Have you ever wondered about the symbolic nature of Icons? It is the very source of their power as Holy images that convey the many faceted religion of Christianity. One dictionary definition of “symbolic language” reads: ” a specialized language dependent on the use of symbols for communication and created for the purpose of achieving greater exactitude…”
Symbols allow us to bring our spiritual awareness out of the church and into our secular world. Communion with God through the Icon is achieved through a symbolic language where gestures, clothing, and style of drawing are precise and fixed. There are only a few gestures that Christ’s right hand will take, and the drawing of the faces and human form fall within a canon of proportion and scale that relates to the theme and subject matter.
C.S. Lewis, when asked to write another book for his adult audience replied that he now preferred to write in symbols and metaphors for a younger audience (The Chronicles of Narnia), in order to intrigue readers with Christianity unawares. Similarly, Icons can bring the presence of God to people’s hearts whether or not they are Christians at all.
Icons are based on a Greek notion of proportion and symmetry applied to facial features and bodies. Even color has great significance for understanding the mysteries of our faith. The light emanating from an Icon must be indicative of the uncreated light of God’s Presence and the divine light of grace. Through contemplation on these symbolic images, Icons, we can pray for the Holy Spirit to help us become more like Christ in our everyday lives.
The very nature of Icon writing is that, following the principles of ancient art, we seek to make a sign which will convey religious meaning specific to the subject matter of that particular Icon.
Ancient Egyptian design is at the heart of the Icon. You can see this in the Fayum portraits, and also in the flat linear depictions of people and religious symbols found in the pyramids. These influences combined with early Greek flexibility of line and brushstroke form the basis of all early Iconographic composition.
Today, as we Iconographers research, ready, and study to be able to encompass the path to writing authentic Icons that speak to God’s people today, we must still look to the ancients in order to fully grasp the complexity of those seemingly simple designs and processes.
Below are some links to resources to inspire and resource your Icon writing in the new decade! Wishing you all a blessed and joyous New Year!
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
“The Lord will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your Glory.” Isaiah 60:19
The summer stretches out before us with plenty of opportunity for good reading. This past month I have been reading Francoise Gilot’s “Life with Picasso”. While I am surely not a fan of Picasso’s, I believe that the creative output of that era has many important facets worth gleaning for art practice today. You may be surprised, as I was, with the following quote of Picasso’s, as related by Gilot in the book:
” You have to go all the way back to the Greeks and the Egyptians. Today we are in the unfortunate position of having no order or canon whereby all artistic production ism submitted to rules. They- the Greeks, the Romans, the Egyptians – did. Their canon was inescapable because beauty, so-called, was, by definition, contained in those rules. But as soon as art had lost all link with tradition, and the kind of liberation that came in with Impressionism permitted every painter to do what he wanted to do, painting was finished. When they decided it was a painters sensations and emotions that mattered, and every man could recreate painting as he understood it from any basis whatever, then there was no more painting; there were only individuals….what the artist gains in the way of liberty he loses in the way of order, and when you’re no longer able to attach yourself to an order, basically that’s very bad.”
The Value of Order in Icon Writing
Surprising as this quote is coming from Picasso, it underscores what we as Iconographers have been blessed to experience, i.e., the order and beauty of Icons brings with it a sense of peace and fulfillment that can be found in no other form of art. If you’ve read my book, Eyes of Fire, you know that I have made the correlation between contemporary art making and Icons. The reason for this is that Icon writing is a living art form for today. While we seek to incorporate the canons of Iconography into our work today, we also need to allow God to speak to our hearts as we work. We need this practice of praying and painting in order for the Icons we create today to be authentic to our time.
Icon Writing Retreats
Order was very apparent in the recent Icon writing retreat at Holy Cross, an Episcopal Benedictine Monastery in West Park, NY. Here we were able to participate in the Monk’s reciting of the daily hours: Morning prayer at 7AM, Breakfast at 7:45, Eucharist at 9AM, then Icon writing until Diurnum at noon. After lunch we had more Icon writing until Vespers at 5, then supper, and at 8pm, Compline. Great Silence was observed from 8PM until 8AM. We were able to fit these intervals of prayer and silence in between Icon writing sessions and experience the refreshment this practice gives. Painting and praying all through each day, being part of a living community of praying people allows us to experience the lift and support needed to practice the spiritual discipline of Icon writing.
This month is a continuation of last month’s article on Hesychasm and Icons. There is an interesting book that was produced in fifteenth century Russia called, “Message to an Iconographer.” Message to an Iconographer is believed to have been written by St. Joseph of Volokolamsk. It is helpful in explaining the role and meaning of sacred art and Iconography. It is believed that this book was put together at the request of the famous Iconographer, Dionysius for the purpose of training future Iconographers.
Part of the reason for creating Message to an Iconographer was a concern that after Andrei Rublev’s Icons, there was a progressive lack of focus on the spiritual depth and meaning of the Icon in favor of beauty of artistic form. Message to an Iconographer provides an answer to the prevailing heresy of the time and is a defense of the Icon and its veneration. It is also a positive contribution that explains its spiritual content. Here is a quote from “Theology of the Icon, Volume II” by Leonid Ouspensky:
“How much more appropriate is it then, in this new time of grace, to venerate and bow down before the image of our Lord Jesus Christ painted on the Icon by human hands…and to adore His deified humanity taken up into heaven. This also holds true for His All Pure Mother. Likewise, to paint images of all the saints on icons, to venerate and bow before them is equally appropriate. By painting images of the saints on Icons, we do not venerate an object but, starting from this visible object, our mind and spirit ascend toward the love of God, object of our desire.” This statement echoes the defense of Icons by Gregory of Palamas. Taboric light and the divine energies form the basis of this treatise.
The Jesus Prayer
Here is another quote from the Message to an Iconographer: “When adoring your Lord and God…let your whole heart, spirit, and mind be lifted toward a contemplation of the holy, consubstantial and life giving Trinity, in purity of thought and heart…Let your bodily eyes ascend to the divine …venerate them spiritually in your soul and visibly with your body. Be completely turned toward the heavens.”
“The Message” is about a lifestyle of asceticism and inner prayer that is appropriate to an Iconographer.
“Wherever you may be, O beloved, on sea or on land, at home, walking, sitting or lying down-ceaselessly pray with a pure conscience, saying, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.’, and God will hear you. ” “Close your eyes to the visible and look at the future with your inner eye.” These are instructions to an Iconographer from The Message. They are intended to create a platform of prayer and faith from which to work on the Icon.”
I would suggest reading this chapter in its entirety to fully understand the context and intent of the author. It is from Chapter 13 Hesychasm and the flowering of Russian Art, in Theology of the Icon, Volume II, Leonid Ouspensky. There is a great deal of value in the rest of the book also, and I highly recommend it for Iconographers.
One last quote that is a gem:
“The painter must be acutely aware of the responsibility that rests upon him when creating an Icon. His work must be informed by the prototype it represents in order for its message to become a living, active force, shaping man’s disposition, his view of the world and of life. A true Iconographer must commune with the prototype he represents, not merely because he belongs to the body of the Church, but also on account of his own experience of sanctification. He must be a creative painter who perceives and discloses another’s holiness through his own spiritual experience. It is upon this experience of communing with the archetype that the operative power of an Iconographers work depends.”
May God bless your Icons, as you grow in wisdom and understanding in the practice of writing the Holy Image. Next month will be an article on the fifteenth century Iconographer Dionysus.
The month of July has been consistently hot and so beautiful here in the Hudson Valley. Although temperatures usually reach 90 degrees+ each day, Icons are still being created and the Monday night class keeps working right on throughout all! Here’s a photo of Carol MacNaughtons’ Saint Michael in the process of being olifa-ed.
Also, now some works in progress photos for the Saint Kateri and Saint Isaac Jogues I am working on for the RCDA new Mausoleum. I love working large!
The Monday Night Advanced Icon writing class will be accepting new students after Labor Day: September 12. Please email if you would like to begin at that time. firstname.lastname@example.org
Also, Starting a 10 week Icon Writing Class in the Hudson, NY area, Thursday evenings, 6-9PM, September 15- December 1. email if you’re interested in attending: email@example.com
THE VALUE OF ICONS IN THE POST MODERN WORLD
Icons are conveyors of holiness, sacredness, beauty and God’s love for mankind. Because Icons are vessels containing these attributes, they are essential in the continuing formation of our society and culture. In a world seemingly gone mad, they are light filled and providers of God’s peace and love.
Icons that are created in an atmosphere of prayer to God, and with training in art principles and spiritual discipline cannot help but provide a spiritual compass to those viewing them. This kind Icon becomes a visible testimony of God’s grace as it blesses the creator and the viewer.
” There is a deeper realization of God’s Presence available to us. Through the coming of Christ and the Holy Spirit, God wishes to dwell within us in a new way: not in a mode of which we are largely unconscious, or as a kind spiritual atmosphere in which we simply live and move and have our being (Acts 17:28), but as a lover and a friend. (Song of Solomon 5:10). God wants His Presence to be consciously experienced by us.”
Above quote from the The Glenstal Book of Icons, Praying with the Glenstal Icons, Gregory Collins OSB.
To be consciously experienced, it is helpful to have holy images that serve as reminders and point the Way, even when our minds are engaged in worldly activities. It only takes a few seconds to shift our perspective to God’s perspective – truly the secret to a joy filled life!
One last thing worth mentioning: I attended the Kremer Pigments workshop on “Grounds” a through workshop on materials, conditions, and possible variations, and I would recommend it highly the next time they teach it. Kremer Pigments regularly gives classes and workshops on making paints and provides a wonderful resource of technical, hands-on information.
That’s all for this month. Enjoy the beautiful summer and please keep me in your prayers, as you are in mine.
Aidan Hart’s excellent articles attempt to define important principles in the training of future Iconographers, and I suggest reading each of these in order to form your own opinions, and discuss in class the important aspects of each article to your own Icon writing. I think it’s important to keep an open mind and respect the calling of each person who has interest in Icons or creating Icons. In the Russian( or Ukranian) article there is an element of mocking and sarcasm that I find detrimental to the humble and prayerful attitude necessary for Icon writing. But please read, and add your own thoughts and comments.
These two recent articles are only relevant because there are more people today interested and wanting to write Icons than in the previous century. There can be many causes for that, but I like to think that as we explore our spirituality and gain a closer relationship to God, we need and want visual images that bring us fresh revelation of His love for mankind, his promises, His wisdom and faithfulness. As we regularly bring these qualities of holiness to mind in our daily lives, we can then integrate them and share them with others around us.
It is often said that Icons are “windows” into the heavenly world. When we look through those “windows” we see heaven, and are more able, as St. Paul advised ” to focus on whatever is good”. Truly a challenge in todays world.
The other attractive aspect of Icon writing to me is that of “passing on” to the next generation all that I can offer in terms of living the Gospel message through Icon writing. Investing in the younger generation is a goal worthy of Icon writing in my opinion. But how? How and what kind of an Icon be created that will draw them in? Good questions to ponder as we work on our Icons.
The recent Icon exhibition and pipe organ concert that I organized for the Albany, New York area at Westminster Presbyterian Church, was an experiment to see if contemporary New Yorkers would respond to Icons as art and vessels of God’s presence within the Byzantine context of worship with the five senses. A lot of this was new information to some of the people, but familiar to others. People came who simply wanted to see the Icons, and people came to hear composer and organist Al Fedak offer a phenomenal program of music played with a world class pipe organ.
I gave the introductory talk, introducing the concept of Byzantine worship, and Al Fedak explained the contemplative and meditative nature of the pieces he chose, and he also invited people to walk around, view and interact with the Icons. My students and I who created the Icons were available during intermission and at the reception following to answer questions and help people understand more about what they were viewing.
It was truly a memorable evening as we were lifted up and carried individually and collectively in worship on a Friday night in Albany amongst the community of saints! Icons on a mission!
Hope you all enjoy this beautiful summer, Happy Fourth of July!!
No Monday night Icon class on July 4!!
Please visit my website for information on upcoming Icon classes and retreats.
This month, on June 24 at 7PM, my advanced class of Icon writers and I will be sharing some of our newest Icons at a special organ concert by Al Fedak at the Westminster Presbyterian Church, 262 State Street, Albany. The concert is at 7PM and all are invited. Free will donations will be accepted.
I’m very excited about this opportunity to share our new work in the context of an amazing organ concert, and an added joy is the Icon Coloring Book the students are putting together for the concert and beyond. We are using our original Icon drawings and including a short description of that Icon. Coloring books are so popular these days for adults and children. It’s a great way to center your thoughts for a few minutes and come up with something creative. We are making the coloring book to be user friendly to all age groups and will be asking for a donation to help with printing costs. They will be amazing!
So all of you former and present Iconography students – please come and bring a friend! We need to connect and share our joy of Icons together!
More local news: the Icon writing retreat at Holy Cross was really wonderful. Such a great group of people and a wonderful setting to learn and practice in. We were able to join in with the rhythm of daily prayer with the monks – heavenly!
Here’s a video Michael made for us of that retreat:
One last thing: there are two rather long but important articles that I would like to share with you all about the correct schooling of Iconographers. These links are to The Orthodox Art Journal blog:
For my part, the revelation I experienced when first exposed to Sacred icons was that they embodied the principles of good art. In my art school training, those principles were not presented, although other important ones were. I am interested in hearing what each of you think about the articles.
“We are pilgrims on a journey, and companions on the road.
We are here to help each other walk the mile and bear the load…
When we sing to God in heaven we shall find such harmony,
born of all we’ve known together, of Christ’s love and agony”
excerpted from Celtic Daily Prayer, Northumbrian Community.
How do we meditate and contemplate God through the Icons? A good question now that at least more than half the world I live in here in upstate New York associates the word “meditation” with Eastern philosophy.
But Icons have a long history of being used in contemplation and meditation, and we specialize in bringing the valuable truths of the past into our present time. Mystical Eastern spirituality has as its aim for the Icons “to open the heart in contemplative prayer to the transforming vision of God’s Glory.” The Glenstal Book of Icons.
Carl Jung wrote extensively on the power of symbols on our unconscious minds. Symbolic imagery in Icons helps to bypass our intellect and send a message straight to our hearts. For example, I can’t see an image of Mary and the Christ child without immediately identifying with the the Christ Child, and sensing what it was like to be mothered by the gentle, sweet Mary, or identifying with Mary and deeply experiencing what it was like to hold Christ in her arms and nurture him so that he could flourish. Whenever I see that image I think of my newest painting or Icon and ask in prayer, how can I be Mary to my painting? How can I be the Christ child in Mary’s arms to my art work? Each time, in contemplation and meditation new facets and ideas come as a result. Ideas I would not have had otherwise.
“Through the symbolism of the icons, access is gained to the absolute otherness of God in the silent union of mystical prayer: one goes through the sense of sight to the one who is beyond all vision. The meditative work demanded in absorbing the imagery of the icons is essential if prayer is to reach such a state beyond ideas, images, and acts- beyond the work of the head. Only thus can the prayer we make with the body and the mind become a real “heart work”, a deep transforming union with God in love. The mystical traditions of Christianity, East and West, all teach that such prayer is the only source of inner peace and stability. It is the pearl of great price, the treasure hidden in the field, of which the Gospel speaks. Matthew 13:44-46″ The Glenstal Book of Icons, Gregory Collins, OSB
The Saint Luke’s Guild of Iconography will be sharing our newest Icons with outreaches to the community this spring and early summer. We will try to share the stories of each saint in our Icons as well as have dialogue with the public about prayer and meditation with the Icons. The first two venues are planned to be: Westminster Presbyterian Church in Albany, 1st Presbyterian church in Hudson. We plan to create a traveling exhibition so if your church would like to host one, and perhaps hear a lecture on Icons, let me know. “Never forget the joy of spreading Icons throughout the world”!
RECOMMENDED SOURCE FOR ICON MATERIALS:
Natural Pigments is an excellent source of tempera materials, gold leaf, anything you need to make Icons- they probably have. They also have a section called “articles” another page on their website that is full of useful materials information.
UPCOMNG ICON WRITING CLASSES:
Albany, New York Westminster Presbyterian Church, Chestnut St., Monday evenings 6-9PM. Class size is limited-email to ensure space.
The Beginning of September was the start of our trip to the UK for a family wedding in Leeds, but we were able to make a detour to Shropshire and interview Aidan Hart, Iconographer and author of the book we use in Icon writing class: “Techniques of Icon and Wall Painting”, for Yale University Radio.
I was so happy that Aidan could make time for us, and upon leaving he said that he had just completed a large Icon for a church in Leeds! We were in Leeds at Michael’s sister’s home about 15 minutes when we realized that church was a fifteen minute walk- so off we all went. The icons were beautiful, and Father Michael of St. Urban’s invited us to come the following morning to his other church, also in Leeds, to see another Aidan Hart Icon. Once there, we were amazed to see the 16′ fresco of the Transfiguration that Aidan had recently completed – in ten days according to Fr. Michael. It is the largest commissioned fresco since the Reformation, he told us.
Our next travels took us to Venice to see the Biennale and the wonders of the Byzantine Cathedral of San Marco. I’ll be giving a gallery talk this Saturday, Sept 26, 6-8pm at the McDaris Gallery on Warren St. Hudson that will touch on the Biennale and Byzantine art. (You’re all welcome to attend!).
From Venice, we got to Rome, where we stayed at a convent within walking distance of the Vatican-our destination! God blessed me with achieving my heart’s desire to give Pope Francis the portrait I had done of him! At breakfast, the nun suggested that I might give my portrait of the Pope to him if the guards would help me. By God’s grace, we met a friendly Italian music composer at breakfast who offered to walk with us to the Vatican. after Mass, he began asking the guards around the Vatican if I could give my portrait to the Pope. He pleaded eloquently, in Italian, to seven sets of guards! Finally I was able to write a note to accompany my gift and the last guard promised that he would personally deliver it to the Pope the next morning! I was the happiest I could be! We had such a wonderful trip but that was the highlight for me. Seeing the Sistine Chapel again and the architecture in St. Peter’s Basilica, too, impressed me with a sense of excellence that can only be experienced in that place.
So, back to earth, the Albany advanced Icon writing class has changed venue and is now held on Monday nights 6-9PM at Westminster Presbyterian Church, 262 State St., Albany, NY.
Such a beautiful summer. God’s creation is never so felt and experienced as in the beautiful summer months and upstate NY has been in a sweet weather pattern for most of august with beautiful sunny warm days.
Our Saint Luke’s Gild is comprised of eight students, several of whom have studied Icon writing with for several years. The emphasis that I bring to the sacred art of Icon writing is that of color theory, fine art , and sacred geometry principles in composition. The work of the guild members is unique and interesting, bringing both the spiritual qualities of prayer and sacred reading in an integrated approach to the creation of an icon with good fine art principles as well.
The Guild has a Facebook page: We are an ecumenical community of artists and artisans who are committed to making art that is reflective of a deep Spirituality and Faith in God. We do this primarily through the practice of writing Christian icons and studying the historical background and hymnody, and lectio divina relationships within the visual imagery of iconography. We believe in the didactic value of icons and engage with prayer as part of our painting practice and have exhibitions of our work in order to engage our community with God’s presence and action of His Holy Spirit at work in our Icons.
This month I wanted to mention one of the guild members: Jennifer Richard-Morrow, who is a fine artist, specializing in pastels, oils and icons. She is a long time member of Saint Vincent’s Church in Albany where she serves as a member of the funeral ministry, helping with the funeral services, particularly with elderly people who have no relatives or few friends left.
Jennifer has also had a lifelong interest in local New York history and has worked as an historical interpreter for the State at upstate Historic Houses and museums. She is currently on staff at Thomas Cole House in Catskill. Her Icon of Kateri Tekakwitha is one of the most historically accurate ones in existence today.
Jennifer and the other Iconographers and members of the Guild live a life of prayer and service to their local churches and communities.
On September 14, we will be moving the location of our Icon writing class to Westminster Presbyterian Church on State Street in Albany, NY. We meet on Monday evenings and it is recommended that interested people take an introduction to Icon Writing class with Christine before starting the Monday evening class.
UPCOMING INTRODUCTION TO ICON WRITING CLASSES
St. James Episcopal Church Fri evening, 6:00 – 9PM, Saturday, 9-5PM -Sunday, 1:30-5:00PM October 16-18th Cost $215 includes materials and lunch Saturday. Email Grace Beecham to register: firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
INTERESTING ARTICLE ABOUT GREEK ICONOGRAPHY
The following excerpt is taken from The Orthodox Arts Journal blog, and I include this because internationally many of us Iconographers have a similar approach – that of bringing forward the good from the past, but not slavishly copying. The task of creating a fully authentic 21st Century Icon is before us.
“Kontoglou and the rest of the 30’s generation where not turning to the past out of conservativism, but as a step to redefine the path of Greek art.
He was interested in reviving the orthodox aesthetic that had been heavily compromised by Western naturalistic ways of expression. In this aspect he was a real revolutionary; he managed to overturn the established church painting norms of the time (which was heavily influenced by the so-called ‘Munich painters’) by letting in, a “strong breeze from the east”. It was much later in his career, I believe, that his teachings were over-systematized. This led many of his followers to a stagnant and uninspiring way of painting icons based on mere copying with lack of artistic personality.”
Another Greek Iconographer in this article is Spyros Papaloukas who has another interesting approach to the creation of an authentic contemporary Icon, and here again, I quote from the blog :
Spyros Papaloukas saw in Byzantine art elements that were critical to the modern art movement and in many cases realized that solutions to artistic problems posed by his contemporaries were to be found in Byzantium. In several cases these gave him the answers to formal problems that were vital to painters of his time. Flatness and the adherence to the two-dimensional character of a painting, the possibility of the coexistence of multiple view points, the vital part that color played as an expressive and not merely descriptive element – all these were characteristics that modern painting shared with Byzantine art. This has been noticed even by modern painters whose art had no obvious religious focus such as Malevich and the other Russian avant-gardes, or like Henri Matisse. Matisse made a statement very much in accordance to Papaloukas, about 20 years later, in 1947, when he confronted for the first time Byzantine icons on his trip to Russia: “It was before the icons in Moscow, that this art touched me and I understood Byzantine painting. You surrender yourself that much better when you see your efforts confirmed by such an ancient tradition. It helps you jump the ditch.” You can read the entire blog and see the color illustrations here.
These ideas and issues help us here in America to join with our international counterparts in thinking and praying our way to what God is asking us to do with His Icons today.
Thank you all for reading, and we ask your prayers for us in this work.