Author Topic: Western Iconography  (Read 1042 times)

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Offline hecma925

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Re: Western Iconography
« Reply #45 on: November 11, 2018, 10:40:58 PM »
I don't thonk his style will destroy Orthodoxy either.
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Offline Alpha60

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Re: Western Iconography
« Reply #46 on: November 11, 2018, 11:47:19 PM »
Yeah, I think my Western-ness is failing in this regard.  Scottish-Celtic is more what it reminds me of.  Which may indeed resonate with some people.  Just not me personally.

I do think it's weird the way some people talk about Western heritage as if someone of West European descent in the US or Canada will have a genetic predisposition to something painted in a style from 10th century France or Ireland.

Indeed; if this is the case I must be, unbeknownst to everyone, secretly Egyptian, because my favorite icons of our Lord generally are Coptic.  But I must also be part Greek, since I also love Byzantine icons.  And I must surely by part Ethiopian given that not only do I love their icons, but also their coffee and especially their delicious cuisine; you can’t beat fresh injera with some good spicy wat stews.  And I must be part Syrian because the Rabbula Gospel astonishes me with its beauty.

Or alternately, as you point out, the idea that our genetic heritage determines which religious iconography we will prefer is completely wrong and probably a bit racist.

Do you mean to say that Symeon or I are being racist in what we've said or done? If you're applying this sentiment to me or him, it seems like a straw-man argument, since I for one agree that's a strange attitude and it certainly has nothing to do with anything I've said.

No, not at all.  I did not have you even remotely in mind when I made that observation, and I apologize profusely for the misunderstanding.  Please forgive me for my lack of clarity.

Specifically, I was speaking in the abstract about certain “inculturation warriors” which fortunately are very rare in Holy Orthodoxy, but who tend to pop up like mushrooms in some other denominations, who would make an argument along the lines that people who aren’t from, for example, Egypt or Greece, either could not appreciate Coptic or Byzantine iconography, chant or other liturgical arts, and to the extent they did appreciate such things it was due to the thrill of the exotic, an orientalism, as opposed to genuine religious devotion.

Believe it or not, there are people who believe that and think that way, and I have no doubt you find such a perspective as noxious as I do.  Historically, this idea was very common in the RCC.
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Offline Alpha60

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Re: Western Iconography
« Reply #47 on: November 11, 2018, 11:55:12 PM »
In short, because he eclecticallly blends several different styles of iconography and pursues his own aesthetic, which in iconography is generally frowned upon.  As Sharbel said, it looks like an illustration from a children’s book.  The icon doesn’t come across as an authentic expression but rather as a pastiche of various styles of iconography.  Indeed, it almost comes across as satirical; some of the approaches he uses in depicting the face of St. Cyril are commonly used by political cartoonists.

...

I absolutely love both of these icons; they are faithful to the Ethiopian iconographic tradition.  The Ethiopian icon of the 60 new martyrs killed by ISIS brings me to tears.  Ethiopian iconography I find to be incredibly beautiful; it is a distinctive, organic tradition that is both a profound expression of Orthodox Christian spirituality and also the apex of sub-Saharan African artwork in general.  The musical and artistic traditions of the Ethiopian church are surpassed only by the astonishing piety of the Ethiopian people; they live on a tiny portion of the food we westerners enjoy, they earn very little money, and yet they are able, blessed by God, to stand in Church literally all night for vigils.  Ethiopian liturgical services, in Ethiopia, can last 24 hours.  And the praying Ethiopians are watched over by these astonishingly beautiful icons.

Thank you for taking the time to put forth a reasonable and understandable explanation for your reaction here. I do enjoy seeing where you're coming from.

I'm still not convinced though. If I understand your point, it's that iconographers should not introduce new stylistic elements, but be faithful to what was received. I assume you allow some degree of development though, since you appreciate different styles. I take it that you're OK with very gradual, evolutionary progress, where each generation produces something hardly different from the one before, but after centuries unique traditions emerge. If that's a fair understanding of where you're coming from, I'm not convinced that's how things happened. Ethopian icons are noticeably inspired by Coptic icons, but clearly different. It didn't happen gradually though, it was a rather abrupt change in their music, rites, art, where the Ethiopian rite emerged as distinct from its source quite quickly. For a subtler example, Rublev's style is a noticeable departure from what came before, that caught on so that much of what came after in Russia was influenced greatly by his work. The Red Sea icons emerge as a masterpiece at St. Anthony's without any clear evolution to them. It seems a broader degree of expression was the norm rather than the exception, just like there was a multitude of rites, before the Byzantine world became much more standardized. It seems that your argument would have labeled all of these examples as schlock when they emerged, only ceasing to be so after they'd endured for a few centuries and become ingrained.

I have no idea if that will happen with the style Symeon has developed and is developing, but I respect him for returning to the earlier practice of being who he is, where he is, receiving what is traditional, and expressing Orthodoxy as who is, rather than reproducing something from a foreign culture. It has nothing to do with DNA. Nothing would be different if he were of Greek or Russian descent (assuming he isn't), it's about culture, about organic expression of the unchanging faith within the lived cultural milieu.

If I hadn't become used to Byzantine icons for many years, and I saw a Russian icon where the body is very elongated, I might say many of the things that have been said here... that's cartoonish, the proportions don't make sense... But none of us say that because we're used to it and to some degree get the meaning conveyed by it. I still don't see any of the objections laid against his icons here as any objective reason they're wrong or bad, that couldn't be applied to so many examples of icons that are labelled beautiful because they're ancient and we're used to their conventions. I personally don't see what you''re saying about political cartoons in the face... but I'm no artist.

In any case, I really don't get the strong negative reaction to his trying. I think of: "So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone; for if this plan or this undertaking is of men, it will fail; 39 but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!” (Acts 38-39). If some people are excited about it, great. If it comes to nothing, OK. But I don't see any danger here when he's so careful to stay within tradition in what he conveys, in worrying that his artistic style is going to destroy Orthodoxy or something to be so strong in expressing distaste for it. I get that most people are very, very comfortable with the icons they've known their whole lives. I don't expect that people who only think of Italian portraits as icons are going to suddenly change that in their 80s. But I don't get the attitude that Byzantine icons are for everybody, and people saying they can't understand why he feels Byznatine icons aren't just the universal expression for all cultures, that anyone can relate to. Feels like talking to the father in "My Big Fat Greek Wedding".

I am going to write a detailed reply to your post, but just to be clear, I am not even remotely worried that Symeon’s icons could destroy Orthodoxy.  I simply find some of them to be complete failures.  Taking a look at his complete corpus however I was relieved to find some icons I actually like, which pleases me immensely given the extreme amount of effort Symeon invests in them, for example, in preparing his own pigments.

Specifically, its mainly the icon of St. Cyril the Wonderworker that strikes me as being an epic flop.  Some of his other work is elegant.
« Last Edit: November 11, 2018, 11:56:47 PM by Alpha60 »
“Moreover, Carthage must be destroyed.”
-Cato the Elder

I beg of all members of OCNet to make it their new years resolution to adopt the Golden Rule in threads and be nice to each other.  It’s the Orthodox Christian thing to do.  Be nice, and remember, in the immortal words of Patrick Swayze of blessed memory, that no one ever wins a fight.

Also, if I have ever offended you in my posts or conduct, I apologize. 

Sts. Cyril, Maximus and Mark of Ephesus, pray for us!

Offline Sharbel

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Re: Western Iconography
« Reply #48 on: November 12, 2018, 06:50:46 AM »
[ author=Alpha60 link=topic=74925.msg1544098#msg1544098 date=1541994439]
Specifically, I was speaking in the abstract about certain “inculturation warriors” which fortunately are very rare in Holy Orthodoxy, but who tend to pop up like mushrooms in some other denominations...[/quote]
+1 “Inculturation warriors”  :D
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Offline Alpha60

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Re: Western Iconography
« Reply #49 on: November 13, 2018, 04:06:52 PM »
[ author=Alpha60 link=topic=74925.msg1544098#msg1544098 date=1541994439]
Specifically, I was speaking in the abstract about certain “inculturation warriors” which fortunately are very rare in Holy Orthodoxy, but who tend to pop up like mushrooms in some other denominations...
+1 “Inculturation warriors”  :D
[/quote]

The sort of people who would want to celebrate the Eucharist with Plum Wine or Sake and Rice in the Orient, people who take the idea of inculturation to a ridiculous extreme.  Also sometimes they are responsible for translations which are deeply problematic.  These same people might propose that the Eastern liturgical rites are of no value to us in the West because with our Western cultural mindset we can’t relate to them.

~

By the way, this is not a criticism of Western Rite Orthodoxy, which I really love, and I also hope to see the Eastern Orthodox churches roll out other liturgical rites.  For example, I wish the East Syriac Rite were being used for some of the Assyrian and Chaldean converts being received, and I wish there was a Maronite Orthodox Church.  For that matter, I would love to see additional liturgical rites offered by the Oriental Orthodox.  Some people grow up in a Christian liturgical rite, know that rite well and are intimately attached to it, and experience severe disruption when converting to Orthodoxy and changing liturgical rites at the same time.  Other people on the other hand convert to Orthodoxy from non-liturgical megachurches or from churches where the liturgy has been ruined (I fell into this category; if the UMC had still worshipped in 2013 the way it worshipped in 1990, at every parish, particularly in the parish in which I was baptized, I might not have converted, or I might have joined a Western Rite Orthodox community), and for those people learning a new liturgy is not an impediment.

But of course none of this is due to any sort of racial predilection for a particular liturgical form, which is the unpleasant subtext behind the obsessive hyper-inculturation of worship we see promoted by those people I call “inculturation warriors.”  They would in a patronizing manner insist to me that my Western Protestant background meant that I could never properly worship or appreciate worship in any of the Eastern liturgical rites; they would tell you that you couldn’t possibly derive any spiritual benefit from the Byzantine Rite due to your Maronite heritage, when in fact (correct me if I’m wrong) you’ve been extremely happy in the Eastern Orthodox church worshipping using the Byzantine Rite since you converted, presumably happier than you were previously.  Their attitude assumes we have ethnocultural predilictions for certain forms of worship which overpower all other considerations.  You find them in the RCC, but they show up with particular frequency in the Anglican Communion and some of the other Protestant churches.  They are very annoying people.
“Moreover, Carthage must be destroyed.”
-Cato the Elder

I beg of all members of OCNet to make it their new years resolution to adopt the Golden Rule in threads and be nice to each other.  It’s the Orthodox Christian thing to do.  Be nice, and remember, in the immortal words of Patrick Swayze of blessed memory, that no one ever wins a fight.

Also, if I have ever offended you in my posts or conduct, I apologize. 

Sts. Cyril, Maximus and Mark of Ephesus, pray for us!

Offline Sharbel

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Re: Western Iconography
« Reply #50 on: November 13, 2018, 11:11:15 PM »
But of course none of this is due to any sort of racial predilection for a particular liturgical form, which is the unpleasant subtext behind the obsessive hyper-inculturation of worship we see promoted by those people I call “inculturation warriors.”  They would in a patronizing manner insist to me that my Western Protestant background meant that I could never properly worship or appreciate worship in any of the Eastern liturgical rites; they would tell you that you couldn’t possibly derive any spiritual benefit from the Byzantine Rite due to your Maronite heritage, when in fact (correct me if I’m wrong) you’ve been extremely happy in the Eastern Orthodox church worshipping using the Byzantine Rite since you converted, presumably happier than you were previously.  Their attitude assumes we have ethnocultural predilictions for certain forms of worship which overpower all other considerations.  You find them in the RCC, but they show up with particular frequency in the Anglican Communion and some of the other Protestant churches.  They are very annoying people.
This sounds a lot like identity politics. :P

Truly, there's more in common between the Maronite Liturgy and the Byzantine Liturgy than between the former and the Novus Ordo.  Its structure is rather similar to the Byzantine Liturgy and quite a few liturgical prayers betray its Syriac origin contradicting the Latin theology that is imposed on the life of the Maronite Church, through its governance and canon law, at the expense of its heritage.

However, regardless of the ritual of specific liturgies, their content, as expressed in its rhythm, prayers and hymns, and whether they are conducive to the worship of God is what attracts me particular liturgies. 
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