There is a certain amount of confusion in being an iconographer, especially a Catholic one. The icon is doctrinal and theological, and is the Eastern Church’s liturgical art. The Western church long ago turned to self expression and individual interpretation, and largely regards artwork as decorative rather than part of the liturgy. As Christian iconographers from all traditions seek to rediscover the artistic roots of the icon, there is little clear direction for us “outsiders”. It is difficult to faithfully and accurately follow the guidance of a tradition not one’s own, in an area where seemingly small things can mean so much.
This is brought into focus for me when attempting to write an icon for a strictly Catholic saint–say for example St. Thomas More–or an image such as the Holy Family. A true icon has much more to say than decoration, and is based on more than imagination. But which symbols are correct? How should it be depicted? What colors and compositions would be correct? Who will tell me when I inadvertently imply something that contradicts teachings? Although the Catholic church has a bishop’s imprimatur and nihil obstat for written word, there is nothing like that for visual arts.
Certainly there are many artists working today who distort the form of the icon, whether deliberately or unwittingly. But there are many more of us who seek to honor and respect the shared theology of the Incarnation that the icon proclaims, and the artistic foundations built by the Eastern Church. The icon can then be a bridge to understanding and brotherhood between Christians, and a witness to the Good News for all.