Icons as Visio Divina

Hello Fellow Iconographers:

Cloister holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Cloister Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY

This month, teaching the “Color and Light in Icons” class at the Holy Cross Monastery in West Park, NY was truly a Holy experience. With such a beautiful monastery, warm and gracious hospitality of Abbot Bernard and all the Brothers, and wonderful people enrolled in the class, how could it not be amazing?

We painted the icon of the Good Shepherd and read aloud Psalm 23 and meditated on it day and night, while writing the icon.

Sine icons are theology in picture form, there is a deep relationship between Holy Scripture and the icon.  The icon is the symbolic picture that the words of scripture describe, enhanced by the prayers and love of God the iconographer brings to the process.

Russian icons, Icon painting retreat, modern icons
Putting the olifa on the finished icon

Through the act of creation we enter into a relationship with God the creator that is enhanced with the addition of His word in Holy Scripture. The resulting icon from this co- creative process becomes a vessel containing God’s presence through His imagery and the iconographer’s prayers.

Good Shepherd Icon, Icon Painting Class, Byzantine icon
Good Shepherd Icon, Icon Painting Class

Meditating on Scripture, and/or on the life of the saint being depicted in the icon is of primary importance in icon writing.  It’s important to make oneself ready to receive divine revelation and then translate that into the painting process with the icon.

Holy Cross Monastery, icon painting retreat, Christine Hales
He makes me to lie down in green pastures, He leads me beside the still waters, He restores my soul… Holy Cross Monastery 2018

In teaching icon writing/painting classes, I like to emphasize our shared Christian faith that is being made visible in the revelation and shared spiritual knowledge that is being made available through the process of icon writing. Each student has their own unique conversation with God during the icon writing process, and sharing that communion with others in the class increases the level of revelation available to the group as a whole.  We have a strong belief in the intrinsic value of the icons being created and understand that they affect both the maker and the viewer.  Icon writing is a powerful ministry!

Icon retreat with Christine Hales at Holy Cross Monastery 2018
Icon retreat with Christine Hales at Holy Cross Monastery 2018

Membership in the American Association of Iconographers

Membership in the American Association of Iconographers is now open to all iconographers who have a sincere desire to “spread the joy icons throughout the world”.

Email Christine with your name, website and any additional information. Volunteers to help by being on the steering committee are appreciated.

Blessings,

Christine Hales

Icons

Deadline: Fourth of July!!

Dear Fellow Iconofiles and Students:

One of the tasks of the spiritual in art is to prove again and again that vision is possible; that the world, thick and convincing, is neither the only world nor the highest, and that our ordinary awareness is neither the only awareness nor the highest of which we are capable.  Traditionally, this task falls under a stringent rule; the vision cannot be random and entirely subjective, but must be capable of touching a common chord in many men and women.”  Roger Lipsey, “An Art Of Our Own, The Spiritual in Twentieth Century Art”.

Transfiguration Icon by Christine Hales in Progress
Transfiguration Icon by Christine Hales in Progress

Three months ago I gave myself a challenge: to write down everything that I thought was important in art and in Iconography and then to create a book.  My Deadline was the Fourth of July and my target was 20,000 words.  Yesterday I made my goal, with time to spare!  Of course now the editing process begins, but I honestly know now that this path of spiritual discovery in art is as important as anything else I could imagine doing.  For it is a research into human inspiration, philosophy, dreams, religion, politics, and moral development through the ages as evidenced in art, specifically painting and Iconography.

Icons in the Twentieth Century5a6303a44b080af2951c29a0327f97dd

In 1904, a small portion of Andrey Rulev’s Holy Trinity Icon was cleaned of the dark soot that had been its covering for centuries.  This one act led eventually to a whole group of Icons in Russia being cleaned and “discovered”, and this, in turn, has largely contributed to the revival in Iconographic interest today. When the Trinity was cleaned and uncovered through restoration, crowds began making pilgrimages to see it.

In 1911, Henri Matisse visited Moscow and was incredulous at the power and beauty he experienced in seeing these Icons.  So much so, that his art was strongly influenced by them for the rest of his life. He declared that the Russian medieval masters had already found what he had been seeking painting!

Ezekiel Icon by Christine Hales in Icon Exhibition at Westminster Presbyterian Church 2017
Ezekiel Icon by Christine Hales in Icon Exhibition at Westminster Presbyterian Church 2017

My new book will be about Iconography and its effect on the development of the best in modern art.  Putting together the pieces of this puzzle has been illuminating.   Wassily Kandinsky, the foremost pioneer of modern art, was not only deeply affected by icons in their painterly language, but also in the clarity and truth of the spiritual reality they conveyed.

Researching writers like Pavel FLorensky, Leonid Ouspensky, Roger Lipsey, Irina Yazykova, as well as modern master artists, I found there is a central theme of authentic spiritual experience throughout. Creating a modern spiritual language requires not only experience as an artist, but a spiritual lifestyle and practice that involves personal growth in Christ.

Color Theory, Materials, and Manuals

Combining the Iconographic and spiritual research with the specifics of making great art was part of my goal for the book.  Icons combine two worlds- the spiritual and art.  Spiritual development is essential, but so is artistic development.  For this I will be including a Bibliography of artist resources and guides to egg tempera painting and old master methods and materials. Sharing all this exciting information that has taken me so long to find will, hopefully, make it easier for others who want to develop their craft and skill by classical painting information combined with the best in modern artists who pursued the spiritual path.

Henri Matisse
Henri Matisse

With God’s help, I expect the book to be ready to publish at the beginning of this fall, and will email the specifics.  My intention and hope is that this book will help many serious iconographers and artists who wish to push forward in this challenging task of creating spiritual art that draws people to God. It is the job of  making icons accessible to a world desperately in need of a change from materialism to God’s world of true spiritual life.  For this, we need to open our hearts and let God lead the art out of the churches and into places where the unchurched can experience it.  How? God only knows.  But the icons then will become seeds carrying the faith and hope of God to the poor, the marginalized, and also the wealthy and priveledged.  God will water the seeds and bring forth the harvest.

Sending prayers and blessings,

Christine Simoneau Hales

Icon Class Schedule for 2018          Icon Website             Fine Art Website        Ministry

 

Artist as Priest

c136da2c8229dc1a62ceac6c0c885c0d

Greetings:

In his blog, “Way of Beauty”, David Clayton, Pontifex University, posted recently an article on “Artist as Priest”.   He makes the connection that both the  priest, in ministering the sacraments, and the artist, in creating beauty,  make visible the invisible Kingdom of God.

“The role of the artist is to present new revelations of the divine, to show the beauty of the world, lit by the grace of God to a people who have become blind to it. The artist presents transcendent truths in a form that can be seen and comprehended by all. He also shows us the spiritual world in such a way that we can grasp its meaning and impact on our lives, if not its actual appearance.”

Deacon Lawrence,  a deacon in Sacramento, CA, in a related blog post, Artist as Teacher, says that the artist teaches through his art.  “The work of the artist reflects the splendor of God, brings hope and joy to His people, and lifts hearts and minds to His Divine.”

In both of these blog posts, the writer is speaking about artists, and that would include Iconographers, but would also include artists who create religious art.

On the topic of correct behavior and training specifically for Iconographers there are two other posts to consider.

Aidan Hart and Irina Gannota

British Iconographer Aidan Hart has written an article for Orthodoxy in Dialogue, “Icons and Culture: Transformation or Appropriation ?”.  In his article, Aidan states that healthy Iconography is Pentecostal because it declares eternal truths in the language of its viewers. He reminds us that Iconographers today have a difficult task that requires both discernment and creativity.

Aidan goes on to say that, “our postmodern society puts iconography in an even more challenging situation than the early Church, for we are exposed to a plethora of images on a scale like no other culture before us.”

This article is informative and very useful to those who are beginners or continuing to learn Icon writing.  It covers the important aspects of authenticity and sacredness and shows historical documentation that allows the reader to see and understand the nuanced world of Icon writing today.

The second article, Iconography as Byzantine Portraiture,  was written by Irina Gannota in response to Aidan Hart’s article and also published on the Orthodoxy in Dialogue website.  Irina states that Iconography could be thought of as a style of medieval painting and should be taught as such at Iconography schools.

Both of these articles help to flesh out some of the disturbing elements that can infiltrate Icon writing, and they help to bring into our awareness the need to carefully consider our methods and motives in Icon writing.908772004bc1f594ddc030f68da73373

Theoria

We know that in the Old Testament, God assigns specific jobs and roles to people who are artists and artisans.  In Exodus 36, God calls His artists and craftsmen to design and make craft work, and to pass on their skill and spirit by teaching, Exodus 36:1-2.   Teaching is a gift of the Spirit, 1 Corinthians 12:28.

The Greek word, “theoria”, means intelligent contemplation and encompasses the process of understanding Scripture.  It is a gift of the presence and activity of the  Holy Spirit.  The early Church fathers perceived a depth of meaning when reading and meditating on the Holy Scriptures that we can only approximate today.  But it is this very depth that is indicative of the Iconographic vision and perspective.

One can deduce then, the importance of Biblical study and interpretation in the light of Icon writing and training.  In this way, Icon writing becomes a form of lectio divina, sometimes referred to as “visio divina”.Transfiguration, Rublev, ca 1405, The Kremlin, Moscow

The Lifestyle of an Iconographer

Symbolical realism in the Icon that is based on spiritual experience and vision needs its link to Tradition and meaning in order to flourish.  It is not an easy thing to manifest this perspective.  It takes discipline, being rooted in a  life giving Church that nurtures an ongoing relationship with God, good spiritual directors, good art/Icon writing training, and quality fellowship with other believers.

Until next month,

Be blessed and a blessing,

Christine Hales

Icon Website    Fine Art Website