Archive for February, 2012

Laying Down Color

After drawing all the lines of the pattern with black paint and a fine brush, I begin  laying down the color for the underpainting. In iconography, as in the spiritual life, we begin with darkness and work toward the light. Many people find this part of the process painstaking or boring, but I find that painting in repeated thin coats of color to be very calming, like coloring within the lines when you were a kid.

Before starting, I pray for guidance with the colors; while many people think that because there are canons for color there is little creativity in icongraphy this is not true. While one is certainly not free to paint the Virgin in robes of black or green, or paint brown halos, within the canonically accepted color range there is a pretty wide variety: do I want the red of her robe to lean toward brown in hue or crimson? Or more toward purple? In this icon, I have chosen a red violet.

Then one must choose color for the background and the framework (there is also an olive green outer border of a little less than a quarter inch, not visible here because the panel I am using is 9″ X 12″ and the scanner is 8 1/2″  X 11″.

I am here about halfway to the sort of color saturation I am seeking before I begin the work of highlighting.

(And do not expect the next image to arrive so quickly; I had time to paint yesterday but tomorrow I return to work, after a two week break, and it may be a week or so before the next step is completed.)


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The Akron Beacon Journal juxtaposed two editorials today, originally printed in The LA Times, that illustrate as well as anything I have seen the hopeless impasse that exists between the dominant political paradigms in this country. As one who does not fit easily into either camp- for I am prolife, prolabor, antiwar, anticapitalist, and a moral traditionalist ( but without the rancor)- I can only shake my head in despair.

The first of these is by Charlotte Allen, whom I sort of  knew in the early 90s, when I lived around Washington. She is a fine writer, one who once wrote for the National Catholic Register, back when that paper was a lively read, before it was bought by the (since disgraced) Legionnaires of Christ. Ms Allen also wrote, incongruously, for DC’s local free paper; you know the kind with the kinky ads in the back.

But like a lot of people I haven’t spoken to in a long time, she seems to have taken leave of  her senses.

Ms Allen’s essay is called “You Can’t Talk to a Liberal”, and by the third paragraph she lets loose this zinger: ” The problem is this: We conservatives think liberals are silly; they think we’re evil. ”

Huh? What planet does she live on? Does she never listen to talk radio? Does that describe the attitude of Rush Limbaugh? Or Quinn and Rose, who make Limbaugh look reasonable? Or ( God help us) the weasel-voiced Mark Levin? Does she get out much?

The rest of the article follows suit: conservatives are reasonable and never conflate the political with the personal, never introduce divisive political topics in social settings. Liberals, on the other hand, are Manicheans who lack social graces, and every conservative to them is evil, a fascist, racist no goodnik.

This screed, the one that makes broad and nasty characterizations about liberals making broad and nasty characterization about conservatives, is presented without a hint of irony.

You can read the whole sorry mess here: http://www.ohio.com/editorial/charlotte-allen-you-can-t-talk-to-a-liberal-1.266529

Below this, The Beacon ran another editorial, cleverly titled “…or to a conservative”, by one Diana Wagman.

She recounts how a casual social gathering with likeable new neighbors went horribly wrong (after imbibing a good bit of Scotch) when one new friend opened his mouth and said, out of the blue, “the tea party is not racist.” After realizing that this was not a joke (and the man had an African American wife, so she may be excused for thinking the comment in jest) the evening devolved into a shouting match. Her account of this, and the subsequent morning after apologies that did not dispel the bad feelings, is as self-justifying and unsympathetic and unimaginative as Charlotte Allen’s ode to self deception. Instead of learning a valuable lesson about drinking with people one does not know well, she decides that this experience confirms every stereotype about the right that she ever held. But see for yourself: http://www.ohio.com/editorial/diana-wagman-you-can-t-talk-to-a-conservative-1.266518

Subsequent comments indicate that Ms Wagman is not so young, which is puzzling, unless (as I suspect) she has rarely ever met a conservative. As for me, however prone I may once have been to falling into fruitless political or religious arguments, somewhere along the line I learned to avoid them at nearly every cost. I limit my controversies to the written word.

Ms Wagman does indicate that she had a better example growing up: “My mother had Republican friends. She was a lifelong Democrat, worked with the Adlai Stevenson for president campaign and was a precinct chairman for Hubert Humphrey. She was ashamed of Richard Nixon and thought Ronald Reagan was misguided. Still, she didn’t hate Republicans. She disagreed with their politics and they with hers, but she believed people, no matter how they vote, are basically all the same.I don’t agree. I don’t want to be friends with someone who is a member of the tea party or is a Newt Gingrich Republican. We are not the same. I equate their political views with thoughtlessness, intolerance and narcissism. I think they are not kind or empathetic.”

This is very sad.

At one time in this country people could disagree- and disgree vehemently- without impugning the good will or right intention of their enemies. Those of us who still find truth here and there on both sides of the divide can sometimes still do this, but to a broad spectrum of the public, there is only the tribalism of partisan politics, only us vs them.

God only knows where this will end.

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An Icon Completed

I have completed my first icon since August. To give some perspective to this, I have averaged two icons a month over the last ten years.

As regular readers know, I began having trouble painting last spring, and it took a while to figure out that I had cataracts, which made hand-eye coordination excruciating.

After cataract surgery, which wonderfully restored my sight, with new detail and even brighter colors, I did not paint much because, at first a lack of time, and then a lack of confidence.

I was out of shape, and trying to complete the Mother of God of the Sign icon that I had been working on since last Lent was daunting. My bride wisely suggested that I do something simpler, so I did an image of the Saviour, one I have assigned to my students in the past.  It was good advice, and I again began to gain skill and confidence. For the first time in a long time, iconography is again calming and refreshing.


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And a New One Begun

I can hardly believe that it was a year ago, at the beginning of Great Lent, that I told you that I was beginning an icon of the Mother of God of the Sign. I explained that while this may appear an unlikely image for Lenten icon writing, that it in fact was appropriate: the task at hand in the season of fasting is to renew the image of Christ within, and what better icon than the icon of the Incarnation?

But I never completed that icon; I tried several times but my then-undetected cataracts confounded my attempts. I went on to other images, hoping that a fresh start would help, but I even when I returned to it I never finished it. I felt bad, as this was a commission, and I thank my patron for her patience, but what could I do?

After finally finishing the icon above, I decided that rather than return to the half-completed Sign icon I had begun last summer I would start afresh, so I completely redrew the pattern, using a ruler to make sure everything was symmetrical, which is pretty essential for this particular icon.

And I decided to post my progress, which I have never done before. Here is the first step, with the pattern transferred and outlined on the panel:

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Left to right: Scott Hahn, Kimberly Hahn, Senator Santorum

I’m sure Senator Rick Santorum has never heard of me or read my blog. But it appears that in spite of this he is eager to make the point I made the other day: that his candidacy poses the greatest threat of any to the integrity of the Catholic faith in this country.

First, the day after I wrote of the danger that his candidacy poses, of how it would confirm right wing Catholics in their selective dissent, he spoke of the “theological” dispute between himself and Mr Obama, thus injecting a whole new kind of rhetoric into the campaign.

And a couple of days after that, he spoke in Steubenville, itself a center of Republicatholicsm.

According to the news reports:

“Santorum almost immediately acknowledged the strong Franciscan University of Steubenville presence at the campaign rally.

‘Its great to be here. Thank you Steubenville Franciscan. We love you. It’s good to be back here. You have a gem in the university here in the Ohio Valley. You are a beacon of light for the country and the Catholic church,’ Santorum told the audience….

The speech resonated with Kimberly Hahn, president of the Jefferson County Federated Republican Women, who brought her son to the rally.

‘I thought it was an outstanding speech from someone who understands the roots of our area and who is faithful to those who went before us. This is a momentous election. He inspired everyone in the room, especially the high school and college age students. What comes through so clearly is Rick Santorum has a principled approach to our nation’s complex problems,’ explained Hahn (wife of Catholic apologist Scott Hahn -ed.)“.

Afterwards, he attended Mass at the campus chapel.

Meanwhile, also confirming my point, over at CatholicVote.com, which says it is “a lay movement, foremost, of committed Catholics who are passionate about living out the truths proclaimed by Christ and His Church in the modern world”, there is a blog entry by Thomas Peters (“American Papist”) called “Rick Santorum, Catholic hero”.

Is there any doubt that Senator Santorum seeks the mantle of “the Catholic candidate”? This in spite of his selective adaptation of Catholic social teaching, which I remind you is simply applied moral doctrine? This is a man who said that the assassination of an Iranian scientist was “wonderful”, who endorses waterboarding and other torture, who implies that he will launch yet another preemptive war, who is hostile to immigrants, who supports the death penalty, who does not criticize the Empire, who, in spite of his repeated references to his blue collar grandfather, proposes policies that are hostile to labor (see: http://unionreview.com/blue-collar-baloney)

Granted, he speaks eloquently of the life of the unborn. But that is but one part of Catholic teaching regarding the sanctity of life and of justice. As important as that is, we should not ignore it when someone dismisses wide areas of  the tradition that apply to other lives.

I reiterate: it would be a tragedy for the Church if this man assumes the Republican candidacy. And it is tragic that so many Catholics seem eager to overlook the man’s inconsistencies.

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Son House:

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American Exceptionalism

Thanks to Patrick Vandapool for this gem:

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