About icon painting

A wish to create something new about an icon, something unique and original certainly deserves attention. There is a slight problem here: many artists and fine art experts consider a unique character and so-called authorship in icon painting to be the only one advantage of the icon. It is easy to understand skepticism among fine art experts related to stability of traditions. Everyone is tired of endless unintelligent observations about "the Russian style", "a canon" etc. But, unfortunately, the purpose of creating something new is often just a wish to reject "the cornerstone", which represents the basis if the real art in this case. I have to add, I am talking only about good and talented icon painters (it has nothing to do with mass-produced church works).
A wish to create something new about an icon, something unique and original certainly deserves attention. There is a slight problem here: many artists and fine art experts consider a unique character and so-called authorship in icon painting to be the only one advantage of the icon. It is easy to understand skepticism among fine art experts related to stability of traditions. Everyone is tired of endless unintelligent observations about "the Russian style", "a canon" etc. But, unfortunately, the purpose of creating something new is often just a wish to reject "the cornerstone", which represents the basis if the real art in this case. I have to add, I am talking only about good and talented icon painters (it has nothing to do with mass-produced church works).
Russian orthodox art. Sergey and Olga Cherniy workshop. Icons. Frescos. Church painting. Churchware
When I hear again and again someone telling phrases about anew good icon or fresco like: "Ah, yes, this is the monument to… and this is copied from …", I want to reply: "Please, just have a look at HOW it was painted…". As a rule a good artist taking ancient samples as a basis always reassesses them imaginatively. If you start simply copying works of ancient masters, in many cases it will look like a crude forgery. The main aim of modern icon painters is to reassess an ancient sample, to paint it the way you see it, to adjust it to the modern perception. Certainly the best ancient masters were not only open to innovations, but at the same time they paid close attention to their predecessors' creations. Reimagined older classic samples are easily recognizable in the works of ancient masters. Every good artist is like a talented exponent who plays the same symphony in his own way. You can't copy it precisely and reproduce this or that composition on the wall. Usually something is changed during the process, namely the colour scheme or compositional arrangements. Every type of architecture has its own rules. That is why the majority of artists note that in many cases church painting is more likely to be based on this or that memorial church. How masterfully the images are painted, how perfectly the artist mastered painting, how elegant the color combination is, how well the elements are organized in general — all these things play a crucial role here. You may take a work created by a genius as a basis and make just funny cartoon pictures by painting walls heartlessly. Or you may totally change the most basic architecture by creating a perfect composition. It's actually good that you can easily recognize this or that pattern. Unfortunately many distinguished fine art experts who have a profound knowledge of a tremendous amount of monuments often don't see anything new or outstanding that was brought by amazing modern artists who copy the works of ancient masters. But a little bit naïve and in general depthless interpretation of less popularized and not exactly classic examples are taken as an alternative to "copying" by these experts. In fact there is an overwhelming temptation of the contemporary modernism to achieve some efficient result with as few losses as possible. It's a kind of pretty "childish" simplification. Obviously this is not true for all the artists as there are masters who relate to that and find it quite consistent. But these cases are rare.

Russian orthodox art. Sergey and Olga Cherniy workshop. Icons. Frescos. Church painting. Churchware
When I hear again and again someone telling phrases about anew good icon or fresco like: "Ah, yes, this is the monument to… and this is copied from …", I want to reply: "Please, just have a look at HOW it was painted…". As a rule a good artist taking ancient samples as a basis always reassesses them imaginatively. If you start simply copying works of ancient masters, in many cases it will look like a crude forgery. The main aim of modern icon painters is to reassess an ancient sample, to paint it the way you see it, to adjust it to the modern perception. Certainly the best ancient masters were not only open to innovations, but at the same time they paid close attention to their predecessors' creations. Reimagined older classic samples are easily recognizable in the works of ancient masters. Every good artist is like a talented exponent who plays the same symphony in his own way. You can't copy it precisely and reproduce this or that composition on the wall. Usually something is changed during the process, namely the colour scheme or compositional arrangements. Every type of architecture has its own rules. That is why the majority of artists note that in many cases church painting is more likely to be based on this or that memorial church. How masterfully the images are painted, how perfectly the artist mastered painting, how elegant the color combination is, how well the elements are organized in general — all these things play a crucial role here. You may take a work created by a genius as a basis and make just funny cartoon pictures by painting walls heartlessly. Or you may totally change the most basic architecture by creating a perfect composition. It's actually good that you can easily recognize this or that pattern. Unfortunately many distinguished fine art experts who have a profound knowledge of a tremendous amount of monuments often don't see anything new or outstanding that was brought by amazing modern artists who copy the works of ancient masters. But a little bit naïve and in general depthless interpretation of less popularized and not exactly classic examples are taken as an alternative to "copying" by these experts. In fact there is an overwhelming temptation of the contemporary modernism to achieve some efficient result with as few losses as possible. It's a kind of pretty "childish" simplification. Obviously this is not true for all the artists as there are masters who relate to that and find it quite consistent. But these cases are rare.
Sergey Cherniy icon and frescos painting artist. Russian orthodox art.
There is one more issue that is being discussed a lot now: it is about the architectural space of the church. They talk a lot about building small home-like churches, about some small sacred place with just a few ornaments, a small amount of gold and painting. This is definitely a good and right trend for small and not wealthy communities. But church life has showed us that in big cities such a place attended by large crowds stops working properly as a sacred space for prayers. It just becomes a small room that you want to leave and get some fresh air. In this case large cathedrals offering a lot of space, fresh air and light are much more relevant. But, generally speaking it’s not about the size, the amount of gold and the number of ornaments. The amazing architecture (be it Hagia Sophia of Constantinople, the Assumption Cathedral of the Moscow Kremlin or small cathedrals of Pskov and Novgorod) itself sets the mood for praying. The same thing is true for the marvelous frescos, and it doesn’t matter whether they are painted all over the cathedral or just in some separate places. Let’s talk about gold again. It is a perfect material unless you use it to make the mirrored backgrounds shining like a samovar and overload a composition with it. Golden backgrounds on the walls are able to create a miraculous shimmering space featuring depth and color. On the other hand they may just brilliantly reflect the paintings. Whatever findings and trends may appear in the modern church art, every time the question remains the same: is it just some kitsch or a true art? This is the only thing that really matters as a man created in the image and likeliness of God can’t but be a creator. And if he is true in his creativity, then it can’t prevent people from praying together, and on the contrary inspires to talk to God as touching the world of beauty does.
There is one more issue that is being discussed a lot now: it is about the architectural space of the church. They talk a lot about building small home-like churches, about some small sacred place with just a few ornaments, a small amount of gold and painting. This is definitely a good and right trend for small and not wealthy communities. But church life has showed us that in big cities such a place attended by large crowds stops working properly as a sacred space for prayers. It just becomes a small room that you want to leave and get some fresh air. In this case large cathedrals offering a lot of space, fresh air and light are much more relevant. But, generally speaking it's not about the size, the amount of gold and the number of ornaments. The amazing architecture (be it Hagia Sophia of Constantinople, the Assumption Cathedral of the Moscow Kremlin or small cathedrals of Pskov and Novgorod) itself sets the mood for praying. The same thing is true for the marvelous frescos, and it doesn't matter whether they are painted all over the cathedral or just in some separate places. Let's talk about gold again. It is a perfect material unless you use it to make the mirrored backgrounds shining like a samovar and overload a composition with it. Golden backgrounds on the walls are able to create a miraculous shimmering space featuring depth and color. On the other hand they may just brilliantly reflect the paintings. Whatever findings and trends may appear in the modern church art, every time the question remains the same: is it just some kitsch or a true art? This is the only thing that really matters as a man created in the image and likeliness of God can't but be a creator. And if he is true in his creativity, then it can't prevent people from praying together, and on the contrary inspires to talk to God as touching the world of beauty does.
Russian orthodox art. Sergey and Olga Cherniy workshop. Icons. Frescos. Church painting. Churchware
And the last thing I want to notice talking about copying. While reviewing the works of ancient masters in details, the modern icon painters adopt their spiritual and theological experience. All the modern theological material is created on the basis of Scripture and patristic literature, the same thing is true for the modern icon painting which cannot be imagined without a rich legacy of eastern Christian art. Only under these circumstances "theology in colour" is born. You can pray using your own words, but during the common prayer we read cannons of Vasily the Great and St. John Chrysostom. Actually it doesn’t mean that icon painting must strictly follow traditional rules. The ancient masters had more freedom in painting images than the modern artists do. It gets more interesting to study it and catch this freedom. At the same time you need to remember that this freedom is impossible without the mastery of painting, composing, coloring and styling. You also should remember that a man who dreams to become a true master has to develop a good taste, to study the monuments, to copy and only then, if God gives him a talent, the truly free creativity is born.
And the last thing I want to notice talking about copying. While reviewing the works of ancient masters in details, the modern icon painters adopt their spiritual and theological experience. All the modern theological material is created on the basis of Scripture and patristic literature, the same thing is true for the modern icon painting which cannot be imagined without a rich legacy of eastern Christian art. Only under these circumstances "theology in colour" is born. You can pray using your own words, but during the common prayer we read cannons of Vasily the Great and St. John Chrysostom. Actually it doesn't mean that icon painting must strictly follow traditional rules. The ancient masters had more freedom in painting images than the modern artists do. It gets more interesting to study it and catch this freedom. At the same time you need to remember that this freedom is impossible without the mastery of painting, composing, coloring and styling. You also should remember that a man who dreams to become a true master has to develop a good taste, to study the monuments, to copy and only then, if God gives him a talent, the truly free creativity is born.

Sergey and Olga Cherniy
2016

Sergey and Olga Cherniy
2016
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