So why do you like them, people ask? Arty types say they are just craft at best, and mere uncreative copying at worst. Others say they are stiff, archaic, and not so pretty. So why am I, and many others, so drawn to icons? Why did I drop decades of work as an illustrator and devote my time and talent entirely to the making of images of God?
I’ve been thinking about how to answer that. Why icons, indeed.
In a society filled with a cacophony of visual noise, a world that bombards us with image after image in advertising, television, internet, movies– a culture that admires anything “Xtreme” . . . the icon offers an image of calm, peace, silence.
It invites one to stop, to contemplate, to look deeply, to relate. It shows us the value of process, and its appeal deepens when one takes the time to learn more, to ponder the symbolism.
The icon offers answers to those who seek Truth. It teaches patience. It teaches the viewer slow down, to meditate, and to pray. It reminds us of mystery, and of meaning.
Icons don’t break startling new ground in themselves, don’t dazzle the public with innovation–but they can do exactly that in the hearts of the thoughtful viewer who responds to their message. Instead of “pushing the envelope” with ever more stimulation, they invite us instead to sit in stillness with God’s unchanging Truth.
An icon doesn’t begin, or end, with self-expression, it begins and ends with prayer.
An icon’s color, harmony, and balance is usually pleasing, although that is not necessarily so in every case–inexpertly done icons are just as prayerful as exquisite ones, because the purpose is not to measure or display skill but to witness to the incarnation and glory of God.
I will never become rich or famous writing icons. It is not very likely that I will be invited to create images for parish churches, let alone grand cathedrals. They are my personal prayer journey. Icons have brought me closer to the Lord, and have taught me to pray deeply and contemplatively. That is a treasure beyond compare.