Perhaps it is only another example of how we create our own reality that every icon we paint somehow ends up mirroring our own face. Our hand is and is not our own in the painting, but has its own mind. This is of endless comfort and confusion to me. The final result is familiar, but of course, we have painted ourselves into it. Is this what God saw when the world was finished? Is this not what we report — that the beauty of God is visible everywhere? And, as we were created in her image, we cannot but do the same? Is this not what is meant by “putting ourselves into our work” and is it not the highest grace we can bestow on a work by doing so?
Beginning iconographers never intend to alter a prototype, yet inevitably each member in a class completes an icon very different from every other one. Often because of skill, but just as often because of what they see; and we see ourselves in everything we look at in the world. We feel ugly, we see ugliness. We feel gentle, we see gentleness. In this sense the world–and the icon informs of our place in the world, and whether we need to travel another path.
We practice seeing, for as we all know, viewing is not seeing. Once again, it is the tiniest, almost imperceptible changes that make the biggest difference in the end. Examples are all around us. A millimeter of error in a calculated trajectory will control whether a satellite draws near to a planet or misses it altogether. There are even such calculations that tell us whether a human face is beautiful, or veers off the path into homeliness. Architects can explain the gravity of such calculations to you, and whether a beam of steel will support a multi-ton weight or come toppling down.
And so it is embedded code in our world that we must learn to see in order to understand the meaning of true beauty, and perhaps come to believe that some of it exists even in us, where once we thought none existed. By learning to see the world, we may come to know ourselves.