The Degraded Iconicity of the Icon: The Icon’s Materiality and Mechanical Reproduction (Read full article published in the Orthodox Arts Journal)

Fr. Silouan Justiniano has written an article for the Orthodox Arts Journal that “examines how mechanical reproductions lessen the icon’s ‘iconicity,’ that is, its liturgical efficacy, full iconic potential, and symbolic power.”

In a much kinder way than in our April 2012 article “Much Cheaper Than Real”, Fr. Silouan clarifies how “the role of materials and craftsmanship affect the function of the icon as a concrete object within the aesthetic experience of liturgy.”


As Fr. Silouan says, “We betray our dissatisfaction by creating mock antiques, attempting to make reproductions look ‘more real.’ We mount them on wood, add red borders, and apply cracked varnish with distressed gilding to conjure an ancient icon. Tempera layering is duplicated with silk-screening and mural reproductions are applied like wallpaper for those wanting instant ‘frescoes.’ These are fast and cheap solutions that seek to satiate consumer demand for holy images. Quality is sacrificed for quantity and affordability. While we might try to suspend our disbelief, we cannot escape our awareness that such images remain unconvincing shadows of the original, that we encounter a kind of ruse. Such ‘icons’ become yet another symptom of the hegemony of appearances in our age.”

Discussion of this article is lively and Fr. Silouan promises more on the subject.  Hopefully, we can realize something productive from his writing and discuss it dispassionately. Hopefully, it will not devolve into accusations such as left in comments on this blog when the subject was raised.

e.g. “Let’s get down to brass tacks and cui bono — iconographers have a huge interest in attacking reproduction icons. I probably would look at them with disdain too, if I thought my livelihood were at stake. That’s what this whole post is about, really, isn’t it? It’s about financial self-interest.”