In following some of the reactions to Fr.Silouan Justiniano’s great article on how mechanical reproduction affects the general spiritual effect of the icon, I was surprised to read some of the comments as he was putting up different sections. I felt fr. Silouan had been quite balanced in not demonizing mechanical reproduction but explaining why it nonetheless affects the way we see icons and interact with them, that it is a spiritual degrading in the strictest sense of the word degrading, that is a gradual lessening of the sacred. I was a bit shocked to see negative reactions for something that seems so obvious to those of us who have now placed their lives in the service of God for the renewal of sacred art.
I wanted to offer up two videos therefore, as an icon carver — two videos that show the difference between an icon made by hands, and an icon “not made by hands”, though not in the sacred sense of the Mandylion, but rather in the sense of being fabricated by a mindless, soulless robot. The contrast is much starker when we see a carving being made with the assurance of a master, the tools turning to follow the features, the attention to the smallest corner. It is almost liturgical, as though his hands are caressing the wood to bring out the holy face. Compare this to the regular grid-like movement of the robotic arm following an AutoCAD pattern in a computer. Just like fr.Silouan, I am not saying the mechanical icon is not at all an icon, but to deny the spiritual distinction between the two seems to me impossible.
First, a video of a Russian icon carver.
And now the science fiction version of the same: