Three ways to live

Which is your way?

Icon world

Filed under: Uncategorized — Vitali at 7:12 pm on Thursday, September 20, 2007

My own towards icons can best be described as “suspicious”. On one hand, I always thought of it as a bad piece of art, which looks like a childish painting. On the other hand, seeing how icons are used in Russia may equate it to outright idolatry. I have just listened to a lecture by A. Kuraev on the topic of icons, which helped clarify at least some of the issues for me. I checked his explanation with some other websites, such as this one, and they seem to agree. So, here are some observations:

1) Icon painting strikes us by the frontality of the figures. This frontality brings the figures in direct contact with the figure. Also, the main object of the icon can sometimes be disproportionally large, in order to attract the viewer’s attention (see the top figure).

2) Icon painting deliberately disregards the principle of natural perspective in order to avoid the illusion of three-dimensionality. Instead, it gives the impression of complete flatness and the lack of perspective. Some icons use an inverse perspective (see the bottom figure), which may make you see three sides of a building or table. This may have been used to convey the idea of an extreme proximity of God – we see things in inverse perspective when they are right in front of our nose. Another effect achieved by the inverse perspective is that it gives an effect of the icon looking at you rather than you looking at the icon.

3) Icons show no natural source of light and do not represent shadows. The only light in icons is the inner light of sacred figures and the divine light of Christ. A. Kuraev mentions that this conveys the message of inner goodness and godliness that comes out in the life transformed by Christ.

I guess these all make sense, but the question is how many of these original intentions are being understood by people who pray to icons? While the church has awhile back decided there is nothing wrong with depicting Jesus on the icons, since he was fully man as well as fully God, my main problem is with depicting saints. I have seen these been prayed to as if these saints can help you rather than Christ. Even my mom once gave me a small booklet with three icons inside and asked to pray Saint Nicholas for anything to do with exams. This reminds me of pantheism, where people sacrifice to one god to get rain, to another to get health, yet to another for wealth.

Yet, discarding icons completely may be too harsh. After all, when properly understood, they present a very unique artistic way of conveying Christian message.

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