sending love and prayers this beautiful Advent Season. May you experience the love of God and Mary especially this Christmas.
Good question. When we speak of Greek Iconographers, or Romanian, or Russian, or English we immediately have a picture in our minds of what those “styles” look like. Even the contemporary European and Eastern Iconographers, while experimenting with new ideas, are still working from the old style. That old style consists of illustrative images, cartoonish almost, with a kind of light and form that differs from “natural” light and form, but it is varied in interpretations.
America as a country is home to people of many different national origins, so our nationality is defined more by citizenship and allegiance than by ethnicity. After many years as a “melting pot” of different cultural ideas, America has come to have its own identity, even amongst diversity.
So what does an American style of Iconography look like? Many American Iconographers I know have styles that are derived from the teachers they studied under. So much so, that one can see their Icons and immediately know whom they studied with. In part this is due to the notion that copying is the approved way of making an Icon.
In my training, I was taught that we always use models for our Icons created before the Renaissance and this is because after the Renaissance, the age of humanism dawned and people created art not to glorify God, but to glorify man’s achievements. I was and am so grateful for this awareness, for it helped to break me free from the traditional art college training I had had and allowed me to see a more ancient, God centric approach to making art.
That being said, I do however, owe a lot to some of the really good art teachers available in the art world.One of those, Arthur Wesley Dow (1857-1922) said “Good drawing results from trained judgement, not from the making of facsimiles or maps. Train the judgment and ability to draw grows naturally.” So this more experience based approach to drawing is what I use in creating my Icons. I research, find models from before the Renaissance (or just at the turning point- a time when many painters were trained first as Iconographers), then spend time praying, reading relevant Holy Scripture, the saints’ biography, listening to sacred music, and enter into a prayerful creative experience with the Creator. This last, being in a prayerful state is of the highest importance in the “writing” of an Icon.
That is the gift of the practice, it lifts us up out of our intellect into our creative selves, that discipline of getting past the chatter of the mind is facilitated by the practice of prayer and painting. (paraphrased from Tim Hawkesworth).
This being said, one would not wish to ignore the importance of Tradition in Icon writing. “Since in its essence the Icon, like the word, is a liturgic art, it never served religion, but, like the word, has always been and is an integral part of religion, one of the instruments for the knowledge of God, one of the means of communion with Him.” Leonid Ouspensky, The Meaning of Icons. It is not a question of either or, but both and.
I know that many of my students’ Icons are reflective of a deep relationship and personal experience with God. An example of one student’s faith and desire to bring others into relationship with God, is Dahlia Herring’s Icon of Jesus pulling Peter from the water. Another student, W. Michael Shirk, an Independent Catholic Priest, writes his Icons while praying constantly, and this is often reflected in attention to detail.
When I wrote my Icon of the “Entry Into Jerusalem”, I was identifying with Jesus and thinking about the human aspect of what it’s like when one goes forward to one’s destiny. His looking back seems so human, and his movement forward, Divine. As an artist I gain strength and guidance from this moment, and I keep this Icon to remind me to pray for God’s will, not mine.
This country is so vast geographically, and there are many Iconographers in each of the 50 states. I hope someday to have a list of all the American Iconographers and their contact details on this site, in order for people to contact them for commissions and classes. I do get asked if I can recommend an Iconographer in different cities and hope to be able to serve as that kind of an association for Iconographers in the future.
Please contact me if you are an Iconographer, if you’d like to be listed on this site with a link to your website.