Friday, May 27, 2011

Artists and Collecting Art

Many famous artists were art collectors. Degas comes to mind. Many of artists I have known like to collect art as well. My wife (also an artist) and I enjoy collecting art. What is interesting is that artists very often collect art that is different from their own. This is true of me. Most of the art that we collect is different from our own. I tend to favor ecclesiastical art, architectural design/drawings, natural art, and pencil drawings - all very detailed. This is different from my own art, which is rather abstract. I've often wondered why I collect this sort of work. The reason is perhaps that it is so different from my own: I collect what I do not wish to try to paint or draw myself. Most of the works I collect I could do myself - if I were interested in art purely in terms of decoration. But I have no desire to do that type of work - so I buy it - and paint as I do, can, and must. And, like other artists, I do collect my own works. I have a few that are not for sale because I like to keep them for my own collection!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Theology of the Icon - Leonid Ouspensky

I just finished reading "Theology of the Icon" by Leonid Ouspensky. As I have been working on a number of icons for some upcoming shows I decided to read a systematic treatise on the subject. Ouspensky is an expert on it - an iconographer himself, and also something of a theologian, as he co-wrote a book on the subject with the famed Orthodox theologian Vladimir Lossky. This book is a great introduction to the theology of icons. It is readable (quite an achievement for a Russian who was transplanted in France!) and informative. It touches on the history of iconography and, as one would expect, spends a great deal of time on the Iconoclastic Controversy.

As a theologian and historian I found the book quite interesting, but as an artist I found it somewhat lacking. While he does a fairly good job of explaining why Roman Catholic art is "religious" but not "iconographic" (the former because of it's subject matter, the latter because it is essentially too naturalistic) he does not explain where the formal line of demarcation is between religious art and iconography. One wonders what he would think of the art of westerners like Duccio or Massacio, and if their works would qualify as icons in his mind. Artistically his theories are extremely vague, and leave enough wiggle room to allow for quite a variety in iconography. Perhaps this is a good thing, and perhaps it explains the great deal of variety in iconography that has always been out there. While his theological ideas are, however, very enlightening and much more objective (e.g. the icon portrays a transfigured man and universe) how he translates that into actual composition and technique is an entirely different matter. To some degree his dismissal of Renaissance and Baroque art is very subjective - as in his critique of a painting of St. Agnes where she is scantily clad, thus leading him to ask, "Who could pray before an image like that?" The answer is "lots of people." I have been told by many people in my day that they do not see icons as being images that lead one to prayer and devotion! So, the subjectivity of art is unavoidable, even in "religious" art (iconographic or otherwise).

The book did make me think about whether or not it is appropriate for western churches to be decorated with icons when they are not venerated or otherwise acknowledged in the life and liturgy of the church. Because they play such a central role in the Orthodox tradition, do we not somehow desecrate them if we have them hanging around a church like a decorations? Perhaps not, as he may cite canons from Nicea II that exhort the faithful to display icons all over - even on the street... but still, I wonder.

Overall this is a great book to read, and I recommend it for all artists, especially Christian artists, even if they do not agree with his principles or conclusion. It is certainly the best guide to understanding Christian iconography.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Art Opening: Atlanta, GA

For Immediate Release:

I will be showing 16 new pieces of sacred art July 13th - 15th at the Anglican Province of America Provincial Synod, which will be held at the Holiday Inn-Perimeter 4386 Chablee-Dunwoody Road, Atlanta, GA 30341. All of the work will be for sale. There will be 11 icons and 5 oil paintings. Please e-mail me for more details.