Earlier I wrote about a St Stephen’s assignment to keep an icon journal, and my doubts concerning that, and then put up a few examples of interesting sketch/note books. Since then, I’ve been giving this some more thought, in light of my own experience viewing, and occasionally meaning to keep, but then sort of disliking, and feeling very conflicted about art journals. The fact is, we don’t live in an era where everything has to be hand drawn or copied. Nor in an era where reproductions must be etched by hand, and print is hand-set with iron letters. Nor even in an era where they have to be xeroxed or printed professionally. No, we live in an era where virtual images flitter about on the web, being pinned and posted hither and yon, discussions on how this related to intellectual property rights, and photoshopped everything. We live in an era of visual “simulcra,” as the postmoderns say, and however we deal with that, it’s not possible to un-experience that. We don’t get to suck all the images out of our lives. (I’m often an art teacher and currently a marketing designer, so I really don’t get to live in an image-reduced environment, however much better that might be for my iconographic sensibilities. So while there are still sketchbooks like Guillermo del Torro’s, there are a lot more “personal art books” like these, filled with prints, stamps, layers of tinted acrylic media, declarations of artistic freedom, and “personal muses.”
These things don’t just spontaneously happen out of raw emotion and personal experience. They also happen as a result of what kind of images we view, and in what way — and then the way in which we expect our own images to be viewed. In general I don’t love it when teachers give out assignments without even hinting at the complexities involved, and this seems to be one of those cases where it’s not necessarily possible to complete the project in the way that it was assigned, but it suggests a possible way to more forward which is rather different and requires a good deal more… something — decisiveness? than is made clear in the way it is presented.
I’ve encountered a fair number of art collages and journals incorporating icons, but have tended to feel uneasy about them, like there’s a class of intentions between icon and setting (somewhat less so in Catholic paintings, like the one at left). Generally, I try to keep out of this altogether; the few times I’ve done an iconographic drawing or painting, it’s either by itself on a board, or at least alone on a page with a decent border around it. Even among Orthodox visual arrangements, I much prefer the more simply structured varieties to those where the ornamentation seems to overflow its container and meander about the iconostasis. There’s a reason my the icons themselves are very orderly (“dispassionate,” one might say), and even very complex carved foliage should have a well behaved pattern that fits nicely into the space assigned.
I’m pretty comfortable with my own journal being messy with a lot overlapping stuff because it’s not particularly sacred, and it doesn’t even have that much disorder — just the occasional taped rectangle.
I’ll consider this further and try to write more on it when I have more on what I do intend than on what I don’t.