The Beauty of the Spider’s Spirit

“Years ago, I became committed to the art of pottery.  I had a vision of the perfect pot.  It haunted my imagination, even my dreams.    It was an utterly simple form; it had a beautiful shining, white glaze.  The whole thing was so consummately beautiful, that it almost was not there.  A fragile, vulnerable, unearthly beauty.  In my youthful ignorance and in my “tiger” years I poured my energies into making that vision concrete.  Of course, I never achieved that goal, or even came close to it.  Then one day, twenty-five years later, that vision came back — while I was in Japan.  But in this new vision, one thing had changed…that pot was myself.  It always was.  I realized that if I were to make the beautiful pot I must first make the beautiful person.  As an artist I know and as a person I know — that the beauty of the spider’s web comes out of the beauty of the spider’s spirit.”  

Brother Thomas Bezanson

Students in workshops often marvel at the differences that result when all of them have followed the same directions and painted the same subject, working very meticulously.  In icon painting workshops this means everyone starts with the same tracing and uses the same colors which have been blended by the instructor.  And yet…

The differences go beyond the skill of the painter to something I had here-to-for attributed to the physical appearance of the painter, and this does hold a piece of the explanation. Ethnic features are readily apparent between Greek and Russian icons, and most certainly in the modern day with those from the British Isles. As God created man and woman in his own image, we as painters, subconsciously make subtle changes to the features of icons so that they come to resemble us in their physical features.

And yet…there are certain iconographers who develop a refinement within their work which can only be explained as an emanation of the spiritual love that the artist has for the subject.  This perfusion of spirit has given the icon its ethereal dimension, and try as one might, the best skilled craftsman can never hope to duplicate the result that years of prayer and contemplation and living a Godly life have woven into that icon.

And so,  I humble myself whenever I see such a master and remember “that I have miles to go before I sleep.”*

*Robert Frost

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About Olga Dytyniak

artist, librarian poet, byzantine icon painter, perennial student. Join me on
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