In an effort to be more ecumenical in the world, to find new ways to express who we are as members of one creator assuming there is one, could this image be an icon? Is this a simple portrait of a wise man, a guru, a master, a guide, an enlightened being reminding us who we are?
There are two new landscapes icon painting is thriving on.
One is the public’s contemporary interest and exposure to what were once hidden private collections around the world. These secret collections existed in the private sector as well as in the church archives behind closed doors. Today collections travel from place to place and are seen by many for the first time ever. The second new landscape is the painter’s community. The production of icons is no longer the sole domain of monastic communities or iconography schools. The media advancements in technology, social networking, teaching and generally sharing this great art form have stimulated a vibrant interaction between iconographers. The result is both good and bad but where God is concerned I feel the judgment it is irrelevant. It is simply change and it is necessary for our evolution in God, as his creation. We were made with the potential to think and create and therefore nothing stays the same, not even icons.
Let us not underestimate the human desire for holiness and let us not limit it either.
For 1,500 years byzantine icons were held as sacred image, divinely inspired and venerated daily by a closed society within the orthodox faith. For the subsequent 300 years icon image and language has been largely uninspired, more arbitrary and at times predictable reproductions collected for their beauty. Some contemporary iconographers have broken away from the canons of Greek and Russian iconography.
As with many things, man’s free will and creative ego is pushing icons to a new level. Now, not only saints are painted but a great many new portraits outside the established Byzantine church. Secular painting and sacred art are merging to include astrology, wheel of fortune and tarot cards. The subjects of icons depicted today include various memorable events, cosmic backgrounds, political figures, other religions and this Last Supper with Buddha will no doubt offend the esthetics of our past tradition.
Icon painting could potentially impact a wider audience and breathe in new prayer and mysticism.
New painters are captivated by this limitless world of spiritual image, its language, archetypal history, individual signature and communal exploration. We cannot control the history or future of iconography. Generations of icongraphers have supported the tradition with their anonymous inspirations. Their work and image is a selfless gift to us. Their icons transcend the individual and will always be honored because of their sheer beauty. Icons speak through the activity of painting and /or the completed painting. I want to encourage the creation of new icons and pray for a more spiritually integrated world for all.
My own collections include Buddha, as new meditation and image. Although the iconography community might be challenged by new imagery, I sincerely want to inspire other iconographers and welcome new understandings of God, the giant God who belongs to no one.