Icon Writing & Contemporary Artists

Iconographers say that icons are written, not painted. They are believed to embody the Word, God, in physical form. Icons act as physical windows into Heaven and icon writing is a direct experience of the Divine.

Gabriel IconIn life, we have the illusion that we are in control, that we pick our jobs, our mates, etc. It’s not true, but it feels that way (See Gartenfische for more on this). In the process of icon writing, that illusion is stripped away. Every form, every color, every technique is strictly prescribed. This is very hard on the ego believe me! See my attempt at an icon above. I studied under Vladislav Vladislav Andrejev at the School of the Sacred Art, but my ego was too strong at that time to enter fully into the process. In forcing the ego to submit, the artist is healed and brought closer to God. It is this healing moment which is captured in the icon. This moment resonates purely with Source and transforms a block of wood, egg yolk and pigment into a doorway to the Divine.

Before writing an icon, it is customary to pray. Here are some excerpts from a traditional prayer. It is extremely interesting how much of this prayer has to do with healing and cleansing the artist.

Glory to Thee O God, Glory to Thee.
O Heavenly King, Comforter, Spirit of Truth, Who art everywhere present and fillest all things, Treasury of Blessings and Giver of Life, come and abide in us, and cleanse us from every impurity, and save our souls, O Good One. …
Master, pardon our iniquities.
Holy One, visit and heal our infirmities, for Thy Name’s sake.
Lord have mercy, Lord have mercy, Lord have mercy.

Enlighten and direct our souls, our hearts, and our spirits. Guide the hands of your unworthy servant so that we may worthily and perfectly portray Your Icon, that of Your Holy Mother, and of all the saints, for the glory, joy, and adornment of Your Holy Church.
Forgive our sins and the sins of those who will venerate these icons, and who, standing devoutly before them, give homage to those they represent. Protect them from all evil and instruct them with good counsel.
….Amen

For the whole prayer click here. This is very traditional religious language, but we can look deeply and see a universal message.

Let’s go back to intention. The icon writer intends to meet God. Such a lofty goal necessitates transformation. If, as in much contemporary art, the artist’s goal is to shock, or argue a point, self-aggrandize, then really why bother. We all get that every second of everyday anyway!

Each of us has this one life, this one moment to shine and add luminosity to the world. Why would we choose anything other than fearless, unrelenting opening to God?
——————————–
I have chosen different spiritual path from icon writing in my art. Icon writing requires the will to will God’s will. This a beautiful and rich spiritual path, amazing. But my aim is different. I seek to tread what is called the via negativa. I wish to release my will completely, not even to will God’s will. I wish to be an empty vessel, a womb, open to be filled by the Divine. Every thing, thought, and idea I can release makes more space for the Divine creative flow to fill and perhaps birth forth as something completely new.

11 Responses “Icon Writing & Contemporary Artists”

  1. ‘Epiphany: Contemporary Iconographers in Britain’ is a great new exhibition of icons at the Wallspace Gallery (http://www.wallspace.org.uk/) showing the work of 15 contemporary, traditional iconographers who live and work in the UK, in what is believed to be the first exhibition of its kind. While there have been survey exhibitions of icons from other places in the world, such as Russia, Greece and the Balkans, there has never been an opportunity to get the work of the very best iconographers working in Britain together in one place. It is well worth a look.

    Also, have you come across the writings of Charles Williams (http://www.geocities.com/charles_wms_soc/). Williams was a member of the Inklings (with C.S. Lewis and Tolkien) and is very good on the Affirmative Way, as an alternative or complement to the via negativa.

  2. Wow, that exhibition looks great! I wish I could see it. The Wallspace gallery is also really interesting. I love that there is a gallery devoted to the relationship between art & spirituality.

    I took a look at the Williams site as well. He looks very interesting, thanks for the intro. My mystical/theological reading has been focused mainly on medieval writers. Lately I have been working on expanding my horizons and I’ll definitely add Williams to my list.

  3. gartenfische says:

    I love this:

    I seek to tread what is called the via negativa. I wish to release my will completely, not even to will God’s will. I wish to be an empty vessel, a womb, open to be filled by the Divine. Every thing, thought, and idea I can release makes more space for the Divine creative flow to fill and perhaps birth forth as something completely new.

    Wow. I want to do that, too. I want to do it with writing.

  4. Gartenfische- I think we are kindred spirits!

  5. gartenfische says:

    Ja, I think we are!

    So glad we found each other. . .

  6. lynn fields says:

    2007 to 2014…never too late…it seems i tread the via negative as well. people question my sanity concerning this choice. at times it is an immense challenge. sometimes that opening for “something completely new” leaves me astonished and reborn. thank you, Sybil, for sharing your mind and spirit…

  7. Julia Moore says:

    Your photo of your empty easles (vessels) just popped up on my email a couple of days ago and I wept for joy knowing that you are still making art. You are my favorite living woman mystic! You are in my prayers. Julia Moore, Olympia, WA

  8. Asta Lander says:

    Sybil I have been doing an art ecourse and one of the exercises is to think on those you admire and brainstorm their qualities. From this you write mantras to be used in the art process. I want you to know that you were one of the people I chose. And I wonder how you are. My prayers and love – my admiration, my great love of your art… from a member of the Third Order of the Society of Saint Francis (tssf) in Australia, with deep respect. Asta x

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