Tuesday, March 20, 2012

“Learn to paint icons..."

SOME CHURCHMEN are puzzled that new Byzantine icons are now appearing frequently in churches of the Latin Rite. Where, they wonder, are works of art more expressive of the tradition of the Latin West?

It is a simple fact that artists can learn Byzantine-style iconography today. Many workshops and schools now offer classes, led by masters of the iconographic style, including the Thomas More College of Liberal Arts in New Hampshire. As far as I know, there is nowhere in the world where an artist can learn the authentic Latin styles of the Gothic, Romanesque, or Insular styles, for these are (apparently) no longer living traditions. Neo-Classicism is making a huge comeback, with many ateliers offering classes, but this style isn’t quite the same as the Catholic Baroque.

As it turns out, the Iconographic styles are very much a part of the Latin tradition, and can be found in the ancient churches in Rome, and even in the Cathedral Basilica, here in Saint Louis. The majority of the Latin churches I’ve visited have an icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Help, and I’ve seen many other icons also.

According to Saint Augustine, in De Musica, slavish copying is not art; rather, true art requires an intellectual understanding of the theory and practice behind an art. Byzantine iconography was a lost art, but the theory behind it was recovered in the 20th century, and so new icons can now be made according to Christian principles. A solid understanding of the theory of iconography will allow these new icons to be easily adapted to the needs of the Latin Church. Eventually, I suspect that other Catholic styles of art will be suitably recovered and further developed.

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