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Liturgical Vestments. Lectern Cover. Print on Fabric.

Why Liturgical Art?


Dear Friends,

May God and His help be with all of us in these difficult times of pandemic! We wish you and your near to be safe and healthy, continue to serve Him with what is available!

What indeed we can do?

Since everyone is trying to work remotely, - should we also consider learning and practicing iconography online?

For me, it’s a very sound and at the same time a crazy idea. Some of you may remember, Olga and I have always been the first guys to say NO and to find a hundred arguments to explain... Considering traditional iconography such a complex art, combining many disciplines and levels, we think that no one can learn it seriously unless from some personal experience.

Mother of God Tolgskaja by Olga Shalamova I still think the same, but lately so much in our lives has changed, and we do not even know for how long we will have to be in these new circumstances. We can not see our fathers and mothers, and can not attend churches in the way we all used to. It’s all gone and who knows when it will come back to the way it was.

We do not know. And we don’t even know if we live longer or shorter than our neighbors, but we still wake up in the morning and have some energy – we move! It is hard, and for some it is unbearable, and yet, even at our homes, there may still be some interesting ways to spend these weeks of imprisonment. The thing I want least is to diminish essential duties and jobs we all have to perform when our people count on us… And yet, thinking of words of compassion and sympathy, which some of you shared with us...

I decided it’s time!!! It is time and it is this Newsletter, I hope, may inspire you to dedicate at least some of your minutes or even hours to…

To work as liturgical artists!

I hope sincerely not to sound as “Iconography Instructor”, as many of you would know me. Instead, I rather wish to speak like someone, who knows art as a strong means of healing: Art as a Medicine. My reason is simple: in conceiving and producing our artworks we not only get naturally distracted from the threat and the fear of infecting and getting infected. We create a “remote lighthouse”, helping others to keep their heads up as well.

But how can I be so sure and why am I saying this?

This is rude of me, but, I will answer you with a question: why at all should we use art in our parish if in theory a church can be made by an architect and a designer?

To answer this question I am afraid that we need to look closer at what is Art and what makes it different, comparing to what is Design? What is the difference of their genuine tasks?

The Mother of God by Olga Shalamova As Wikipedia says, the boundaries between art and design are blurred but lately I see more and more, that the main goals of art and design are just the opposite, and especially in churches it causes a deep fault.

We can ask a designer of cars to make our car very special and we may ask an interior designer to make our home (or office) look cool or cozy. There are many other values and qualities a designer can realize in his work, but we normally would not expect a product of design to be more than this. We may wish it to be powerful or lovely, but it can not go beyond the limits set by the tasks of the client. By its definition design belongs to the service sector and I think this is exactly why we all get confused.

Designing anything for our daily life in this world, - from a sewing needle to a space shuttle or a skyscraper, we think of the best performance, comfort, and other important qualities. We also think of aesthetics, but in our profane routine, we do not expect a designer to produce anything talking about God. We naturally evaluate the good design (like other good things in our life), - we “like” it (or not), according to how it meets our expectations. And in no case we expect it to help us to enter any spiritual reality or to reveal for us anything is beyond the earth because it simply is not meant to. Design is meant to be used and appreciated, but because of being a practical thing, it has nothing to do with our faith. Well, almost nothing, since badly designed door handles or banners can push someone away from our parish. And yet, - even the most beautifully designed altar table will still be a piece of design if the goal is to make it “likable”, - nice and solid, (sometimes also symbolic), - it will not speak to us about God.

So, this time I am wishing to discuss this with you and to inspire you to be such a liturgical artist, who makes the right choices. Choices of colors, sizes, proportions, compositions, - everything! - making every choice, being guided by te thought: I am doing it as a ministry, it has to be a decent image of God. I am choosing this green or this gilding not because we or our client may “like” it, but because I consider it as the most appropriate choice! That’s what makes an artist an artist!

Mother of God Igorevskaja by Olga Shalamova So, If we ask such an artist to do an altar table as liturgical art, the very process of making the altar table for him will become a work of embodying meanings and contexts. - The job of establishing values. Even being a movable piece of furniture, the altar table made by an artist will be much more, than a nice table, created/appointed by a designer for a mission of an altar table. Same about icons and other details of a church interior or exterior. I have a feeling, that icons, frescoes, and mosaics many priests consider examples of medieval design, and so they are not embarrassed asking: - Why you do not want to replicate it if it is good?

Most parish priests I know, want icons and all the rest in their churches to be just nice. This fact was always disappointing for me and only lately I started to realize: all they want is a comfy design. My hunch is this: in a world, where everything is design (not art), our priests (and sometimes we as well), want iconography to accomplish the same mission as the design REFLEXIVELY.

I think this is exactly the main point, - we treat icons as pieces of design, we expect them to please our eye, to be utilitarian and maybe even stylish, but then we can no more expect them to be liturgical art.

If instead, we try to inherit the approach of medieval colleagues, who were serious about communicating their faith visually, if we think of a church as of a place where everything should help to elevate our thoughts to God, we will be able to make liturgical art, not design.

I am glad that now I understand it, but yet I am not sure what to do with this knowledge. Maybe this is because so few people in our time are taught what is good art, and even less know what liturgical art is?

Well, anyway, we all want our church to be a good place to be… What makes it good then?

Awaiting your answers and hope to talk about this in the next Newsletter!! :) For now - no more speculations!

Relief Gesso Iconography Workshop
In the first two months of 2020 we had 3 workshops in Melbourne, and one in Saint Petersburg (in our parish). The latter was a new thing for us, - it was very short but a very intense, - drawing and relief gesso. See photos at our website.

While the offline workshops are currently unavailable and many of us are urged to stay indoors and work remotely, Olga and I are thinking to launch some Online Iconography Education Program, wondering how to make it as interactive as possible. Those of you, who have ever attended any of our workshops know how important it is for us. If you have any experience or advice on how to make it, please, share and we will appreciate your contribution to this common cause!

Yet it is the planning process, but plan to start filming a series of drawing lessons and lectures, so that they can be available in May.

Besides, I have an idea to organize an Online Iconography Conference with some other iconographers, who teach and write. Very soon we hope to announce some dates about both of these events, now - just one thing:

We are glad to announce, that lately, we have finished the Video about gessoing. Sorry, it took so long, but we hope it is clear enough and gives a good idea of how the process is performed. Together with manuals, this video is available on our website at the "restricted page".

To get login details, feel free to send us an email with words “restricted page” and we answer you as soon as we can.


Lectern cover  by Olga Shalamova Recently Olga has painted some small icons (above) and finished some Lectern Covers. The Lectern Covers are made for the church I am making mosaics and icons for about a year. Within a month or two after the quarantine I plan to eliminate several more unappropriate elements and at the end we hope this hospital church will have a good interior. I am happy to see how natural, but bright and decisive colors on fabric coop with icons and mosaics, and the whole whiteness of the iconostasis wall.

Thank you very much for your interest and for trusting us to be your iconography instructors. We will continue to apply our efforts to producing the best quality of tutoring as we always do.

Please, pray for for each other and for us in this time of trial and temptations. May God help all of us to come out of it soon!

Looking forward to hearing from you,

Yours sincerely,
Philip Davydov and Olga Shalamova

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