4 Comments

  1. vivian Imbruglia

    Beautiful article Mary. I took Hexaemeron this year and learned so much but did not at the time understand why our teachers spent so much time with some of the student working on their icons. How were they going to learn? Now I see why!!! Now I understand – They could not allow us to fail. It was their duty. From the very beginning some were absolutely destined to fail, but all left with beautiful icons. I look forward to attending another workshop with Hexaemeron. Team Ksenia, Anna and Marek are an open book and allowed questions to asked at any time even during breakfast lunch and dinner. Unlike other workshops I have attended where you were made to feel that some questions you might have could not be answered, they were the ICONOGRAPHERS secrets.

    Great Article Mary, I look forward to hopefully seeing you again.

  2. “Team Ksenia, Anna and Marek are an open book and allowed questions to asked at any time even during breakfast lunch and dinner.” How true, Vivian!

  3. Marek Czarnecki

    Hi Mary, Thank you for tackling this topic – why we work on our students’ icons. In art school, this would have been frowned on as interfering with individual expression. But the work of an iconographer is a tool in the service of something bigger. The self is only one piece (since it is never mechanical work) and not the most important one. It’s not my icon, your icon, but the Church’s icon.
    As teachers, Ksenia knows that we have to help, and recommends that when students return home after the workshop to write the same icon again, entirely by themselves. Part of the problem, too, is the constraints of time in a week’s workshop.

    When a student comes to a workshop out of sincere curiosity, uncertainty, or is interested in making only one icon, I don’t worry how much of my hand I add to their work. If and when someone commits to a lifetime of practice and discipline, it’s time to work in a different way. That’s when we pull back and keep our distance. It’s a way to provoke them into putting themselves deeper into the work. But most people, when they come to iconography, have no idea how much (and what kind of) hard work it will be. I know I didn’t.

    Recently, in one of my student’s work, I saw I was giving too much help. It bothered me; the student was not accepting the challenges that the icon demanded. To circumvent this, I made my student first make a separate practice panel – it’s like a laboratory where all uncertainties can be worked out. When we have an extended time of many many weeks to work like this, I will help there, but not on the icon itself. Most of my regular students work this way now, it gives them freedom to experiment and try. As well as fail and try again. I wish I could claim this method as my own inspiration, but Ksenia taught me like this.

    After a while, it is a relief to hear a student say, “don’t do it for me anymore, show me so I can do it for myself” It’s out of self-reliance and a need to know- a sign that says, I’m finally willing to wrestle through the problem.

    But as a teacher, especially with new students, you can sense immediately when that won’t work, or when that demand is made simply out of pride (as an artist, I know something about this). The only way they can understand is by watching you analyze the problem, think through it and perform the act. There’s no other way to do it. Some information is conveyed passively.

    As student, I will never forget many silent, inadvertent lessons like this. I had hit a wall and had no idea what to do. I am sure Ksenia was not thinking she was teaching me anything; she was just being herself and working. Like the way her knuckles bent and straightened out at certain points of a curve as her brush painted curls- how much paint she loaded on her brush- how wet or dry it was – how much pressure she applied – did she move her whole arm, or just her wrist? I also remember thinking, I will never be able to do this. “It will take time, Marek” Ksenia would say.

    After she saw that I wanted to go deeper into the work, Ksenia hardly ever touched my work: but then, there was the next step in learning – every time I made a mistake, I had to scrape off everything to the bare gesso and begin from square one. After that I worked very cautiously, and hardly did anything without asking for advice first. Eventually, I could do it on my own.

  4. Yeah, I was trying to say all that, Marek; things I’ve learned over the years from eavesdropping on thousands of very similar conversations between students and teachers, but you gave flesh to my ramblings. Thank you.

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