Understanding Icons Part I

Hello Fellow Iconophiles:

Understanding Icons Part I: Theory and Practice,

This month I am bringing the first of a two part lecture by Sister Petra Clare, an experienced Iconographer, retreat leader, and Orthodox nun currently living in a monastery in Greece.  Sr. Petra has a teaching website where she offers on line classes and tutoring for Iconographers.  There is much background and practical information on her site, which requires a fee to access.

Theoria

When thinking about Icons, there are so many levels of appreciation and engagement to consider.  We’ve talked about several of these in past blogs- Icons as Lectio Divina, Icons for contemplation, prayer, etc., and now we delve deeper into what theory brings to full development in the Icon.  The following paragraphs are taken directly from Sr. Petra’s EastXWest  online Icon Course website, with her permission:

Monastic and patristic tradition, both east and west, call the process of understanding Scripture theoria. The Greek word theoria (*&(“+,) means ‘intelligent contemplation, paying close attention, looking at.’ It could mean looking interiorly, with ‘the eyes of the heart’ or looking exteriorly, with the physical eye. The term is always used by the ancient Greeks to refer to the act of experiencing or observing and then comprehending through interior consciousness. Our word ‘theory’ is derived from it,but has degraded over time, now meaning little more than a hypothesis used to justify a set of actions.

 Cultivating theoria is central to the role of the iconographer. The divine vision is the spark which makes them iconographers. It is the foundation of their vocation. It enables them to shape content and artistic form, generating the visual prototypes which are the counterpart of the scriptural and liturgical canons. Without theoria, the icon would be a purely human product, a ‘painting by numbers.’

St. Fyodor of Rostov was an Iconographer whose love of God surpassed all else. By Christine Hales,
St. Fyodor of Rostov was an Iconographer whose love of God surpassed all else. By Christine Hales

First Principles: Theoria – Inspired Vision.

In the Biblical sense, theoria is itself part of holy tradition, for both Jews and Christians. In the Bible we meet patriarchs, apostles and prophets who receive insight into divine truth.

Breck reminds us that the ‘inspired vision of divine truth, as revealed in the person of Jesus Christ, enabled the early Church Fathers to perceive a depth of meaning in the Biblical writings which is of the presence and activity of the Holy Spirit.”

The link between theoria  and the arts is made in Exodus:

‘Be sure that you make everything according to the pattern you were shown on the mountain; said the Lord to Moses (Exodus 25:40). Shortly afterwards God designates a craftsman ‘I have called by name Bezalel (B’tzal’el)’ and fills him with the Holy Spirit to design the artwork (Exodus 31: 1-11). God tells Moses that the design and craft skills are a direct gift from him. The craftsmen are singled out as those whom God has filled with ‘wisdom of heart’ or ‘instructed them with
wisdom’ (Exodus 35:35). He has given them a combination of combination of skill and intelligence (Exodus 36:1) and ‘stirred their hearts’ i.e. called them, to design and make craftwork (Exodus 36:2). He also calls Besalel and Ooliab to pass on their skills – and their spirit – by teaching (Exodus 35:34). Teaching is a gift of the Spirit, as it is later in 1 Corinthians 12:28. the gifts God gives to Moses’ craftsmen clearly depend on theoria to function.

Each time you work on an icon – daily if you are a full time iconographer – pray for the gift of the Holy Spirit. You need this charism to develop your witness through icons.

We will confine our study of the relationship between Scripture and icon, to this context, ratherthan getting bogged down with modern textual criticism, which deals with other issues, outside the range of this course. We take as our starting point the text ‘all Scripture is inspired by
God.’ (Timothy II: 3:26). Breck describes this as synergy – a co-operative effort between the Holy Spirit and the human instrument ‘who receives divine revelation and translates it into gospel proclamation.’ This is the mindset the iconographer needs.

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Take a moment to meditate how you, as an iconographer, ‘receive divine revelation and translate it into gospel proclamation?’ How long do you put aside to meditate on Scripture or the life of a Saint, before beginning to paint? Do you frequently renew your spiritual contact with the mystery while you are painting – stopping for a little meditation? What supportive routines have you developed to retain an inner contact with the person or mystery you are painting during the hours at the easel?Having a good book about a saint or doctrine at hand during teabreak, watching a film about their life or surfing the net about their period of history in free time can all help. These nurture the process and make the icon ‘come alive’ in our hands. In short, do we ‘proclaim,’ out of our inner contact with the mystery, or merely copy?

All of the information above comes from the EastXWest online course: b1a  Old Testament Principles. (Editor’s note:  “Breck” refers to Scripture in Tradition, John Breck, SVS Press 2001 ISBN 1-800-204-2665.)

Thank you for reading, and becoming part of the American Association of Iconographers.

Blessings,

Christine Simoneau Hales

Email for membership information

Christine’s website

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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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

 

 

 

 

 

Feast of Archangels

Dear Fellow Iconographers:

Blessed Feast of the Archangels, Michael, Raphael and Gabriel!

 

Pope Francis spoke about this feast day earlier this week: “We must be aware of their invisible presence,” – Pope Francis said – “Let us invoke them in prayer so that in every moment they remind us of the presence of God, and support us in the struggle against evil and guide us safely along the roads of our lives. We entrust to them ourselves, our dear ones, and those we hold in our hearts. Praise be to Jesus Christ.”

Archangel Michael by Christine Hales
Archangel Michael, Ready for Battle

Michael is the Patron saint : Against temptations; against powers of evil; artists; bakers; bankers; battle; boatmen; cemeteries; coopers; endangered children; dying; Emergency Medical Technicians; fencing; grocers; hatmakers; holy death; knights; mariners; mountaineers; paramedics; paratroopers; police officers; radiologists; sailors; the sick; security forces; soldiers; against storms at sea; swordsmiths; those in need of protection; Brussels, Belgium; Caltanissett, Sicily; Cornwall, England; Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee Florida; England; Germany

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Archangel Michael by Christine Hales

His symbols are: Angel with wings; dressed in armour; lance and shield; scales; shown weighing souls; millstone; piercing dragon or devil; banner charged with a dove; symbolic colors orange or gold.

Gabriel is the patron Saint of: Ambassadors; broadcasting; childbirth; clergy; communications; diplomats; messengers; philatelists; postal workers; public relations; radio workers; secular clergy; stamp collectors; telecommunications; and Portugal.

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Archangel Gabriel by Christine Hales

His symbols are: Archangel; sceptre and lily; MR or AM shield; lantern; mirror; olive branch; scroll with words Ave Maria Gratia Plena; Resurrection trumpet; shield; spear; lily; symbolic colors, silver or blue.

Raphael is the Patron Saint of: The Blind; bodily ills; counselors; druggists; eye problems; guardian angels; happy meetings; healers; health inspectors; health technicians; love; lovers; mental illness; nurses; pharmacists; physicians; shepherds; against sickness; therapists; travellers; young people; young people leaving home for the first time.

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Archangel Raphael by Christine Hales

 

His symbols are: Staff; wallet and fish; staff and gourd; archangel; young man carrying a staff; young man carrying a fish; walking with Tobias; holding a bottle or flask; symbolic colors, gray or yellow.

In David Clayton’s “Way of Beauty “ Blog this month, he talks about Christian Symbols and whether we need to keep them or find new ones.  I think the symbol and it’s significance and meaning to the viewer are what give it it’s power and relevance.  When God gives us revelations, often it is in symbolic form.  So when we hear from God, and are able to grasp His thoughts on a deeper level with the help of symbols and Icons, we are able to enter more fully into the wisdom of our present circumstances and situations.

Icons are symbols of a world where holiness reins, eternal light shines forth, and the contradictions of this earthly world are resolved in the heavenly world of the Icon. God’s grace, His presence, His love, all flow constantly to those who are willing and able to receive it. …

Just to mention that the large Icons of Saint Kateri Tekakwitha and Isaac Jogues are almost finished. It has been a blessed experience working on them in my summer studio. And I am so happy God has blessed me with a winter studio in Hudson this year!  Exciting!

 

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To learn more about Icon classes and retreats that I am giving, please check my website.

Until next month,

May God bless you and keep you in His loving embrace.

Christine Hales

www.newchristianicons.com     www.christinehales.com