Commercial Icons?

I am still mulling over the difference in attitude that I had towards the Guardian Angel icon when I thought only of how it would be published.  What a difference it made when I returned to prayer.  It absolutely did have a different “feeling” for me.  

It was similar to working as an illustrator, which I did for over 25 years.  That was exciting at first, but gradually the necessity of conforming to the standards of someone else cast a pall over the initial joy of creating.  Eventually I opted out of that business, no longer willing to suspend my own judgement and preferences in favor of the tastes of a client who is (of course) more interested in successful marketing outcomes than expressive beauty.

Icons are intended to glorify God, to witness to His Truth, to lead people to prayer, to beautify His Church.  Marketing doesn’t seem to be appropriate on this level, yet keeping the work elevated on such a pure, idealistic plane is, well, impractical. 

An iconographer friend commented:  “It’s interesting how knowing an icon will be “published” changes the way you work on it. I have to contend with this all the time, since my icons are almost all published. Yes, you have to constantly purify your intention. “

I think that is the crux of the matter: keeping the intention pure.  It was my viewing of the image as a product, with income-producing potential, that led me astray.  An icon is a prayer, and that is the place to begin, and to end, the work.  Yes, one may receive commissions, or make reproductions of them, and that is entirely reasonable and good–but to think of holy images merely as products to be sold is to sully their true purpose.

“Knowing that the people you reach by publishing them will pray with them, you try to make the icon something beautiful enough that it will not distract them by its mistakes, and will help them in prayer. I think it is also fair to say that we put up with a lot of spiritual attacks in icon painting, temptations galore, and dealing with them makes us grow in virtue.”

How true, my friend, how true.


About reinkat

I am an iconographer, and have been studying Russian/Greek icons since 1995. I'm married with 3 children. I love hiking, camping, animals, my family and church--and icons.
This entry was posted in art, Catholic icons, Icon, Iconography, Uncategorized and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Commercial Icons?

  1. For the many years I wrote and sang, it was always one of those things to struggle with: What am I doing for God and what for myself. My songs were published; I sold records; we needed to live, and a workman is worthy of his wages; however, when you are singing about the Lord and people are praising your performance and also hopefully the ministry that went on, it is hard to give an adequate response. When I got a standing ovation, if I acted all holy and said, “It’s just Jesus,” that may or may not reflect an honest heart. I could be saying on the inside: “Yes!!!! You rocked the house!!!” What I came to was to be able to say “thank you” and know that the battle for giving God glory or me glory rested in the condition of my heart. I needed to make a living; I was using my gifts to try and honor God; and I am broken. So excuse my saga here 🙂 but that will always be the struggle: to make sure our heart is toward the Lord and His purposes, regardless of perception and even income. Bless you today.

    • reinkat says:

      Thank you so much for sharing this. I have been struggling with this for a while, and I suppose it isn’t going to go away. I appreciate knowing that others feel the same conflict in their hearts, the same battle in the soul. God bless you, today and always.

  2. Biltrix says:

    Our lives are “intended to glorify God, to witness to His Truth, to lead people to prayer, to beautify His Church.” The spiritual journey of writing each icon — my reflection on what you are saying here — is in a way itself a reflection on the chapters of life.

    We are so weak, as human beings. How can we possibly glorify God? It is through faith, prayer, obedience, humility and, as you state it, purity of intention. People can be living windows through which others see through to God. This of course depends on God, whether he wills it, the viewer, if he has eyes to see, and of course, the window, how clean it is.

    Windows always need cleaning as souls constantly need purification. It’s funny. The exercise of life, with its trials and accomplishments, brings on the accumulation of grime and dust as well as the means and the resolve to remove it (sometimes). It has to be constant work, which includes God’s participation in our lives and ours in God’s.

    I don’t know how much an artist can possibly remove herself from her art or even if that ought to be part of the focus. I am really not sure whether that is a relevant consideration, on my part. After all, the artist is made directly by God in the image and likeness of God. All of God’s art, creation, bears a vestige of divine goodness, power, and beauty. The artist (I suppose this should also apply to the iconographer) imitating God’s power in an infinitely limited way, through producing art, must leave traces of the same, it seems; and through those traces, vestiges of everything she received from God in order to produce the art. Just that, plus the very desire to glorify God, abundantly glorifies God. Why? Because it’s all from God in the first place.

    Finally, I like your friends contribution very much. If our work, whatever that is, gives us the means to grow in virtue, we can be sure that we are doing the right thing, in part at least. The other part, well, is to grow in virtue.

    Last comment. 25 years as an illustrator? Wow!!! That’s a big chunk of a lifetime.

  3. reinkat says:

    Thanks so much, Biltrix, for your thoughtful comment. Lots of insights here. People are indeed the icons of God, the windows into heaven–and I love how you phrased it: it depends on how clean the window is. Therein lies the pure intention, the humble honest heart that knows all good comes from God.
    It is a circular process, this work of “becoming”, of giving ourselves to God, of purifying our souls. Never complete, but always moving along with the grace of God.
    I like your comments about artists: no creation can be divested of the hand of its creator, true of artistic style and effort, as well as seeing the Divine Hand in all of His creation (including each of us). There is no removing of the self from that. This all ties in with another comment you had made elsewhere, regarding your friend’s idea of “substantial humility”, being in touch with our humanity and accepting of it. The struggle, in our weakness, with ego and pride is all part of that, as we seek to let go of those elements and give all of the honor to God, who is the source of it all.

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