Holy Iconsmith? Iconwright? More Reasons Why ‘Writer’ is Wronger
There were some interesting responses to my article about what we ought to call the process of creating icons, here. In fact a lively Facebook discussion ensued.
The more it developed the more it became clear to me that I will not use write and it relates to the characteristics of the English language. As Adam Wood pointed out (some may know his name from the Chant Cafe) the person who writes a play is called a ‘playwright’. That’s wright, not write, someone who crafts the drama. This elevates the status of the playwright from a mere writer. Similarly, someone who is skilled with words can be called a ‘wordsmith’, (although this is perhaps more colloquial).
So this seems to suggest that in English it’s actually the inverse of what is being imposed ie ‘painting’ is higher than ‘writing’. If we wish to elevate the status of the writer, then we attribute to his ‘craft’ the status that we give to the work done by an artisan. And if we wish to elevate the status of the icon painter who creates icons we emphasize his craftsmanship. So in English, painter is fine – and better than ‘writer’; as would be iconwright or iconsmith if we want to affect a bit faux-intellectualism for good measure.
This is the reverse of the Greek and the Slavic languages such as Russian and Ukrainian (which refers to the process of decorating eggshells as ‘writing’ too, a FB contributor told us).
Furthermore, if we refer to the icon painter, in Greek graphos, as a writer, then to be consistent we should also say that the photographer writes a photograph; and cartographer writes a map!
I think its easier to stick to plain English. I have trouble enough getting that right without worrying about Greek, Russian and Ukrainian as well! I hope no one is upset by the use of the word ‘paint’…but as the saying goes, if you want to make an omelette you have to crack a few eggs (but hopefully not these beautifully crafted Ukrainian ones).
Incidentally, the painting at the top is St Luke Displaying His Painting of Our Lady by Guercino, the Italian 17th century baroque holy painter/smith/wright.
Notice how he is aware of the tradition that the St Luke’s painting was a Virgin Hodegetria, one of the standard iconographic prototypes.