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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
“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”.
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 Century
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!
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.
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.
This Easter particularly brings to mind the need for unity amongst all the Christian denominations.
“Icons are intended to respond to deep questions, and every age has its own set of problems that trouble the heart.” Windows to Heaven, Zelensky and Gilbert.
The Twenty First Century is witness to the dire need of Christians to join together and celebrate the common elements of their faith. It is time to stop celebrating theological divisions. Unity and harmony are the true state of the Triune God.
Facing statistics of the staggering lack of
Christians in the North East of the United States, as well as the continuous rise of Islam, if Christianity is to survive- and it will- the need to respect and love each other’s differences in service to unity is imperative.
Maximus the Confessor (600AD) writes of the Holy Trinity “ It is in this blessed and most sacred peace that unity is achieved which surpasses the mind and reason.”
Aidan Hart, in his book Beauty, Spirit, Matter; Icons in the Modern World, writes :
“Since it is love which unites the world and brings it to fulfillment we can expect that the world’s Fall has been preceded by a loss of love, or at least by a misdirection of love. And indeed, St Maximus speaks of the Fall in terms of a falling away from the double command of love; love of God and love of one’s neighbor.”
As we prepare to celebrate the glorious truth of the Resurrection, consider the crucifixion Icon. It tells the New Testament story that includes the women mourning and watching, Mary Magdalene, Mary, the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons Zebedee. Also in the Icon is the Roman soldier who pierced Jesus’ side. He is cowering. In the top third of the Icon are the angels prophesied by Jesus in John 1:51:
“Truly, truly I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God Ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”
Even in this sad scene, we see the golden light of God and hope permeating the background. The angels are pointing to fulfillment of the prophecy.
As a result of Christ’s crucifixion, resurrection and redemption and the Holy Spirit’s visitation at Pentecost… “the universe has become one vast church or temple, reflecting the beauty of the Lord, bringing for all human kind the universal message of salvation.” Zelensky and Gilbert.
Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestant Christians are united in our love and reverence for the inestimable love of a God who would send His only Son to die for our sins. That we may be the inheritors of His love for us, and bring HIs love to our world that is in such need of it.
“He who forms the mountains, who creates the wind, and who reveals His thoughts to mankind, who turns dawn to darkness, and treads on the heights of the earth– the LORD God Almighty is His name.” –Amos 4:13
Saint Patrick of Ireland
As a young boy, Patrick was kidnapped by brutal pirates and carried away to Ireland where he was sold as a slave. For the next six years he was a shepherd in Northern Ireland. This is where he learned to pray. “In a single day I would say as many as a hundred prayers, and at night only slightly fewer.”The Confession of St. Patrick.
“I arise today
in a mighty strength
calling upon the Trinity,
believing in the Three Persons
saying they are One
thanking my creator.”
In the experience of slavery and exile, the young boy discovered God . In the midst of this terrible alienation brought on by his exile from family and country, Patrick experienced a deep abiding connection that enabled him to feel strengthened by God.
He is a legend in Irish history and spirituality. Patrick’s story of being kidnapped by Irish pirates eventually gave rise to a remarkable inner transformation that led him eventually to return to Ireland, serving the Irish people by bringing God’s love to them.
Like St. Francis, Patrick chose a lifestyle of poverty, preferring to single-mindedly focus on the Divine connection within. “For I know full well that poverty and adversity suit me better than riches and delights.”
One often sees Icons of St. Patrick holding a shamrock, an illustration of how he used the humble clover leaf to illustrate the Trinity- three in one- to the largely pagan population Ireland. Pre-Christian Ireland was where God sent Patrick. His spiritual story is told in “The Confession of St. Patrick”, along with many Scriptural references that relate to his experiences.
Patrick was born in Britain about 385, and began his mission in Ireland during the early 400’s.He became fluent in the Irish dialect during his period of slavery, and despite much hostility and danger, he was very effective in bringing the Gospel to Ireland.
Saint Patrick founded many churches and monasteries across Ireland.
Holy Bishop Patrick,
Faithful shepherd of Christ’s royal flock,
You filled Ireland with the radiance of the Gospel:
The mighty strength of the Trinity!
Now that you stand before the Savior,
Pray that He may preserve us in faith and love!
Icon notes for March:
The American Association of Iconographers now has a Facebook Page which you are welcome to join. The rules of the page are that postings may be submitted by any member and the content needs to be of interest and benefit to Iconographers.
Video of Iconographer George Kordis beginning a Christ Pantocrator dome:
What is a worldview? We all have one. Our culture has a pervading worldview that changes with the times. Having recently emerged from a postmodernist cultural viewpoint, we now experience the effects of pluralism, relativism, and syncretism in the world around us.
Our world view is a concept which we hold, both consciously and unconsciously that determines our ethics, behavior, and makes up the nature of our ultimate reality.
As a Christian, our worldview is identified with the truths of the Bible, Christ, the Trinity, and the Gospel- essentially, Christian theism. The reason we choose Icons created before the seventeenth century as our models to create new Icons is because Christian theism was the pervading worldview in the Western world until the advent of the Renaissance when Humanism began to emerge. The worldview of the early Icons was one of a personal, triune God of the Bible, the universe was God’s creation and human beings were God’s special creation, created in His Image.
“During the period from the early Middle Ages to the end of the seventeenth century, very few challenged the existence of God…….Christianity had so penetrated the Western world that whether or not people believed in Christ or acted as Christians should, they all lived in a context of ideas influenced and informed by the Christian faith.” The Universe Next Door, James Sire
As Iconographers, we want to first understand the world and people around us, and then genuinely communicate God’s reality, His Truth, to our world through the practice of Icon writing. We use the examples of the early Icons as our models to help us portray a worldview that we ourselves are not able to experience in our contemporary culture.
A worldview is a commitment , a fundamental orientation of the heart, that predisposes us to a particular reality. And that worldview provides the very foundation on which we live, work, play, and love others.
If it’s true that all of one’s thoughts and actions originate in the heart, our relationship to God becomes central to us as artists and Iconographers. More important even, than whether one uses acrylic paint, egg tempera, or use a particular style of painting Icons.
The Christian worldview is the central defining perspective and it encompasses notions of wisdom, spirituality, emotion, desire, and will. So when we say that prayer is the first and most important part of Icon painting, it is also important to keep clear about this Christian worldview, and that it is different from the worldview of the culture around us.
Ideally, our Icons become a bridge that unites the Christian worldview with whatever worldview popular culture is experiencing. It is only through our compassionate understanding with those people and institutions around us that our Icons can go out into the world and be the blessings they are meant to be.
“Mother Teresa of Calcutta used to say that “the money in your pocket is not yours, it belongs to God.” The same is true of all the gifts you have received. They have been given to you by the Holy Spirit to bring the world back to God. ” Deacon Lawrence
May God inspire each of you, may you hear His voice, and may your Icons truly be a blessing to the world you inhabit.
Christine Simoneau Hales
“If we want clarity about our own worldview, we must reflect and profoundly consider how we actually behave.” “The Universe Next Door” by James Sires
First, a thank you to all of you who have been subscribers to this blog over the last couple of years. Particularly, thank you for being patient with all the changes in format and stylistic content as I try to understand the needs and purpose of this community of Iconographers.
I have changed format again, this time getting closer to my original purpose of having a substantial list of Iconographic resources and links to help Iconographers in creating and learning about Icons. If you look at the left sidebar you will see a page of “resources” on which I have started to add links, and will continue with this throughout the year so that it becomes a valuable resource.
As it is New year’s Eve and we are on the verge of the Feast of Epiphany , here are some images of the Epiphany in different Iconographic styles, taken from a more nuanced article by Hokku about the wise men on the blog ” Icons and Their Interpretation”.
Icons for the Epiphany range in subject matter from stories of the wise men finding Jesus in a manger, to the Baptism of Jesus in the river Jordan.
Epiphany is described as the manifestation of Jesus to the Gentiles as represented by the Magi- who were not Jews but were from the East; it is also the church feast day commemorating the Epiphany on January 6; and a manifestation of a divine, supernatural being. Webster’s dictionary describes Epiphany as “ a sudden, intuitive perception of or insight into the reality or essential meaning of something, usually initiated by some simple, homely, or commonplace occurrence or experience.”
The birth of Jesus, the Son of the most high God in a manger certainly fulfills that definition. Epiphany represents the discovery that Jesus was born for not only the Jews, but also the Gentiles- for the whole world.
In the Baptism of Jesus Icon, we see in the central axis of the Icon, the God the Father, represented by the half circle at the center; The Holy Spirit, represented by the rays of gold coming from the half circle,and Jesus, the Son of God. In the Gospel, God’s audible voice announces “This is My Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” Matthew 3:17
It is a revelation similar to the one of the magi- a sudden perception that transforms mundane, earthly existence into one of light, meaning, and grace.
Icons bring to our remembrance important Gospel and Old Testament stories that brighten our everyday existence. As we move into this coming week towards the celebration of Epiphany and then the Baptism of Jesus, let us pray together to receive an Epiphany of God’s grace in each of our lives today, and as Baptism makes permanent and concrete the role of God’s grace in us, may that sudden awareness be awakened and kindled as an important part of our lives in 2018.
This month some thoughts on a missional perspective about Icon writing:
Form Follows Function
“Form follows function” is a concept attributed to the American Architect Louis Sullivan, famous for developing the shape of the steel skyscraper in late 19th century, at a time when economic and cultural forces made it necessary to drop the established styles of the past.
“Where function does not change, form does not change….It is the pervading law of all things organic or inorganic, of all things physical and metaphysical, of all things human and super human, of all true manifestations of the head, of the heart, of the soul, that the life is recognizable in its expression, that form ever follows function. This is the law.” Sullivan, Louis H. (1896). “The Tall Office Building Artistically Considered”. Lippincott’s Magazine (March 1896): 403–409.
This principle kept recurring in my thoughts as I considered the function and form of Iconography today. We live today in an age of post denominationalism, where some of the more important issues of the Christian faith are less about division and nuanced theology and more about evangelization and healing. Healing for our culture and world is a function of a healthy relationship to God.
Creating Icons according to the Canons and honoring the Orthodox Church as well as all the Christian denominations is part of the tradition of spreading the Gospel through pictures. Martin Luther during the Reformation was not against Icons, seeing them as having an important role in teaching the tenets of the Christian Faith
How then can Icons and the practice of Icon writing address the needs of our time? Through prayer, teaching individuals the spiritual discipline of a prayerful art practice, and the placement of Icons in public and private spaces where those who don’t attend churches can see and experience God through the Icon.
Since Icons go straight our hearts and by pass the intellect, God’s love can sometimes be apprehended through an Icon more easily than a book, or sermon. Whether our culture realizes it or not, it is desperately in need of God’s love. When we are called to Icon writing, that can be an important way that we can share God’s love. In addition to the joy we have in writing the Icon, we can share it with many, many people as an act of service and giving of the fits we have been blessed with.
Students often ask me “What will I do with the Icons I write?” My answer is to offer them to people and places in your community. Give, lend, exhibit them in places where people who wouldn’t ordinarily encounter them can experience them. Provide the opportunity for God to encounter and affect those He is calling. Another way to integrate Icons into our world is to bring them when we visit the sick, and when we have our prayer groups. It is lovely to have them on our prayer shelves at home, and it is equally wonderful to share them!
When we are in love with God, we hear His voice. This encounter between Peter and Jesus has deep meaning to an Iconographer;
“He said to him a third time, “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him a third time, “Do you love Me?” And he said to Him, Lord, You know all things: You know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep” John 21:17
Our answer to God’s call to write Icons will be blessed in many ways we don’t know our understand now. Our obedience and faithfulness to develop our skills and understanding, engaging in a rich prayer life, all these contribute to the possibility of living more and more in God’s grace.
May you be blessed with God’s love and Spirit as you write Icons!
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.”