06 November 2005

Some things never change

Today the subject is Russia, and particularly Russian icons. The first that I’d like to reference is from the Novgorod School, dating to the 12th century. It gives a depiction of Jesus—pretty straightforward, typical icon stuff.

I’d like to point out some very indicative traits this work has. First, the gold back ground is oh so Byzantine. Jesus’ face floats in the sea of gold. Notice also how this flattens the image. The rendering of the face is stylized almost to the point of abstraction. Curls of hair are reduced to repeated patterns.

Now look at this painting that for all I know was done yesterday. Rev. Andrey Davydov’s studio continues to create icons that abide by the same conventions that governed most of Byzantine artistic production. As a westerner too used to change for her own good it is interesting to see art that hasn’t. 900 years have passed, but it would take an expert tell you that.

These icons show an important element of art creation. Artists know that viewers become accustomed to certain stock images. These images pull up stock associations and reactions in viewers that make the communicative power of art more certain. Or at least they are intended to. As an outsider, I have to wonder if the gold background, the almost abstracted features, the strange almond shaped eyes are imperative to the job icons perform. My guess is that they are. But that is the trouble with conventional representation. It only works for those who are already well versed in the meanings of the stock images. By speaking directly to some, others aren't spoken to at all.

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