Why Learn to Paint Icons? Ten Reasons why you should take an Icon Painting Class
Learning to paint icons has been life changing. Here are ten reasons why I think learning to paint icons can change your life too.
- Studying Iconography will deepen your understanding of the Holy Scripture and Theology
Icon painting is a highly theological art form with deep ties to the Holy Scripture. Prior to painting a new icon, the iconographer spends time in research. This research centers on relevant passages from the Bible as well as readings in the theology of the ancient church.My own understanding of theology, and knowledge of scripture has grown tremendously through the study of iconography and the painting of icons. Throughout history, iconographers have often been some of the churches greatest teachers and theologians.
- Painting icons will improve your prayer life and bring you closer to God.
Every icon painting session begins and ends with formal prayer, and every brushstroke is made in prayerful attention and contemplation. Icon painting is prayer.Iconography is a meditative art; contemplation and prayer are required for the painting of an icon. My soul is at greatest peace when I am working on an icon. Working on a painting of Christ, an angel, or a saint, I am continually reminded to pray and contemplate as I see the divine image take shape before me, the icon beckons me into deeper prayer, asking God to assist me in the task of painting the icon, and to cleanse me of every sin and transgression.
- Iconography will connect you with the historical church, and the Holy Mothers and Fathers of the ancient faith.
Studying iconography naturally lends itself to the study of church history. Icons played an important role in the life of the church and where a central feature in the liturgical and spiritual life of the Saints. Learning to paint icons will connect you with that history in a way that is meaningful and compelling; painting icons will make you feel a connection with the ancient saints of the church, and give you a real sense that you are a part of a living body of believers.The Holy Fathers and Mothers of the church come alive for me when I am painting an icon; I not only learn about their lives, but I come to know the actual person. Icons give us a real way of connecting with God and His saints by forming a relationship with them.
- By painting icons you will gain a profound appreciation of aesthetic beauty.
Icons are a living and powerful beauty. A monk on Mt. Athos once noted: “Icons are no easy art.” Real beauty is not precious or easy, its often profound and disturbing. Icons have spiritual gravitas and an arresting quality; they will draw you into the depths of the painting and the depths of your soul simultaneously. Many hardened pagans, warlords, and killers have been brought to tears by the profound beauty in the icon. By learning to paint icons you will gain a greater appreciation for true beauty and for its connection with the Divine source of Beauty: God.
- Painting Icons is evangelical.
There are countless stories of icons being instrumental in the conversion of unbelievers. Prince Vladimir of Russia is noted to have converted to Orthodox Christianity largely due to the beauty and power of the icon and other liturgical arts. Peter of Bulgaria is said to have converted to Christianity when he witnessed the icon of the Last Judgement. Icons have power. Their beauty has an arresting quality that can stop men in their tracks and bring them to contemplation.
- Iconography will deepen your own spiritual life.
Icons are painted in prayerful meditation, and because of their profound beauty, they cause both their painters and their viewers to draw both inward and outward simultaneously. Icons cause me to draw inward in contemplation of my own sinfulness, my weakness, and my relationship with God. Simultaneously they cause me to look outwards and take notice of both my neighbor and the created world around me. Icons remind me that God is the author of all life and He is the creator of all the natural beauty that surrounds me.
- Painting icons will help you see the image of God in others.
All humans are created in the image of God and therefore deserving of honor, respect, and dignity; this reality is often difficult to remember. Icons help us to be mindful of the image of God in others.The image of God is central to iconography, and each icon, regardless of who it depicts, the Theotokos, and angel, a saint, is in the end an image of God. In painting an icon I am continually reminded that every human being is a bearer of God’s image. The more icons I paint, the more mindful I become of this fact when dealing with the people God brings into my life: I am reminded that they are all the image of God.This is of great importance in the world today. We are surrounded by too much darkness and negativity, and very little value is placed on human life. Painting icons can help us to spread more light into the world, illuminating the darkness, and help ourselves and others see the value of all human life.
- Icons bring us to repentance.
Its easy to point a finger at others, judging our neighbors faults; its much harder to judge our own. Painting icons and studying them however, helps us turn our gaze inwards, shedding light on our own sinful and fallen nature. Saint Gregory of Nyssa wrote: “I have often beheld the icon of the Passion and have never passed by it without shedding tears, for art brings the story vividly to the mind.”This is the truest service of the icon, to bring to life. Saint Basil the Great wrote that the iconographer has equal honor to the Gospel writers because they used color and line to bring to life the same message that the Gospel writers delivered with words.
- Painting icons creates community.
In an age of divisiveness, Icons are a force of unity. I have never witnessed a stronger sense of unity and community of people from different backgrounds than I have seen among iconographers. Christians of all backgrounds seem to put aside theological and doctrinal differences to get together and paint icons, discuss iconography, and spend time in fellowship. I have sat in an icon painting class, workshops, and conferences with people of every Christian denomination: Orthodox, Catholic, Lutheran, Episcopalian, Methodist, etc., and all have been united around the icon.This is partially due to the fact that icons are not meant to be looked at like other works of art, they are meant to be lived with and experienced. Icons are a liturgical art, not a gallery art. One of the saddest things is an icon isolated in a museum. Icons are meant to be touched, kissed, held, moved, and processed; they are meant to be lived with in the life of faith. I believe this is one of the factors that makes icons such a unifying force among Christians of varying faith traditions. Icons seem to be a force for community.
- Icon painting is a joy.
When a new student comes to their first icon painting class or workshop, they are often intimidated by the icon painting process; its a precise art form with a strict canon. However, these same students quickly discover the joy and freedom in the art of icon painting. The greatest gift that an iconography teacher can impart to his students is a love for icons, and the joy in creating them, and living with them. An iconographer never desires to guard the secrets of his craft; for the iconographer, imparting the craft of icon painting to others is his greatest joy and treasure.To see iconography fill the world, and a new generation of iconographers pick up the art of icon painting is my passion. One of the highest points in my career was teaching approximately 80 middle school children to paint icons. I taught these children icon painting for three years and each year they overflowed with joy at the prospect of painting another icon.
For information on classes and workshops, click here to learn more about icon panting classes. Take an icon painting class and see how it can change your life.