Artists and Art

“The Artist is no other than he who unlearns what he has learned, in order to know himself,”   e.e. cummings

Perhaps it is inevitable that artists go through life feeling they are an odd fit in this world. They are rebels– wild, free and on a voyage of self discovery that cummings so eloquently speaks of.  When they are young it is a most painful state, not knowing where you belong, the odd man out; at home, in the schoolyard, in social settings.  But comes a time, usually post high school, when they embrace their difference and celebrate it.  It becomes their nom de plume in the world, so to speak, and it saturates everything.

If one is lucky enough to have parents who believe their children should follow their dreams, you can follow your chosen path and land in a place where your life’s work becomes a kind of playground you never want to leave.  Celebrated or not, a belief in the value of one’s own work becomes cemented into one’s psyche, and you can live a happy life, even though your income is nothing to speak of.  Your work has become an extension of your very self, and you send it into the world to speak for you.

Camille Pisarro was one such person.  “When Pissarro returned to his home in France after the (Franco-Prussian) war, he discovered that of the 1,500 paintings he had done over 20 years, which he was forced to leave behind when he moved to London, only 40 remained. The rest had been damaged or destroyed by the soldiers, who often used them as floor mats outside in the mud to keep their boots clean. It is assumed that many of those lost were done in the Impressionist style he was then developing, thereby “documenting the birth of Impressionism.”*  Pearls before swine.  Still, Pissarro kept painting.  History, both old and new has many such examples of persons who persevered because of their belief both in themselves (the primary cause) and in their own work.

Earlier in his career, in 1863,  his work was rejected for inclusion in the Paris Salon, and done so publicly, by being hung in a separate exhibition hall labelled Salon des Refusés, translation “the reject gallery.” Still he painted, and went on to become the prime mover in a new school of artists known as the Impressionists.  Belief in oneself will take you far.

                                                       Orchard in Bloom,Louveciennes (1872)

                               

                                     La Récolte des Foins, Eragny (1887)

And so, at this late date I paint.  Only after the age of 60 did I fully embrace my art.  Born with a talent for drawing and a love of color, I was not strong enough to rebel against my parent’s wishes.  Instead of art school, I enrolled in a teacher education program, and later a graduate school to become a librarian.  For 40 years I did what was expected, and was deemed a success. But my longing for art never died, and I fed it with trips to art museums on every vacation and on free weekends.  I became an expert in art criticism, and my knowledge of art history would qualify for another degree were I tested.  Frida Kahlo became a hero of mine, for her transformation of her pain into art.

Being mavericks and feeling odd and having pain are all part of an artist’s equation.  I would argue that the best of artists come from profoundly painful backgrounds.  They achieve a depth not found in those who did not face and survive the minotaurs in the hero’s quest which make up their lives. Carbon transformed to diamond by heat and pressure.  Steel forged in fire.

And so I paint. And paint.  And paint.  A gift of beginning at this late date is the urgency I feel in completing what I have come to call my life’s work in only the 20 odd years left to me.  It drives me to accelerate my evolution as an artist.  I wrap my wrists in tape when they begin to ache from hours and days pushing them to paint.  It is a happy pain. I feel so fortunate to at last be where I was meant to be in the universe, to complete what I came to earth to do.  And whether or not I sell my paintings in my own lifetime is not so meaningful to me.  If I don’t, I will join the company of those who left this lifetime knowing what they knew, and free of the encumbrance of pining for fame or money, just doing what they must do, and gifting it to the world.

*Wikipedia. “Camille Pisarro.”  April 27, 2016.

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Gray Gravitas

I have recently decided to stop coloring my hair at the age of 62. Rather than wanting to look younger…I want to look as I am. Many within my circle have tried to convince me to stay “blonde.” They have, perhaps, been conditioned by the media into thinking aging is a negative thing that I should avoid it at all costs. But, in the dawning of my senior years I want to stand in my truth–and be perceived as a mind and a human rather than just a pretty plaything.  I am finding that not coloring my hair has been an empowering experience.  I feel that I am regarded differently, but not in a bad way.  It is almost as if my gray speaks for me, saying “I am not frivolous.  I have valuable life experience. Listen to the wisdom of my life.”  

Perhaps it’s all in my head.  Or on my head, as the case may be. Although being thought attractive is generally a ne plus ultra priority for many women, I have always regarded my heart and my intellect to be those things I most value about myself.  And now, at this late date, I am finding the appearance of my gray hair to be a valued strength as well.  It has taken a lot of resistance, perhaps obstinance to get to the point where I can feel that if anyone–male or female cannot see the wealth of gravitas in that grey hair, well then, they must be quite vapid; they are valuing something inconsequential and fleeting, something NOT REAL. In the young this can be forgiven.  My 35 year old daughter is just beginning to discover her own beliefs and replace those that society, the media and even her parents downloaded into her as she was growing up.  But in the, ahem, mature folk–this attitude is quite unflattering. It shouts  “I am a follower, and I want you to be one as well.  Don’t rock the boat.”  It hints that they may not have an interior life where they have reflected and reckoned, and discovered what it is that is true in the world.  It is easier to follow, and to gang up on those who don’t.  

Fortunately for me, I have never bowed, well…only a few times…and I learned to regret those times I betrayed my inner beliefs.  My trajectory was changed in some ways because of those decisions, not in a way I would have chosen myself.  I love Mitch Albom’s words from “The Five People You Meet in Heaven” because they disclose one of the secrets in the universe: 

“All parents damage their children. It cannot be helped. Youth, like pristine glass, absorbs the prints of its handlers. Some parents smudge, others crack, a few shatter childhoods completely into jagged little pieces, beyond repair.”

I was a shattered child.  But a gift came along with being shattered.  It made me search for relief, and knowledge, and understanding.  Along the way, after many decades I have become the self I’ve re-created myself to be–in my own image.  In God’s image.  I choose who I do and do not wish to be. I’m happy and at peace with this.  I wish it for every child, especially the abused children of the world.  That they can know that if they just hold on, they will be given the chance to undo some of the shattering, that it is the “other” who is wrong, that they will be able to reach for the light.

 In my former life as a librarian and educator, I used Mitch Albom’s words as a way to enter the sadness in the lives of my students.  I shared my story, and oh, they shared their own.  So much pain.  5th graders who poured out their hearts and found solace knowing that they would one day be able to repair themselves. That they had value and worth and were loveable. That they could partake in the most important gift–a belief in themselves.  

And so perhaps I was gifted with a warrior spirit.  Or perhaps I have learned who I really am as a person.  Who wanted, as Pinnochio said, “to be a real boy.” I wear my long, grey hair as a badge of courage.  As a sign of the path I’ve traveled and an emblem of my belief in the real me.  I am proud to be gray. When I look in the mirror, it tells me I’ve arrived.  I’m real.

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Book Review “Laurus” by Eugene Vodolazkin

*  WARNING …  proceed with caution … SPOILER ALERT *

Several days ago I finished reading the book Laurus* written about a 15th century monk who lived his life as a healer, trying to redeem the life of his young love and her baby, both of whom died in childbirth, without the benefit of confession, and having been living sinfully outside of marriage. The main character  starts life as an orphan named Arseny and has learned the gift of healing from his grandfather, long dead. Because he is ashamed that he has hidden the young woman in his home secretly, he does not want to call for a midwife when her time comes, thinking he will be able to deliver her. But instead, both she and the baby boy die. Arseny, overcome with guilt, vows to live Ustina’s unlived life for her, for it is only in life that we are able to make reparation for our sins. And so he plans to do good for all of his days and to scourge himself , whom he despises in order to gain redemption for Ustina and the baby. Throughout his life, he stays true to his word and endures much hardship and suffering. Sometimes it seems that his life is one long dark night of the soul. He oftens questions himself and his direction in life, never knowing if he is proceeding as he should. Always, he is faithful to Ustina, speaking to her, telling her that he is working to save her soul and asking for her advice. But she never answers, and Arseny takes this as a sign that further, more rigorous effort is required. He does this by giving away all he owns, including any food that is given him and by scourging himself in various, often brutal ways. As his reputation as a healer and a holy man begins to grow, and his works are considered miraculous and works of God, his deep humility never wavers, and he considers himself most unworthy. Nearing the end of his life, he asks the parish priest that his body be dragged through the streets in one last act of humiliation to his body; and so this is religiously performed by a holy trinity including an abbot, a bishop and an archbishop sent to accompany Laurus into his next life:

“They kneel and soundlessly pray. They take the ends of the rope in their hands, kiss them, and stand up straight. Cross themselves in unison. The hems of their robes and the ends of their beards flap in unity….Their gazes are directed above…”

10,000 people who have been touched by the life of this holy man are on their knees in shock and sorrow as he is dragged through the town where he was born one last time. Laurus’ goodness and mercy had transformed this once ordinary man into a saint for the ages.

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The transformative power of suffering was the major theme of this novel. But suffering without humility is wasted, and so humility assumed an equal role here. In the beginning, Arseny erred, as most young people do, on two fronts: youthful hubris and loss of control to new love/lust. In today’s world, we almost consider these things a rite of passage, but in Arseny’s world with the the resulting outcome, they became the devastation of three lives. I would argue that Arseny took on the Herculean task of reparation for three souls and gave everything, even the mortification of his body beyond death. I wept for him, and I continue to weep.

Laurus suffered silently and without complaint. He did not defend himself when falsely accused. For long periods of time he felt speech unnecessary and lived silently by himself. Time began to shimmer and skip for him. His life unfurled itself in a particular direction, and then returned to where it began. He traveled a spiral path, climbing ever higher to God, yet all the time feeling he was an abject sinner and lost. Perhaps there is hope for us (me) here. If a man such as this can be clothed in the schema** and all his life feel worthless and confused and lost, yet keep doing good and praying, then that is all that any of us can do in this life, and perhaps we are not so lost, after all.

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*Arseny undergoes several name changes in the novel which is the tradition when one is ordained as a monk. As one is elevated to a new rank or order, one’s name is changed again. The last name he receives, Laurus is one that accompanies his receipt of the schema, the highest degree of asceticism in Eastern Christianity.

**for more information on the process of tonsure and schema, please consult the following: http://www.johnsanidopoulos.com/2010/08/analavos-of-great-schema-explained.html

This novel is loosely based on the life of St Cyril of the White Lake, who did indeed live during that time period. To see images and read about the real St Cyril, or to purchase the book, see the links below:

St Cyril of the White Lake with View of the Kirillo-Belozersky Monastery, http://www.gettyimages.com/detail/news-photo/saint-cyril-of-white-lake-w…

“Venerable Cyril, the Abbot of White Lake”, https://oca.org/saints/lives/2012/06/09/101671-venerable-cyril-the-abbot…

“Laurus” by Eugene Vodolazkin http://www.amazon.com/Laurus-Eugene-Vodolazkin/dp/1780747551

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The Mind of God

Years ago, it may have been as an elementary school librarian, I began to share what I called “secrets of the universe” that I had discovered with my students.  And, it was with much delight that these children began began to see the world with new eyes.  One of my first discoveries was that of the Fibonacci Sequence, a mathematical formula that predicts the spiral patterns in the whorls of a pineapple, a nautilus shell and a galaxy of stars. In fact, as you begin to look, you find this pattern everywhere, and I am always happy to find a new example.    This swirl pattern serves also to illustrate the power of certrifugal force, or the sense that as we age we move further and further away from the familial/societal center.  The pattern holds true scientifically, mathematically, artistically, philosophically.  God is nothing, if not constant. There is great beauty in this.

As a person inclined toward the arts, I had been aware that the human eye and mind were somehow programmed to respond to a certain aesthetic.  The Greeks and Romans knew this in the building of their temples, and artists routinely map out their paintings geometrically to align or misalign themselves depending upon which schools they follow.  The 3 to 4 ratio is universally observed to be where our balance of comfort and beauty lie, and this is why most canvasses begin their lives constructed in that proportion.  hand of god

For reasons that are another story, I will tell you that I became a science major in college, even though my heart lay with the arts.  As a result, I am a hybrid, of sorts, able to marry the two…seeing where they walk along in life holding hands.  Or not.  And one of those places is called Newton’s 3rd Law, “every action has an equal or opposite reaction.”  Scientists will prove to you that if you push on a wall, the wall is pushing back on you at the same strength until you push harder and pop, there’s a hole.  When you do the same thing with people, its anger-joy-fill in the blank karma. Punch someone and see what happens.  In art we could equate it to the strength and proximity of color, or even positive-negative space, you get the idea.  

But, I digress.  Before I lose the few of you who have stuck with me thusfar, suffice it to say the mind of God is a beautiful thing.  A multilayered thing full of wonder and metaphor for children of all ages–that’s me and you.  No matter how much we know, or think we know, there will always be more to see. In all kinds of places.  Just look.  I will leave you with one of my favorite quotes from a children’s book called “Tuck Everlasting” by Natalie Babbitt:

“It’s a wheel, Winnie. Everything’s a wheel, turning and turning, never stopping. The frogs is part of it, and the bugs, and the fish, and the wood thrush, too. And people. But never the same ones. Always coming in new, always growing and changing, and always moving on. That’s the way it’s supposed to be. That’s the way it is.” (12.6)

Another metaphor! This time, life is a wheel. 

 

 

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The Smallest Things Make the Biggest Differences; Quantum Physics and Iconography

Pantocrator For some time, it has been quite a marvel to me that such a tiny amount of pigment is utilized in the creation of an icon painted with traditional egg tempera.  The pigment powders used in the icon above, for example, could not have exceeded 20 mg or so.  And, because of working with quantities which are so small, it occurred to me that the smallest of errors in mixing or diluting colors could easily ruin a day’s work. Beyond that, the issue of moving a line or shadow a millimeter or two into alignment and suddenly, an effect which had eluded one for days comes into focus.  And so the theories of quantum physics began to “wave” through my mind.  And a match was made in heaven, and the angels sang.  

The word quantum comes from Latin and means “how much.” This in itself would be a lovely thing were one able to pin down all teachers to this task. But teachers are like chefs.  They all have their own recipes, and some are more open than others to quantifying amounts for color mixtures. You may have to resort to some trial and error on your own.  There are other teachers, Gianluca Busi for example, who publish exact formulas which will make your life easier.  

Quantum Iconography depends on  probability: when you are a student, unless you purchase specific pigment powder from the same source as your instructor, your result may not be the same. Even if you do use the same pigment, unless you mix it according to the correct proportions of emulsion and water, it can still look different.  Throw in your student brush technique, argggh…have you given up yet? Cinnabar purchased in Russia will not have the same hue which cinnabar purchased from Finland has,  or 5 other sources in the U.S. will have–they will all have their own idiosyncratic cinnabar.  And your cinnabar is not the same as Cennini’s cinnabar was all those hundreds of years ago, get it? Figure out all the likely permutations, holy cow!  By the time you are done, in a very real way, your icon has ended up being just as unique in the universe as you are.  It behaves as a particle and a wave.  It is stationary and it draws you inside.  The pigments exhibit the forces of electromagnetism when they are being suspended into emulsions. Certain pigments may repel each other when being added into solution, and conversely, are “gobbled up” as it were.  Gravity is evident when heavier portions of a pigment sink to the bottom of the emulsion and we use only the lighter, more transparent color which remains in solution at the top.

Finally, as reflections of light particles and waves, icons do God’s holy work with the assistance of our hands, amen.  

                   

 

 

 

 

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Lessons Learned

Painting an icon can be a grueling and self effacing affair.  There have been times I have painted and erased and repainted an area 5 or 6 times, and it may be an allegory of the way God might work on us over our lifetime. So many considerations, so many permutations…in color mixing, lighting, application–the list goes on.  The icon becomes, in a very real way, as unique as the human being who created it.  By the time we are finished, we/the icon have become the assemblage of numerous failings that have received correction.

Is it the hand or the eye that is most important for an artist?  I would argue for the eye, for although both must undergo a long training in order to work in tandem to create the sublime, in the end it must be the eye that guides the hand. It is simple to tell that some thing or  more often some things are not right with your icon.  The trick is in diagnosing the fixes.  In working with a prototype, you may look between it and your own board a hundred times before you see that, “ah, that shadow needs alignment with the divot below the nose.” Again, it is erase, and repaint.

Erasures in icon painting are much like “erasures” in human behavior.  They are never truly erased, but they are blended out, and painted over to remain there forever part of the piece.  So in a very real way, erasures or failures  you will have, in effect, become the scaffolding or the skeletal form of the beautiful end result, if one persists in one’s effort.  In this case, the most minute detail — the curl of a lip, for example, may need to be viewed and assayed time and again.  This is crucial, because a fresh eye allows one to see most clearly that which was invisible to it before. Each time, magically, something is clarified. Suddenly the lens of your eye brings into focus that which was invisible  before! And in this way again we are much like our own icons, rarely seeing our own faults, often myriad, until they cause us enough pain to force us to look again and again and deal with them and fix them, blending them into the background of our selves, finally corrected.

There are some times when one feels one is being tested.  Days go by. Results approach a pleasing end and…are suddenly lost again.  Egg tempera is the most unforgiving of masters, and requires a rigor and commitment beyond many.  Your heart must be in it.  Your soul must be in it.  All in or all out.  Or stay out.  Your work will show which it is.  Just how it is, not my rules.

And so, as I have become a better icon painter, I have become a slower icon painter. This might seem a contradiction.  But, my eye has learned discernment, my hand has learned refinement, and I have learned the advantage of humility. There is much more scaffolding to build, but I have the advantage of time, for 20 more years anyway.

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I Learn by Going Where I Need To Go

An icon writer is born, not made.  Like all great artists, she or he can not not paint.  It is the reason for one’s very existence.  This feeling consumes you and infiltrates most areas of your daily life.   You study icons, read about icons, go to museums showing icons, speak to other iconographers.  You take lessons.  But the lessons are only the first step on the journey.  And it is here where the journey for many begins and ends, for reasons within or without the student.  For most, and the vast majority, the journey ends because they hobble themselves with the inability to paint a stroke without some instructor or other giving them approval  — they need external validation. And thus, they begin more and more to rely on another’s eye and touch and never develop their own.  These people need as much guidance painting their tenth icon as they do their first.  It is often the simplest and silliest of things, the mixing of a shade or tone perhaps, and they are permanently fixed in the universe of the kindergarten class, preferring to wait for the instructor to give assent and instructions yet again. They have handicapped themselves with their phantom insecurities built into phantasms within their own imaginations. Yet, like God, iconography can be most forgiving, lines and colors easily removed with egg wash or razor blade and tried again, nothing lost.  Ah, well.

I wish I could teach everyone to just take the plunge-hold their nose and jump in.  But I think it has been best said in the following:

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.
I learn by going where I have to go
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                                                                      –Theodore Roethke

You should not fear to try anything when you are learning.  Application is everything, and any first year teacher will tell you that.  Be bold!  It is only when you begin to work on your own, without the teacher that you really know what it is you don’t know, and still need to learn.  It is only in the work repeated and repeated and repeated that your hand and brain begin to acquire the refinement and grace you have been working toward. Malcolm Gladwell,  author of “Tipping Point” has stated that through research it is found that 10,000 hours of application are required in order for a person to master any skill. In my personal professional experiences as a librarian and teacher, I have found this to be so.

So for the past two years, even though I had only had 10 prior days of iconography lessons, even though my work would be considered base beginner level, I held my nose and jumped in. I had to. My destiny demanded it of me. I began making my own boards and buying supplies all over the world.  I began painting full-time.  I began to see where I was.  I began to see where I had to go.  And little by little my work improved.  Now I paint in my studio surrounded by shelves full of beautiful icons whose eyes  watch me as I work.  I find them the best of company.  They show me all the places I’ve been, and all the beauty I have seen and felt. They urge me on.  My fate has always been to be an icon painter.  I have taken a long and sometimes painful road to get here.   The icons know.  They have been waiting for me all these years.

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but back to the beauty of Byzantine Christianity

Christian orthodoxy continued

The Christian churches in all the Balkans — this includes the Czechoslovakians, Romanians, Poles and others not already mentioned have always retained uninterrupted liturgies and church arts that the Russian Orthodox have claimed as only theirs.  And this goes back to an early special “deal” that the Roman Catholic Pope cut with all those who chose to follow him when the great schism occurred. These “old school” Christians, whose priests married and who performed the liturgy in their native tongues would be allowed to do so, and continue to do so to this very day.  Thus, all the original rites continued, and  byzantine art proliferated as part of a proud heritage which made it distinct culturally from its brothers in the west.  So, although, and this gets a little confusing, Romanians who are Catholic, ie following the pope, are referred to as Romanian Greek Catholics, they are as Orthodox as just about any old Russian Orthodoxian out there.  They sing the same old hymns, have the same old art, old liturgies — you get the idea. It is almost like the Christians having Latin as their universal language.  I love to listen to a particular Romanian singer as she sings hymns which I largely understand in Ukrainian because of the melody and certain words translating closely enough.

I would love to see this part of the world close ranks and unite in the one proud heritage which they share, Byzantine Christianity. No one “owns” God.  Let’s open our hearts and minds to truth, beauty and goodness, which our cultures and Christian heritage demands.  Enter deeply into the icons that we hold so dear and find our truth there.  I believe it will all be one in Christ.  Amen.

 

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No, its not your ball

Orthodox entitlement continued…

Oh dear.  I suppose I should be happy that I am not living in a time when I could be stoned for expressing this heretical posture, but —  the ball belongs to all of us.  That is, Christianity, in all its glorious forms and practices and hymns and churches with icons and churches without icons and no one part of the Catholic church which includes EVERYONE has any right to excommunicate or bad-mouth another.  This is the height of pretentiousness and pride and every grade school attending Sunday School, CCD or any ilk there-of knows that “pride goeth before the fall.”  This is how humanity got itself into this mess in the first place and got its behind kicked out of Eden. And, as most common folk of any denomination will tell you, 99% of the “rules” we are asked to follow have nothing to do with what Jesus said or did on earth.  They are purely political and man-made.  And, may change on a moment’s notice.  Roman Catholics considered eating meat on Fridays a sin for centuries until 1966 when the man-made rule changed.  As far as I know, nothing has ever come down from the head office about eating or not eating meat on any day.  And it has been this way from the very beginning, when the most learned clerics, the bishops  would assemble to debate which books should be included in the bible and which excluded.  It was interesting to find that certain books written by some apostles of Christ got the ax. But I digress.  Back to the “Orthodox.”  The word orthodox simply means unchanged from it’s beginning. And, again, the Orthodox Russians and the Orthodox Russians who pledge allegiance to the Moscow patriarchate lay solitary claim to this.  But, sayin’ doesn’t make it so.  And I think this is where all their anger and hostility begins.  For they are very Russian, you see.  They don’t play nicely with others.  They will not rest until they have the whole playground.  And this is what rankles me, because in 62 years I have never heard or sensed any negativity toward the Orthodox from the Greek Catholics.  Until EuroMaidan when the Orthodox clergy came out into the streets in Ukraine to fight with the separatists against their own people.

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2014/08/07/remaining-maidan-activists-clash-with-ukrainian-forces-in-independence-square_n_5658630.html

For Ukrainian Americans like me who have been born in the United States, there is no clearer evidence of Orthodox clergy in collusion with Moscow than is brought to light here. Shameful, but not unusual.  For what has remained orthodox within this church is its 1000 year old history of politicizing religion.  Pay enough money and you, too can be a saint!  Kill thousands of people, Olga, but as long as they are not on our side, its ok! Congratulations, you are a saint!  And don’t get me started on Boris and Gleb.

One of the most popular icons found in Ukrainian churches and homes falls into the Eleusa category. It is known by several names, including the “Virgin of Passion”, the “Virgin of Perpetual Help” or Pammakaristos in Greek. Some Ukrainians may know it as the Dostoino icon because the icon commemorates the Hymn to the Theotokos: “It is truly meet to bless you, Theotokos, ever blessed and most pure and Mother of our God.” The first word of this hymn in Slavonic is Dostoino (Достóйно).

I think its time for some anger management training for the Orthodox Christians, and a class on how to share nicely.  And maybe a class or two on what Jesus was all about.  I seem to remember he said something about coming to save all men.  Tone down your aggression.  Be gentle.  Play nice.  You may get into heaven a little sooner.

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Beware the Jabberwocky…

KNWMDCOPY3What’s a jabberwocky got to do with iconography, you might ask?  Everything, if you are one of those quiet, docile types that believe everything you hear and begin to idolize any particular teacher or style.  Pride go-eth before the fall, and there is oh so much pride in this field where teachers develop schools of style, and students very carefully follow paint by number instructions that dare not deviate from those outlined.  And then, of course, there are those who feel qualified to pass judgement on particular iconographers and schools of iconography, giving their “papal blessing” (although there is no pope in orthodoxy, but we’ll get to that later, LOL) and decreeing certain iconographers “in” and other iconographers “out.”  Such pomposity-grandiosity-any-osity from “followers of Christ.  Emperor, I believe you have no clothes on!  Does this not sound like grade school where the poplular kids form cliques?

The best artists have always gone their own ways, of course; inventing new rules and new ways of looking at things.  They have an eye for spotting the absurd, and little patience for it.  And it has been hundreds of years since the orthodox church began to fear that it was losing its claim on the style of byzantine art, and attempted to create guidelines which needed to be enforced in order to be claimed to be true icons. Devout and righteous Christians as the Orthodox are, they resented sharing their style of art, which was becoming popular, and being “watered down” and changed into the more realistic portraiture embraced by the Europeans.  An so, the Orthodox decided to draw the line in the sand, and made rigid painting rubrics part of a canon, the same one that had not deviated in over a thousand years.  Artists were required to dutifully re-copy images exactly as they had been re-copied for centuries before, and would be recopied into the future.  Fast forward to the modern era.

As spoken about in a previous post, an artist’s icon tends to take on a resemblance to the artist herself, and this can clearly be seen when comparing icons from two cultures, say the English and the French.  It becomes even more interesting when you know something about an individual iconographer.  Generally speaking, angry people respond to and choose to paint images of an angry Christ, meek persons select or give him a sort of timid look.  And, as you begin to reflect on the life’s work of a modern orthodox iconographer, you will see those that have, in actuality, really struck out on their own, as it were, re-creating facial images entirely so that there are none recognizable that came before. To that I say bravo!, but call a spade a spade.  You cannot present yourself as a rigid practitioner of the orthodox lexicon and do your own thing all at once.  Or do your own thing, but tell your students to stay between the lines. (metaphor, for those who are having difficulty following.)

There is an element of dishonesty that bristles here.  Dishonesty proliferated by partial presentation of the truth.  A kind of Bill Clinton parsing language. The whole truth is not disclosed.  It stains the work.

Orthodoxy is a whole other partial representation of the truth.  The Russian Orthodox Church, in particular, loves to claim rights to everything under the sun.  Bah, humbug!  I know whereof I speak.  Christianity was first brought to the UKRAINE by St. Andrew, one of the 12 apostles. Iconography in the Balkan States first started in UKRAINE in the Kiev Caves and Perchersk Lavra.  As Christianity spread and was practiced throughout the Balkan States, politics and wars led to land grabs by Russia, not unlike the one going on right now.  So, for some periods of time and against their will, the Ukrainian people and their culture came to be claimed by Russia.

When the time came that “Russia” decided to split from Rome, the folks on the eastern border of Ukraine that abuts Russia followed Russia, and those people became Orthodox Christians.  The people on the western half of the Ukraine who were closer to Greece/Constantinople/and the seat in Rome became Greek Byzantine Catholics.

To this very day, all of the rites and liturgies, etc. are virtually identical. (Except that we didn’t paint icons of Putin and hang them in our churches when he invaded Ukraine.)  Within Ukraine, the Orthodox clergy have always hated the Catholic clergy and feel an intense rivalry.  They also have a superiority complex, which is clearly visible to anyone spending 5 minutes reading any of their websites.  They consider themselves to be the only true church because it is only they who have remained unchanged in almost 2000 years. But hold on…what about that thorn in your side, all those nasty Byzantine Greek Catholics…

to be continued…

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