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Learning to paint icons 'like a meditative experience'

Spiritually uplifting

Anna Schalk weeps each time she enters an Orthodox church and gazes at the flat, colourful icons of Jesus and Mary. Long drawn to spiritual images, the impressionistic painter recently attended a workshop to learn how to create them herself. NCR reports.

“It’s like a meditative experience,” said the retired Catholic paediatric occupational therapist, comparing her work on the icon to partaking in Communion. “When I receive the host, it’s similar.”

Ms Schalk, of Alexandria, Virginia, is part of a growing multifaith movement of people who have been drawn to the art and the spirituality of iconography, taking short-term classes with experts, who often travel from abroad to lead US students in the craft they say is more about seeking the divine than painting an image.

In fact, experts say icons are “written,” rather than painted.

Theodoros Papadopoulos, who travelled from Greece to teach the class, recounted in the first day’s lesson the history and meaning of iconography.

“The Byzantine Orthodox iconography is not just an ‘art,’ it’s a sacred art,” he said.

David Morgan, a religion scholar and art historian at Duke University in North Carolina, said the iconography tradition, which dates to the early centuries of Christianity, is designed to be distinct from more naturalistic art, which became more common in the Renaissance period.

The flatness of the image, its stillness, the large eyes of its figures, and the often symmetrical style are all intentional ways of distinguishing between the ordinary world and a heavenly realm.

Experts say the growth in interest, and diversity of religions involved, has been building over the past couple of decades.

Photo: Anna Schalk works on an icon during a class at St Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Washington, DC, in June (CNS)

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Iconography classes draw non-Orthodox in search of spiritual images

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