Mind, Body / Art, Icons

Recently I read an article about the way professors are teaching art at universities, and how they have adopted the critical thinking method used in other disciplines and applied it to teaching art.  (you may read the article here: http://www.twocoatsofpaint.com/2016/03/laurie-fendrich-how-critical-thinking.html )

I wrote a comment about the article on my personal Facebook page, which follows:

I agree with the points raised in this article regarding painting and how it is taught today. I think this was already beginning when I was in school at UT where it felt like only the idea behind the art was worthy of attention and painting techniques were not taught except by one “old-school” teacher. However even the best well thought out ideas/concepts still need to be expressed well. The painting materials and fundamentals of composition and color theory are the vocabulary. Technique is important for articulate expression as well as the longevity of the art. The process of expression through painting (rather than using ready-made computer images) is an experience that enhances whatever the original idea behind the painting was and transforms both the painter and the viewer at a visceral, as well as, at an intellectual and spiritual level. To emphasize critical thinking when teaching painting is to dissect its soul. A painting should not need an essay to explain itself. 

Christ Pantocrator

Christ Pantocrator

Since I read that article and wrote the comment, I started reading a book called The Art of Seeing: Paradox and Perception in Orthodox Iconography by Fr. Maximos Constas.  In the introduction he writes about how in art one cannot separate the mental from the sensory/bodily aspect of painting, that art is a holistic sensory experience, which can produce a transformation at a spiritual level, so that the objects perceived transcend our physical realm, they are transfigured and elevated into a spiritual plane. Of course, he is talking in particular about icons, but I believe some forms of art can produce the same effect.  The manner in which this is achieved particularly in iconography, is through the use of antinomical values.  In order for art to produce an experience, which transcends the realm of sensuality, it needs to possess contradiction and paradox. These qualities or values make us uncomfortable and shake us out of our regular mode of perceiving and processing objects of perception, because they are not aligned with our symmetrical, harmonious, classical ideals of beauty. In this way the interaction with the subject we perceive can shift, and we are presented with an odd situation in which the subject seems to be perceiving us.

So for example if one is looking at the icon of Christ it will appear as if He is watching us. We find ourselves being observed as if we are reflected on each other. This is quite an amazing experience.

This is a paraphrasing of a few pages of the introduction of this book and it is about how iconography affects those who contemplate the icons. Reading this passage reminded me of the futility of teaching art through critical thinking. It misses a huge part of what art is and how it can make us transcend our own logical mind and elevate us to sublime heights, which can only be reached going beyond the mind and into the realm of spirit.

I can’t wait to keep reading more of this book!

You can view more icons at www.iconarts.com

Gesso Workshop December 2014

Icon Arts Studio in Austin, TX is presenting a gesso workshop on December 12-14.  Students will mix gesso, apply linen cloth, gesso their boards and sand and polish.  This is a step that is usually missed in an intensive icon workshop, but it is most important to learn to do.  It is both an important foundation for the actual painting of an icon, as well as, for the spiritual benefit of spending a day in meditation and silence while applying several coats of white gesso.  I will post pictures during the workshop.  in the meantime you can find information about iconography workshops and iconography pigment kits, brushes, and painting palettes.

Iconography workshop by Icon Arts

This is the second day of the Icon Arts Iconography Workshop in Mandeville, Louisiana where we are working on the icon of the Holy Family at Art Time Studios. This is a 6-day intensive iconography workshop.  Today we finished gilding, putting the red line around the halos, lines and roskrish. The icon is written with natural materials, such as, gilding bole, 23.5 Kt. gold leaf, natural pigments in egg tempera medium.

Holy Family icon in progress

Holy Family icon in progress

Icon Workshop: St. Euphrosynos

Today we are on the fourth day of the icon workshop at Icon Arts studio.  Students are working on an icon of St. Euphrosynos the Cook. I will post pictures soon.

Byzantine Art exhibit at the Smithsonian National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C.

Originally published January 4, 2014

I happened to be in D.C. over Christmas break and stumbled upon a new Byzantine Art exhibit at the National Gallery of Art! It was a small exhibit but with very fine examples of Byzantine Art from different periods of the Byzantine Empire. They had marbles, illuminated manuscripts, icons, mosaics, frescoes, jewelry and more. It was fantastic! I loved most a manuscript scroll with the priest’s prayers for the Liturgy of St. Basil. It was unrolled to the very beginning and had a most beautiful illumination. I wish I had had more time to admire it. I also saw one of my favorite icons which they call “Man of Sorrows” from the 12th century. It is really “Extreme Humility” and it was one of the icons I selected to write during the workshop I organized for the Prosopon School in Austin a couple of years ago. It was a most powerful icon to write and I was so happy to have been able to see the original in person. It was part of a double sided icon with the Theotokos Odigitria on the obverse with a surprisingly sad furrowed-brow expression, and the Christ on the other. As a set, her expression makes sense as the lifeless body of Christ is on the reverse. The images below are of an informational plaque about the exhibit upon entering, and the icon I wrote of the Extreme Humility after the original in this exhibit. The link for the exhibit is: http://www.nga.gov/content/ngaweb/features/byzantine.html

IMG_1788Extreme Humility 2011

Silver repoussage workshop Italy/ final week

Originally published November 6, 2012

I am finally ready to add the pics for the silver repoussage portion of the workshop in Italy. We had a busy second half of the 10-day workshop in Italy and returned home to a busy schedule. To recap, after the visit to Giusto Manetti Battiloro in Florence and the last day of iconography which culminated in the Cooks and Butchers fair in Greve, we began the silver portion of the class. We had 5 full days of work and the last day we welcomed the local priest from the Church of the Elevation of the Cross who was invited by our host Gianpaolo Lensi to come to our class and say a prayer with us. We also were interviewed by the Tuscan television station who came to Terre di Baccio to do a local cultural interest piece about the activities taking place at agricultural Estate of Terre di Baccio. The youtube link for the interview is attached at the end of this blog.

Lee Ann just traced the design on her silver sheet.

Our repousse class began with a practice session for all the different techniques on a sheet of copper. Then, we began to trace the drawing of our design on the silver sheet.

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Cooks and butchers’ fair on Sunday at the piazza in Greve

Originally published October 10, 2012

On Sunday October 8th, our iconography group took a late lunch to finish our icons and then go to the piazza in Greve to the Cooks and Butchers’ fair. We were delighted to find several tents spread out on the piazza. One of them selling tickets for the meal which included a plate of a variety of delicious grilled ribs, chops and sausages, white beans, bread, a glass of Chianti from the region and a bottle of water. In addition, there were a variety of vintage cars parked all along the piazza. It was a beautiful afternoon and a relaxing reward for a hard week’s work.

Later that afternoon there was a parade with standard bearers, drummers, flag holders and a lot of people dressed in Renaissance style. Pics follow.

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Icons are finished! And now the silver work has begun.

Originally published October 9, 2012

On Sunday we finished all our icons of the crucifixion. On Monday morning before we began the silver repousse class to make the budded ends of the cross, we took a picture with all our crosses newly finished.

Today the day was cloudy and rainy, yet the landscape is still the most beautiful there is. There is no bad view of the valleys and the hills from anywhere in this area or any kind of weather.

Tomorrow, I will post pictures of the silver work.

The whole class with their crosses finished. The budded ends will be covered with repousse silver this week!

Work in the studio and lunch outdoors

Originally published October 6, 2012

Today is the 4th day of class and tomorrow we will finish the icon. It was such a beautiful day, Gianpaolo set our lunch table outdoors. Tomorrow we hope to finish the icon in the morning and then go into the piazza in Greve for a fair and a look at a classics bicycle race that will go through town in the afternoon.

These are some of the pictures of the day, working at the studio, a view from the coffee stand outside the studio, and our beautiful lunch table outdoors.

Students working in the studio

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Visit to Giusto Manetti Battiloro and Galleria dell’Accademia

Originally published October 5, 2012

Today was our day off from iconography to visit the 1870’s factory of Giusto Manetti gold beaters in Florence. We were met by my contact Eddie Martin who gave us the tour of the factory. We arrived at 10 AM and were welcomed right away. We first went upstairs to a classroom where there were three people picking 0.30 micron-thick sheets of gold with wooden tweezers and palette knife, cutting them by hand and placing them in books. They were training people in this particular skill. Then, we were taken to the foundry where they melt the gold ingots and start the rolling process. We saw the melting and cooling of a piece of gold and got to hold a two pound and a one pound ingot of pure gold. It will probably be the most money I will ever hold in one hand! After that we went to another room where they begin cutting gold and silver strips in to tiny squares which then begin to be hammered into increasingly thinner sheets. There are about three different hammering stages and finally then the hammering is done by hand. These thin sheets are the ones that are cut by hand by the ladies we saw in the classroom; except most of this work is done by many people at home.

Irene and Maga in front of the Giusto Manetti factory.

Students waiting to enter the Giusto Manetti Gold Leaf factory building.

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