Thursday, January 26, 2012

Icon as Communion: The Ideals and Compositional Principles of Icon Painting

Most of my time as an iconographer has been self-taught, just because I'm not near any iconography masters so I have no choice but to reverse-engineer what I can, and move on. So I practically devour well-reviewed books on iconography and implement whatever I can into my own iconography. It can be a bit time-consuming sometimes, but it's worth if I actually learn something. I spent a long time reading through this book and trying some of the techniques described, and it's safe to say that I've learned quite a bit.

Kordis starts his book by detailing the theory behind Byzantine art, and why it's different from typical Western art. While this isn't a new topic by any stretch (go read any iconography book), Kordis covers it in a new way: by accurately describing what's actually going on in an icon! This is the only explanation I've read in my 7 years of research that adequately explains why an icon looks the way it does.

Basically it all boils down to a completely different type of perspective: relational perspective. The piece of art, instead of pulling you (the viewer) in, comes out and towards the viewer. The icon is designed to "warp" reality towards the viewer, which completely rids the icon of artistic "depth". The reality of God is so powerful that it comes rushing out of the icon towards you. All iconography attempts to do this, to varying degrees of success.

This is not to say that the topic hasn't been covered before. It has. Exhaustively. There are tons and tons of books that detail relational perspective. The difference? The book actually covers how to do that, and shows some basic drawing techniques you can do to shift your iconography over to "how it's actually done". I've tried a few of the techniques, and I'm really happy with the results, which you guys'll see sooner than later. This is a practical guide, not a theoretical treatise. And I love it.

If you want to write icons or are interested in iconography at all, get this book. This shows how Byzantine theology has been made into line and color in the simplest and most concrete way I've ever read. Bar none.