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If, as artists, we hope to recall man to himself, to set him free, to draw him toward God, then we must understand the human person as an icon and icon-writer. The more we understand about icons, the more fully we can enter into the treasury of prayer they open to us.
There are four main types of icon (per St. John Damascene) that unfold from the very Essence of God, right on through – without discontinuity – to the painted icons we can touch and hold. If we take the idea of ‘icon’ further, to see man as ‘image of God,’ or ‘icon of the essence of God,’ we see the human person in a new light – as a work of art that is meant to be a place of encounter with ‘that which it depicts’.
The icon that is painted within us as we encounter reality – the image of what we see, what we know, what we love – is, likewise a form through which that reality is re-presented, made present, in a human person. It’s not too much to say that man, as steward of Creation, was meant to have Creation made present within his own being to such a degree that he would know it intimately and so steward it well. If we can look at what it means to take in something so much greater than oneself and then to be responsible for communicating that something to others, we learn a lot about how to be Christ-bearers in the world.
A look at icons helps us do that, whether we formally study iconography, or not.