11 Comments

  1. John Curran

    Dear Fr. Justiniano,

    I enjoyed reading your thought-provoking article, and will ponder more on it…

    Please, I would like to know what is meant by “color water based emulsion”, with reference to the icons of Thomas Chituc. Thank you for any help you may be able to offer in this regard.

    Sincerely,

    John

    1. Fr. Silouan Justiniano

      Hello John,

      I have asked Thoma Chituc and he tells me that the “mixed technique” involves using different kinds of water based colors on the same panel, such as tempera and acrylic for some backgrounds.

      He doesn’t combine but rather layers the media. For example, if he needs a vibrant cream colored background, he may use acrylic in order to make sure that it fixes well on the panel. That way he can do other things on top without removing it. Basically, when using many transparencies, if only egg tempera is used, they tend to be fragile and can be ruined quickly. So he avoids the problem by using thin acrylic layers as well to guarantee good adhesion. Any differences of paint surface effects of each media (sheen, texture, mat, gloss, etc.) is then harmonized by the final varnish. I hope this helps to clarify.

      1. John Curran

        Dear Fr. Justiniano,

        Thank you for your reply, and for asking Thoma Chituc about his techniques. His reply about the mixed media is interesting, as it seems to me that egg tempera is not compatible with acrylic; that is, from personal experience as well as research, egg tempera paint will not dry when used over an acrylic gesso—- perhaps this is another matter if it is acrylic ‘paint’ in question, yet it seems that the plastic nature of acrylic does not provide the absorbency the egg tempera requires.

        John

        1. Fr. Silouan Justiniano

          Hello John,

          Good point. I actually had similar questions in my mind as to the compatibility of the two mediums. As you say generally speaking the plastic nature of acrylic would not be absorbent enough. This would definitely be the case if working on an surface prepared with many layers of acrylic gesso and if using acrylic paint of the paint tube varieties. However, Toma is using panels prepared with traditional gesso, which consists of a mixture of calcium carbonate (chalk) and rabbit skin glue (sometimes sturgeon fish glue); a very absorbent surface to work on as you might already know. I think he mixes dry pigments with acrylic emulsion to prepare his “acrylic paint.” So this would enable him to further retain absorbency, or reduce the amount of plastic-like consistency, when using thin layers. All of this I think gives him a lot of flexibility. By working in thin layers he would then retain absorbency, thereby rendering the additional egg tempera layers compatible.

          1. Curran_John@msn.com

            Dear Fr. Justiniano,

            Thank you for your detailed explanation, it makes sense; I have the products on hand, so perhaps I’ll experiment.

            Sincerely,

            John

  2. Andrew

    I am happy to have found your website. It’s truly well-done! This website bears the information that several outstanding volumes would contain about the subject of Orthodox aesthetics. Each article is engrossing to read, appropriately lengthy, and thoughtfully and deeply written. Blessings for your terrific evangelism to lovers of the beautiful.

  3. I believe both these articles address nearly all the issues brought up in Fr. S’s essay and profiles the challanges all artists face.

    http://www.denisdutton.com/kitsch_macmillan.htm

    http://www.sharecom.ca/greenberg/kitsch.html

  4. Baker Galloway

    Bravo, Fr. Silouan! Awesome article. Love it.

    The last section “The Dilemma” and in particular the final paragraph seem incomplete to me. That last paragraph is quite loaded with what could really be a whole ‘nother article. And, I feel like you might be overlooking something that seems fairly clear to me. Namely, there is a good mode of art that is non-liturgical but not for shock value, self expression or sensationalism, but rather for compassion. This art’s aim is to present modern man with a vision of his own vulnerability and fallenness. It is closely related to cynical social commentary but ideally this is done in a loving way that is not without hope. I think of it like as if liturgical art is the first half of the Jesus Prayer describing “Lord Jesus Christ” as archetype and origin. And then this other art of compassion is the second half of the Jesus Prayer in which we describe ourself as “Sinner.”

    As contemporary men living in the digital age we get so stuck in our heads (proud, analytical, disconnected from our bodies, allured by fantasy) that we forget we happen to have our heads stuck up our asses (by which I mean enslaved to passions, myself included!). Art of compassion holds up a loving mirror to remind us that we have forgotten our calling. It reveals our corrupt thoughts out in the open so that we may see them more clearly for what they are.

    Another way to say it is that as sinful men we are always playing with the rattling tail of the snake, not knowing what we are doing but entranced by it’s various allures and promises of pleasure. Art of compassion can be like prophecy, revealing to us the body and head, fangs and venom of that snake connected to the rattle we’re playing with.

    So, a follow-up question I have is do you think there is any place for this kind of activity in a liturgical setting? Some might call this activity Satire. I am not educated well enough to know how to describe this mode of art best or to know its proper context.

    The closest thing I can think of is in old illuminated manuscripts like the Paris Psalter, you see Moses receiving the 10 commandments while at the bottom of the painting a Hebrew is sitting de-robed with his(/her?) bulbous rump hanging out – clearly to me indicating a state of debauchery.

    The holy scriptures contain many stories of our righteous ancestors falling into sin. Iconography seems to shy away from immortalizing those events, but isn’t there sometimes a place for recognizing what happened and what was repented from? If all we ever do is show the archetype we can forget our lowliness?

    You take it from here. You’re really good at this.
    baker

    1. Baker Galloway

      I know it’s silly to post a reply to my own reply, but I’m going there.

      Maybe art of “compassion” is not quite the right word, but rather art of “confession.” I like that better.

      Confession can take the form of confessing my sins, which has a self-expressive nature but is conditioned by humility to not be indulgent but rather an occasion for restoration. A beautiful confession of sins can prick the heart of a listener and inspire them to draw closer both to the confessor and to God. Literature is probably the best-suited art form, but it is possible in others. Dostoevsky and Flannery O’Connor come to mind. Caricature illustration honestly does this quite well in the right hands, even though it might not always be considered fine art.

      Confession can also take the form of confessing God’s praises through delight in the created order of the cosmos. This mode of art is maybe close kin to aesthetic indulgence or sensationalism, but I believe can be instead a doxology that lifts the mundane up, honors it, shows its potential to be shot through with light, dancing in the exuberant energetic cosmic symphony. Van Gogh nailed it in this respect, and others who delighted in forms or concepts got it in their own respective ways.

      Please let me know if you disagree or have a better way of saying this.

      with your prayers,
      baker

  5. Fr. Silouan Justiniano

    You’re right Baker. Thanks for your constructive comments. I always look forward to hearing your take on these posts. The last section “The Dilemma” is only a cursory treatment of a multifaceted and complex problem. In fact, my original essay has two more sections. I thought I would end the series with this latest post (“The Dilemma”), but perhaps I will add the remaining sections. We’ll see. In the additional sections I make reference to the positive potential of non-liturgical art, its capacity to act as a threshold to the sacred. This is what I think you’re alluding to regarding compassion, Dostoevsky, Van Gogh, and the examples given by Aidan Hart when he speaks on threshold art.

    Although I don’t touch on dimensions of compassion or satire, I nevertheless point to something related, the cathartic potential of art (see end note xxix, which states: “What we mean here by ‘shock value’ is to be differentiated from the beneficial cathartic function some works of art can have within limits. ‘Shock value’ is an indulgence having no redemptive purpose, whereas katharsis brings about transformation, focus from things mortal to things immortal. The idea of katharsis is to be found in Plato and Aristotle, and pertains to ‘purification…from passions (pathêmata); we must bear in mind that, for Aristotle, tragedy is…certainly not a periodical ‘outlet’ of- that is to say, indulgence in- our ‘pent-up’ emotions that can bring about an emancipation from them; such an outlet, like a drunkard’s bout, can only be a temporary satiation. In what Plato calls with more approval the ‘more austere’ kind of poetry, we are presumed to be enjoying a feast of reason rather than a ‘break-fast’ of sensations…His katharsis is an ecstasy or liberation of the ‘immortal soul’ from the affections of the ‘mortal’…We must remember that all artistic operations were originally rites, and that the purpose of the rite (as the word teletê implies) is to sacrifice the old and to bring into being a new and more perfect man.’ Coomaraswamy, A figure of Speech or a Figure of Thought?, op. cit., 2004, pp.25-26; Also see Coomaraswamy, Samvega: ‘Aesthetic Shock,’ op. cit., 2004, p. 193-99; The film maker Andrey Tarkovsky also valued the notion of Katharsis. For him the viewer is not merely to be taught to be good, but rather shocked, shaken, and thereby made receptive to good. Andrey Tarkovsky, ‘Art- a yearning for the ideal,’ Sculpting in Time, University of Texas Press, Austin, 1998, p. 50.”).

    This I think touches on what you describe as an art that helps us “wake up” from being “entranced by…various allures” and reminds us of our true dignity and calling. So I do agree that there is an art of compassion. I think mainly of the work of Kathe Kollwitz as a good example. When it comes to Satire I think of William Hogarth and Honore Daumier.

    As to whether there is a place for this dimension in the liturgical setting, I think there already is, but within limits. In the monastery we get to read the lives of the saints daily during Matins. There we can find some accounts that might seem graphic. For example, there is a saint (whose name now escapes me) that, after years of asceticism, commits fornication and then murders the woman. He later repents. Today we commemorate him.

    What about the life of St. Mary of Egypt? Or the detailed descriptions of the various tortures the martyrs undergo? Do they not display the irrational behavior of man in his cruelty? These are depicted in all their vividness, within the limits of liturgical propriety, in the Decani Monastery frescoes and the illuminations of Basil II’s Menologion. As you mention, Scripture is not puritanical or squeamish about mentioning the reality of mans’s sinfulness and failures, and these are read in the services (think of the recent commemoration of the Innocents slain by Herod).

    Another good example is the service for the Beheading of St. John the Baptist, which describes the drunkenness and lust of Herod as he sees Salome dancing and the bloodthirsty cruelty of Herodias asking for the prophets head. But I think that all of this is always kept in balance by the mental and temporal nature of reading. We imagine a vague image of the event and the fact that we “pass through” these descriptions, of man’s failure to realize his true calling as we read, helps us not get trapped in a sickly fascination for the negative, grim and gory. In a pictorial context (iconography) I believe things are a bit different, since we get an image all at once which we are meant to “dwell” on in prayer, so to speak. The nature of pictorial representation is that it renders the scene vividly in front of your eyes, hence the necessity to tone things down a bit, in order to keep us from our tendency towards the “impassioned gaze”. So whether in Scripture, the menologion, hymnography, or iconography, the focus of satire (man becoming a caricature of himself in his passionate behavior) and the shocking, or “graphic” depictions, remain in the periphery to the central point which is deified humanity–sanctity.

    I agree that there is a place for “recognizing what happened and what was repented from”, but this always takes place by a recollection of our Archetype, which in turn reminds us of our true dignity and calling to become gods. In other words it is inevitable that as we contemplating the Archetype as in a mirror we are reminded of our lowliness and inspired to overcome those things that keep us in bondage and deception.

    I chose to gloss over some things; small doses in slow increments is the best strategy where this subject matter is concerned. Talking “art” can be as volatile as talking religion and politics at the dinner table.

    In Christ,
    Fr. Silouan

    1. Baker Galloway

      So right on. Thank you for sharing these thoughts.

      with your prayers,
      baker

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