Covid Thoughts

It has been almost a year now, that we, collectively, have been experiencing quarantine for protection from Covid-19. While this his undoubtedly changing and shaping not only the world we live in, but our approach to it as well.

Although it has been isolating, for iconographers the silver lining is that more and more online iconographical resources are available. And, of course, we have a lot more time to research, pray and paint icons! In this context, I thought I would share some thoughts on icons from one of my favorite writers in the hope of adding fresh inspiration and hope to our palettes and our spirits.

From Irina Yazykova in her brilliant book, ” Hidden and Triumphant”, published by Paraclete Press:

Andrei Rublev

“… the Russian monk, Andrei Rublev faces the world with hope and light, counting on God’s mercy while striving to reveal to others that beauty which will save the world…” “Andrei Rublev. (pg. 34)

“Saint Gregory of Palamas had taught that light is an uncreated divine energy. The Greeks felt that this energy was like a scorching fire entering into the soul of the person of faith and consuming sinfulness. In contrast, the Russian Hesychasts understood this light to be a form of grace- a quiet light from within the soul that imparts love for all living things. Saint Sergius of Radoneh …taught his disciples to love every living thing and to see in all the grace and glory of God.

Andrei Rublev, as a student of Saint Sergius, used his icons and his paints to embody this love for God and the world.” (pg. 35)

“For in Him we live and move and have our being…For we, too, are His offspring.” Acts 17:28

The Artist’s Role

“Throughout the ages it is art that has served as a mirror reflecting the spiritual condition of humankind and the world in which we live. The artist, perhaps without being aware of it, witnesses to the time in which he or she lives, adjusting like a fine instrument to the movements taking place in the deepest reaches of the human heart.”

Moving to the end of the book, in Appendix B, “Beauty Saving the World, The Icon Outside of Russia”, we will conclude this essay with two more quotes:

Postrevolution Russian Emigration

“In the 1920’s and 1930’s, centers of Orthodox culture appeared in the West- centers that helped preserve Russia’s literary, scientific, and philosophical heritage at the same time that they gave rise to a new school of Iconography- the Paris School. This contact of Russian culture with the west went way beyond mere esthetic delight in the exotic. The icon was becoming an authentic presence in Western culture, initially, to be sure, in the form of an Orthodox subculture, but later becoming apart of everyday European – and, after the war , American-life.”

4 T

“And after the war, the Orthodox Christian community became more cognizant of the need for unity in the search for foundations of the faith that could be held in common by all Christians. The search was joined by the World Council of Churches, theological commissions, and international conferences on interdenominational dialogue. Activities such as these helped stem;ate Western receptivity to the traditions and cultures of their Eastern brothers and sisters.”

Quoting this book as extensively as I have, these points bring us to an awareness of how important the Russian influence has been on contemporary principles and philosophy of iconography today. I hope many of you will be inspired and possibly contribute similar articles that illuminate the path of iconographers today.

In addition to the book mentioned above, another good source for understanding Russian Icons can be found in this link.

You can also visit one of my favorite museums- the Museum of Russian Icons in Clinton, Massachusetts.

May you all be blessed with an ever increasing awareness of God’s mercy and grace,

Christine Simoneau Hales

Online Icon Painting Classes for 2021

Training for Iconographers

Greetings Fellow Iconographers :

Training for Iconographers

St. Basil
St. Basil Icon by Christine Hales

This month I am recommending two articles that have been published in an on-line journal- The Orthodox Arts Journal– as elements contributing to  good training for Iconographers.  As I go around the country teaching an “Introduction to Icon Writing Class”, I am aware of how little knowledge people in general have about Icon painting.  It is impossible to gain enough knowledge of this art from a few classes to be able to make truly authentic Icons.  I recommend two things:  look at as much art and as many Icons as you possibly can. Books, online resources, museums, all of these will help your painting to become mature as you practice what you see.  The second thing I recommend is to read as much as you can about the history as well as the technique of Icon writing.   Both of these activities go hand in hand with taking workshops and practicing at home.

Two Articles for Iconographers in Training.

First Article

Mustard Seed Manual of Painting
Mustard Seed Manual of Painting

The first article is written by English Iconographer Aidan Hart and it is entitled, ” The Mustard Seed Garden Manual of Painting,: A Chinese Painting Manual Offers Inspiration to Iconographers.”  This article contains quotes from the Chinese manual as well as comments by Aidan Hart as to their usefulness for Iconographers.  It is quite a beautiful and clear article that speaks to some of the nuances of Icon painting.  Here is a quote from that article. The italics are quotes from the manual, and the regular text is Aidan Hart’s commentary:

“You must learn first to observe the rules faithfully; afterwards, modify them according to your intelligence and capacity. The end of all method is to seem to have no method. (17)

When we learn a second language, we consciously study its rules of grammar and learn its norms. But as we gain knowledge and confidence, we find our own voice. Iconography should be the same.

I have heard it said by some Orthodox thinkers that iconography is not art. I disagree. The icon is indeed more than art because it is part of the liturgy and exists for more than aesthetic delectation. But it is at least art. Although the icon’s sacred purpose means that its aesthetic categories are more extensive than those of secular art, it should nonetheless include them. The same universal colour theories and composition principles apply.”

One more quote:

“If you aim to dispense with method, learn method. If you aim at facility, work hard. If you aim for simplicity, master complexity.(19)

Hard work is the only path to the authentic abstraction. In the years that I have taught iconography I have found that drapery is the most common stumbling block for learners. Prolonged and analytical study is required to understand the drapery that the icon tradition abstracts. Drapery’s complexity needs to be mastered in order to make sense of its simplification, otherwise it becomes irrational, not supra-rational. Lines need to be understood as horizons of forms and not strings hanging in space.

Here is the link for the entire article.  Enjoy!

Anton Daineko
Anton Daineko

The Second article is written by Anton Daineko “The Living Icon”, also published in the Orthodox Arts Journal.  In this article, Anton grapples with the issue of what is the criterion used to make  authentic Icons?  This is not a simple or easy question to answer.  He cites examples of Iconographers from the past such as Andrei Rublev, Hilandar and Panselinos in order to visually show the necessary qualities of good Icons.

In this article, he also speaks about the importance of the Iconographer’s direct experience, through prayer, with God.

“The Criterion

Commenting on copying in iconography, Father Igor, a priest from Minsk and himself an icon painter, noted that “There are no icon copies; each icon is a REVELATION”. Naturally, this raises questions: is it even possible to define such a delicate matter as REVELATION, and what aspects should be included under the resultant definition?

It cannot be answered in a few simple words. With some icons, everything is easy: one look at the Redeemer from the Zvenigorod deesis tier, and you feel that it really is a REVELATION. But with most icons, the matter is far more complicated.

Confession of St. Peter Icon
Confession of St. Peter Icon

“It would be appropriate here to recall the words in the epigraph to this article, the Apostle Peter’s reply to Our Lord’s question “Who do you say that I Am?” – “YOU ARE THE CHRIST, THE SON OF THE LIVING GOD“.

Perhaps this line holds the key to understanding much about the Church, including the canonical texts: in those texts, the early Christians saw an image of the LIVING GOD, crucified and raised from the dead. And that is what is most precious in the Church. It is precisely the PRESENCE of the Living God that sets the Christian Church apart from other religions and other communities. And it is precisely this PRESENCE that we can observe in scripture as well as virtually everything else in church life. The icon is no exception in this regard.

The iconic image consists of many simple elements: strokes, stripes, and smudges, while the different colors are obtained by various combinations of minerals and egg yolk. Taken separately, none of these elements carry any artistic – let alone spiritual – meaning in and of themselves. But when these elements come together in a particular combination, a miracle occurs: the strokes, the stripes, and the smudges cease to exist, and we see the Face of the Living God looking directly at us. It is as much of a miracle as the image of the Living God emanating from the simple words of the Gospels’ narrative.”

I suggest again, reading the entire article in order to fully understand the nuances and also to see more examples of the Icons mentioned in the article.  We are so blessed today to have great contemporary Iconographer who are sharing their wisdom and experience to those who are eager to learn.

Enjoy, as we come to the official close of summer, and may God bless all of your Icon writing with His Presence.

Christine Hales

Christine Hales’ Icon Prints 

Icon Classes Taught by Christine Hales