I know that many of you lead busy lives and are able to take Icon classes only once or twice a year- and those classes usually last only a few precious days. The best way to really benefit from our intermittent classes is to do as much reading and preparation on Icons as possible. With that in mind, I want to refer you to a series of four articles written by Father Silouan Justinian for the Orthodox Journal. It is a series called: “Imagination, Expression, Icon, Encountering the Internal Prototype.”
As there are many nuances involved in writing Icons that cover both the spiritual life of an Iconographer and the artist’s creative skills, I encourage you to take a look at these. Here are the links to each part of the series:
My suggestion would be to bookmark or print out each article to read at a time where you have leisure to ponder and think about each one. Eventually, I hope to compile a book of such essays and other instructional materials for the potential Iconography student. As this field continues to grow in popularity, a high standard of training that incorporates the writings of leading contemporary authors along with practical, good artistic training would be a beneficial addition to the field.
We all know that the lifestyle of an Iconographer is one of prayer and fasting. Also, we know that being part of a Church, having good spiritual direction, receiving the Sacraments regularly are also important to writing Icons. Within this context, good artistic training is also important. What a task! But as you all have experienced, it is an exciting and blessed task. No one will be able to do everything perfectly, but willingness and diligence to seriously undertake the study will have very positive effects.
In St. Benedict’s Prologue to “Saint Benedict’s Rule For Monks” he says:
“My son, listen carefully to your master’s teaching. Treasure it in your heart. Be open to receive and generous to respond to the counsel of a loving father. You have strayed from God by the sloth of disobedience. Return to him then, by the work of obedience. Accordingly, I speak to you, whoever you may be, who giving up your own will and taking the strong and bright weapons of obedience, are prepared to fight for the true King, Christ”.
In taking up the task of Icon writing, we always need to remember that it is about much more than just our own will. Here is a quote from the above mentioned Part 4 of Father Silouan’s article:
“In other words, the icon painter should not repeat the resultof encounter, but rather his work should arise and re-present (ex-press) a true, fresh and living re-encounter with the subject depicted. But, this, of course, is not to promulgate the modernist cult of individualism or so called “artistic genius.” On the contrary, as just mentioned, life in the Body of Christ presupposes the flourishing of ourselves as unique and true persons[x] in loving communion with one another, in contradistinction to our ego-centric or individualistic identity in which we wither as isolated numerical “units.”[xi]Moreover, let us not forget that in this ecclesial life, “there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit.”[xii] That is, inner union in the Spirit does not mean uniformity at the expense of diversity. Each person as a member, in a unique manner, contributes towards the edification of the whole Body. Therefore, the traditional practice of “anonymity,” that is, of not signing the icon, should not be understood as an aspiration towards the complete obliteration of the iconographer’s gifts and creative temperament.[xiii] It is rather a reminder that only in humble cooperation with the Divine Craftsman, in becoming one with Him through the Holy Spirit, will his true self and art flourish to the fullness of their capacity. Obedience becomes liberation. Thereby he will be able to uncover nuances contained in the prototypes previously unnoticed and contribute unrepeatable expressionsof Tradition. In undermining this side of the icon, seeking to protect it from “artistic license” and foreign cultural influences, we may in fact blunt its power, making of it a purely mechanical act that contradicts basic principles of Orthodoxy.”
Understanding and correct application of the Traditions and Canons of Iconography can only come through time and experience.
One final quote from Part 4:
” The iconographer preaches the Gospel in colors and chants hymns of praise, trembling as he says, in the words of the Nativity sticheron, “How hard it is to compose hymns of love, framed in harmony.” With his art he paints the Word, plastically manifesting, indeed enfleshing the Logos. This is truly an “artistic license” of kerygmatic expression in free will. For as Christ Himself has ordained: “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature.”[xxii]”
I look forward to seeing you all in Icon classes, or now on the Facebook Page you are welcome to post your work or any important links about Icons that you think will benefit the Community of Iconographers.
May God bless you and the work of your hands,
Christine Simoneau Hales