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.