Friday, April 9, 2021

Good, you are unburdened

My dear friend Tess is taking a class on icon painting from a famous Russian iconographer.  


His name is Vladimir, and he uses an ancient technique using materials such as gold leaf, colorful pigments and egg-yolk tempura. 


Tess took the class not to become an iconographer, but because she was curious about orthodoxy, in which icons play a large part. Vlaldimir had her begin with the archangel Gabriel.  Sounds simple, enough, right?  However, right from the get-go she had her misgivings. She had never so much as drawn a picture - what was she thinking, subjecting herself to this stringent endeavor, surrounded by real artists creating icons of professional quality? When Vladimir said she had made the feathers in Gabriel’s wings look like zucchini, she was ready to walk out the door.  She had hoped that the discipline might open a new part of her brain, but instead it seemed to be opening old, self critical tropes. 


To be fair, painting icons is no simple thing.  It's deep. And it's not just an art form, but rather a window into prayer.  Vladamir explained that as you begin, you pray for guidance. Then you trace the head and features. The Russian artist says this is "opening the icon.” As you begin to add the colors, the icon becomes brighter, as if the saint is emerging. Using jewel colored pigments, you must adorn your icon in heavenly splendor. The rules are explicit: no neutrals, no holding back. Make the colors leap!  


But Tess continued to find the whole endeavor discouraging. The various ways of applying the paint, requiring a technique she didn’t have and a natural inclination that eluded her made her restless and edgy. 


 She told Vladamir that she was really frustrated and that she has no artistic training or talent!


And you know what he told her?


 He said, "good, you are unburdened.”


I love this exchange, because I believe that great art--whether it's writing or dancing or painting or making icons comes from that moment of surrender--when you admit that you know nothing and you become unburdened and now your true genius can fly free.  And your true genius is your icon.  Your angel.  Your saint.


Oh, and here is the icon of the archangel Gabriel, painted by Tess.

Isn't her icon beautiful!!?


And this came from a woman who doesn't call herself an artist, but does call herself a believer.  And so, her paint brush opened the window...and looked who arrived.


 Your creative assignment for this week is to open a window (or two or three) and see who arrives.  Unburden yourself of the notion that you are in charge or that you know what you're doing or that you're even an artist.  Surrender to the paper or the page or the canvas or the music.  


 And your prompt for this week:  "We opened the window and then suddenly she flew."


 Have fun!





  1. Wow! Love this Jamie! Just what I needed to hear!


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.