This touches on something I’ve been pondering for a while. More fall-out post-modernism….
(Ignore the following:
Several of the responses to this article – and in particular this last – remind me of arguments for the presence of the Protestant churches. God can, and does, choose to manifest His grace through those churches and in the people that comprise them, but does that validate their authority as churches, and thereby invalidate the Orthodox position that the Orthodox Church is the fullness of the faith? Perhaps it’s indicative of where we are as a people of faith – and how we’ve been shaped by our culture of consumption – that this article strikes a nerve rather than resonates in the heart of its readers. Rather than contemplating the critique it makes of our treatment of the icon, we think of images we’ve hung on our walls and have grown attached to, and balk at the idea that they could be somehow communicating bad theology.
As the owner of but two hand-written icons out of many, I probably don’t have a lot of room to talk. Nevertheless, this has been an issue on my mind a lot recently, especially when we think that – while the printed icon has served a valuable function in the budding of the Orthodox Church in North America (one, perhaps, the article could be more conciliatory toward) – our Church must learn to vigilantly resist the often subtle temptation of disposability our culture presents. Personally, for me, the heart of this article rests in a single paragraph, because it touches on exactly HOW these printed representations icons are produced:
“In photographic illustrations of icons, real gold becomes an RGB algorithm as do the other noble metals and semi-precious stones of the iconographer’s palette. The image is pixilated but the icon is absent. The prayerful dialogue between God and the human hand, between the bounty of the created world and its divine source are annihilated in the toxic vapors of print production.”
This paragraph raises several important questions, the first of which I had never thought before reading it, which is, “If a trained iconographer is taught to pray throughout the process of creating the icon, what is the designated practice of the person who sets himself to reproducing printed & glued versions of icons? Is there a ‘prayerful dialogue’ between the producer of the icon and God during the process?” Furthermore, what is the value of an icon? Why do we build our Church buildings as we do, rather than settling for the storefront space, as many Protestant groups do? And when we do get our own building, why do we go through so much trouble to shape in in so particular a fashion? Clearly we may need to use a storefront as a starting point, and God does certainly honor our worship in that space, but no Orthodox community would be or should be satisfied with such a space forever. The storefront, while it houses the people of God, carries great spiritual weight, just as the poorly produced icon does, but to satisfy ourselves with its poor material weight may say something about our understanding of the Incarnation.
I find it interesting that our first response as lay-folk to this critique from trained iconographers would be disputation rather than introspection. While it’s clear God can and does use the poorly produced icons and crosses made from sticks, should that be our goal?
If nothing else, let us consider the economic human aspect of it; that which Ms. Lowell refers to as “defunding the artist.” At my parish, we have a large Ukranian family, a beautiful faithful couple with seven of the sweetest children you could meet. The father is an iconographer, and is here with a work visa to write icons. This man does fine work and loves doing it, and God has even produced weeping icons from his hand. Only I watch him and his family nearly starve to death but for the grace of God and the generosity of his parish, for lack of work. On occasion he is commissioned to paint icons for a church, but hardly ever is he commissioned to do an icon for an individual.)
Perhaps it was inevitable. The technology has been in place for decades. It was only a matter of time before the sacred art of the icon became an inexpensive do-it-yourself room makeover. For those of us who support sacred arts through training iconographers and encouraging high quality work crafted from noble materials for our churches and homes, the creation and dissemination of icon wallpaper is a cause for mourning.
We recently received an advert email for “Priests and Wardens” that touted the benefits of a process for manufacturing “images that go on your church walls like wallpaper. MUCH cheaper than real frescoes!”
We were even warned “there is an ‘imposter’ out there using cheaper materials, so be careful!”
Imagine, an “imposter” of the “MUCH cheaper than real.” Really?
There is a story told about Henry Ford that comes to mind. You remember the businessman from Detroit who made it affordable…
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