Why Icons?

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.

Christ Pantocrator: Dormition Church, Moscow

Christ Pantocrator: Dormition Church, Moscow

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.

Contemporary Icon, Father Dmitri of Yaroslavl

Contemporary Icon, Father Dmitri of Yaroslavl

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.

Icon of Pentecost, Novgorod, Russia

Icon of Pentecost, Novgorod, Russia

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.

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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, Catholicism, Christian Prayer, Icon, Iconography, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Why Icons?

  1. lilyboat says:

    I can relate this to my writing about the Lord.. A personal prayer journey is so right! I think I finally understand why you ‘write’ icons and not draw or paint. Thank you for sharing your writing life. 🙂

  2. geloruma says:

    “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…”
    I’d take those opinions with a pinch of salt: Artists of Religious subjects always have to contend with the element of spiritual jealousy spoken through a critic who does not know what drives his/her opinions. While not all Icons are visually “beautiful” their subject matter alone will arouse contempt in some.
    Good to hear you are producing such imagery and it is deepening your contemplation; your work may have more viewers on this blog than will ever be if they were in a church.

    • reinkat says:

      I’ve been ignoring those words for almost 15 years now, and will continue to do so.
      There are religious bigots everywhere.
      I could no more stop myself from writing icons than I could stop myself from breathing.

  3. Biltrix says:

    I love this: ‘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.’

    I really liked this post, because you not only explain the value of writing and reading them, but these values are things that people really need to have in their lives. And we need things that enable us to do it. I’m talking about silence, contemplation, relating to things (especially sacred things), going deeper into the meaning of things, and most of all, PRAYER.

    Personally, I find them aesthetically beautiful, not just beautiful because of their content. But I did not always see icons this way. I had to learn and grow in my appreciation (you blog has helped a lot), and now, it is as though I cannot get enough.

    Funny, prayer is a lot like that. And many other valuable things are like that too. Maybe that is another valuable thing icons can teach us, namely, how value things: how to see beauty when it is present, know how to appreciate it, and grow in that appreciation of beauty for it’s own sake. There is nothing more beautiful than the the beauty represented (or windowed) in an icon. For most people, maybe that takes time and patience to understand.

    • Biltrix says:

      I spotted a good number of typos in my comment up there. Felix culpa! This gives me the opportunity to say one more thing — Thanks! 🙂

    • reinkat says:

      Thank you for your comment, and thank you also for your wonderful insightful blog that inspires me so often. I am honored and humbled to think that my words have reached somebody. I am thrilled that you are feeling the incredible beauty of the icon.
      I at one time did not appreciate icons, in fact, when in college I had the opportunity to spend 5 weeks in Europe looking at art–and ignored the icons. I even was privileged to go to Ravenna,Italy, to see the icon mosaics there. I took a quick glance into the church. BOR-ing. I went and sat down on the church steps and waited for everyone else to finish looking at them. I could just kick myself now everytime I think of that missed opportunity and my own blindness!

      And as you, say, likewise with prayer and other valuable things that one must slow down, and grow in wisdom in order to understand and appreciate.

  4. Biltrix hits it on the head again. Sometimes we push so hard, exhausting ourselves in the fight to get to the ends of the world that we completely miss the big, important things right under our noses.

  5. Lovely post. Icons are a necessary beauty in our too busy and visually over-stimulating culture. A wonderful way to meditate .

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