Archive for April, 2007
Why I haven’t been posting
Things have been pretty quiet around this blog lately. I haven’t posted
anything substantial for a few weeks. Part of the reason for this is that
baseball season has begun and I have three sons on three different teams. The
first games are this weekend and I am prepared for it to be pretty hectic for
the next couple of months: lots of drive-through dinners to make the game on
time after work, little time to write or paint. Yes, it is possible to still eat
reasonably healthy, if one chooses rightly (then there are those Italian sausage
sandwiches that one lady makes and sells at the snack bar at the ball
The other reason I haven’t been posting here is that all I can think of to
write about is political- or rather, theological with strong political
overtones- and that didn’t seem right for Holy or Bright Weeks. Besides, it is
really half-baked, some thoughts on the Just War Theory in light of recent
readings on Church history and the realization that the Catholic bishops of a
nation have never- never– condemned that nation’s wars as immoral,
however aggressive they were.
I’ll get to that in time, when my hunches and half-thoughts have clarified
into something fully formed and consistent (and defensible).
But there is a third reason for my silence: I have been writing a lot in
line and color.
My iconography had reached a sort of stalemate last fall and winter, when I
faltered trying to complete a commission for an icon of Christ. I did the thing
four times before I got it right and became discouraged.
My painting felt stale and rote, and I longed for a touch of
The first steps to this were the books I wrote about on my last post.
Though I found it difficult to learn from Peter Pearson’s A Brush with
God I did pick up a few hints at a more luminous way of painting.
And studying the magisterial Icons and Saints of the Eastern Orthodox
Church and Solrunn Nes’ The Mystical Language of Icons enriched me to no end.
As I cannot afford to take advanced classes, the best I can do to progress
in the art of iconography is to study the icons of other iconographers. This is
both study and prayer, an immersion in beauty accompanied by analysis of
Then I ordered a couple of books by Fr Andrew Tregubov, a Russian Orthodox
iconographer living in New Hampshire.
Fr Andrew wrote the book The Light of Christ, richly
illustrated with the wondrous icons of Gergory Kroug, a Russian monk who while
in exile in France after the Russian Revolution created icons of incredible
depth and beauty. In his poverty he worked with housepaint and whatever he could
find, and by 1990, when Fr Andrew wrote his book, the icons were deteriorating,
fading like wildflowers in the sun.
Father Gregory (he was not a priest, but all Orthodox monks are called
"Father", whether ordained or not) had some training in modern art, and it shows
in his use of color, in his "loose" and painterly style. It isn’t something just
anyone can pull off; if I, with my limited talent, attempted it my work would
look merely sloppy. While this looser technique appears casual, it requires
great discipline and precision to look right.
Father Gregory was truly a master iconographer, the kind who comes along
only every hundred years or so, and his work- thanks to Fr Andrew- will no doubt
inspire generations of iconographers. Unfortunately it appears that his work is
available nowhere online.
Fr Andrew’s iconography, while obviously inspired by Father Gregory’s, is
"tighter", more controlled, and very beautiful. He tends to work in a more
pastel pallette, as though his icons are shot through with the Uncreated
I painted an icon of St Michael based on one of his icons. It was not
imitative- my icon looks very different from his- but I studied his work very
carefully while I painted and I seemed to grasp a lot of things, especially in
painting garments, that had long eluded me.
I felt that with this icon I was finally getting somewhere, entering a new
Then I returned to a St Nicholas that I had started before the St Michael
and had become frustrated with. After several sessions I again bogged down and
set it aside.
It occurred to me that there was an icon of St Nicholas in Fr Andrew’s book
about Gregory Kroug, very different from the prototype I had been working with.
Perhaps studying Father Gregory’s work, and painting from it would be as
instructive as my St Michael.
I am finishing it up now, again not slavishly copying, but learning as I
go, and I am very satisfied with the results. While I do not have the raw talent
to work as spontaneously as Father Gregory did, I am painting more freely, more
playfully, and it has been a joy, albeit not one without its frustrations.
I hope soon to share the fruits of all this on my Eighth Day Icons website,
along with more recent photos of my children.
And when my ponderings on war and peace and God and man and law are
coherent enough to post I will do so, though that may not be until Little League
season is over.
In the meantime, pray for me….
I’m about to put a list of links to distributist and agrarian sites in the sidebar over there on the right, starting with that New Agrarians site that Daniel recommended last week. A couple that I’ve known about for a while are www.distributism.com and www.distributism.org. The former includes a link to this excellent introduction to distributism by Thomas Storck. There’s also this blog, The Distributist Review, which I ran across some time ago but haven’t read lately.
If you know of any worthwhile additions to this list, please let us know, either in a comment or by the "Email me" link to the left.
Personally I have a somewhat limited interest in detailed discussions about possible alternative economic schemes (but don’t let that stop you from having one!). We can’t just start from scratch to invent a new economy, nice as that might be, and I’m more interested in other things. Nevertheless I keep my hand in, so to speak, intellectually, because if there is one sweeping political statement to which I’ll commit myself, it’s that the existing capitalist system is going to have to be somehow tamed if our civilization is not to become an abomination (I know, some would say it already is, but I think we have quite a long way to go yet). And the basic idea of distributism seems to provide the right direction.