Tuesday, 12 April 2011

On not being in Cheltenham

I confess I am rather envious of those people who will have been able to learn about icons with Ian down there in Cheltenham. I just wish I could get there, but alas, no. Instead I have taken time to read some of Ian’s writings. In this blog I just quote from a piece which can be read in full HERE I take so much from this piece and would encourage others to read it. Just a few thoughts : the idea that an icon requires the iconographer to interiorise a tradition and explore this tradition in a life of prayer and faith. It is a process which takes time. The iconographer has to take time to get into a living, ‘organic’ relationship with the subject. The resulting opus is a struggle to realize this interior spiritual process in terms of a visual image. I think that exploring my thoughts and feelings on the Sacred Heart in terms of an icon has also enabled me to go through a kind of parallel process involving a cultivation of silence and openness, but also at the same time a process of ‘hard graft , learning and sacrifice.’ And, related to this, is a sense of the importance of liturgical art in what Ian refers to ‘redeeming’ a culture so dominated by the ‘throw away’ mentality. I suppose what I take from this is that although we are a very visual culture – and especially so in the case of young people whose lives are intensely visual – we do not take enough time to reflect on the religious and other images that are all around us. Reflecting on an iconic representation of the Sacred Heart has I think enabled me to think and pray in a different way. Not sure what that means yet, but I have a sense that I am getting somewhere. Anyway , enough of me: a few extracts from Ian’s piece:

[a].. Tradition is not a simple matter of rules that can be written down and learnt, but something dynamic, even organic, a living entity of the Spirit which becomes embodied at various times, places and situations....And for iconographers that Tradition is not a code to be learnt by heart, a set of rules and regulations, but something which can only be interiorised over time and with dedication, as a living part of the life of faith, an attentive silence of the Word to be heard in the interior place of the heart. It is as it were a substance of Christian culture which must first be interiorised before it can be expressed....This is very important for us, because our culture is secular, highly transient, and deeply hostile to the material world and to the human person. It is a culture which has decayed into radical individualism (currently post-modernism) where the value of the human person is not objective but relativistic, not communal but the alienated self. It is a culture which consumes the material without thought to the value of it, resulting in gross inequalities between rich and poor, and with catastrophic consequences not just for the harmony of creation but for ecology as a whole. This ‘throw away’ culture, from wrapping paper to aborted babies, negates so much of what the Word is, and so not only is it not pregnant as a witness to the Word, in many ways it intrinsically opposes it. It is what the late Pope John Paul II called the ‘culture of death’.....Iconography struggles to breathe in such a climate or environment, just as it did under atheistic communism. Yet at the same time it is a means by which Christ seeks to redeem culture, to speak to it, to reveal itself to itself in its true form in the light of its true destiny: to sing the praises of the Creator in harmony and beauty and in Truth. .....Thus to be a real iconographer you need to be in tune with this wider life of Christ incarnate, organically linked to it, interiorising it. It is not about a self-conscious ‘every brush stroke is a prayer’ but about a deep interiorisation so that every brush stroke flows from that ‘prayer without ceasing’, because quite simply there is no other way you could paint. It is not about an obedient following of the rules but an application to a task which flows from an interior obedience and humility before the Word of God as He leads us in every moment of our life…
The answer? In essence a call to live deeply in Christ, and to make iconography a serious pursuit lived from within that reality, not simply a work of conscious prayer, but more a hard graft, learning, understanding, sacrificing in order to unite one’s small voice knowledgably with the wonderful stuff of creation in union with the heavenly choirs, echoed in every celebration of the Holy Mysteries and made known in the silent cavern of our hearts. It is a call to live humbly before the Word and all those who bear witness to Him, to cultivate a silence of the heart in which to hear that witness and to make it one’s own, and to apply all one’s energy, body, mind and soul, to mastering the tools necessary to join our own voices with the great Tradition of the Word which has taken flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and Truth .

Go HERE to read the piece as a whole.

1 comment:

  1. I felt blessed indeed to have the unique opportunity to be taught 'how to paint an Icon' using the ancient technique of egg tempera at Ian Knowles’ practical workshop on Saturday, 9 April at Christ Church.
    Starting the day in the Chapel with Ian knowles' beautiful icons as a focus for prayer was the best way to motivate us through the day. We, participants were of a wide range of skills from very little to a reasonably high level. Ian somehow managed to steer us all towards a finished product: some showing potential or in my case a likeness more of Mona Lisa than Jesus as pointed out by my 9yr son, Louis. Leonardo da Vinci didn't paint an enigmatic woman at all!
    The day was stimulating and insightful with interludes of orthodox music, anecdotes about Ian's work in the Holy Land, revelations of just how much intricate detailing and subtlety of layering watercolour upon watercolour goes into an Icon, the eco friendliness of all the natural products, an understanding that it takes years of patience and perseverance to accomplish Ian's mastery and most of all a trust in a guiding spirit.
    My favourite reflection on the day was from a recent Graduate in Art who was both stunned and delighted: “I am going home with a painting of Jesus in my bag, which I painted!”
    I still haven't done the powerful, penetrative eyes of Jesus that gaze into your very soul and will probably need to go to the Emmanuel Monastery, Bethlehem to conclude the piece at one of Ian's courses. What wonderful incentive. There was a Grandmother of 16 grandchildren (Dee O’Meara) in our midst who on Monday completed her icon alongside Ian as he worked as Iconographer-in-Residence at Christ Church. A wedding present for one of her sons although parting with the Icon will be “incredibly difficult. This was a lifetime experience, I wouldn't have missed for the world."
    Although one felt 'not worthy even to gather up the crumbs under his table, it is in his nature always to have mercy!’ Ian with his light of spirit approach made us feel very at ease and there was no hesitancy from anyone to ask for his help. Thank you very much Ian and Christ Church.