One of the most important experiences that defines an icon, as opposed to an ordinary art work, is the offering of hospitality: the icon opens a door and invites the viewer into a holy space, whereas an ordinary art work may engage a viewer in a dialogue, but doesn’t bring them into a new realm or reality. The icon acts as a door opening into a room where God can not only have a conversation with the viewer, but the viewer can choose to enter and stay in the presence of the holy. The icon itself isn’t holy, but the experience of viewing can be holy.
Of course, like any host offering the hospitality of their home, the icon ‘s gift is sometimes rejected, and those of us that are too busy or too involved in the minutiae of our own lives are unable to stop by and enter in for a visit. If we don’t avail ourselves of this opportunity, then the icon silently awaits for the next visitor to pass by, and the offer of holy hospitality is made once again. Maybe this time the viewer will have an open heart, and the icon will connect with her so that the intimate invitation will be accepted. Since we can’t control who will respond to the icon’s silent invitation, as artists/iconographers, we can only make our works and offer them up to God for his purposes. The opportunities for conversation and connection are up to the Holy Spirit working with the spirit in the heart of the beholder.
So we work with our materials and let God work in the hearts and minds of our viewers. Once the work leaves our hands, we cannot force anyone to love, appreciate, or experience it the way “we think they should.” Each person will come to it through their own experience. We let go and let God use the work to bring them closer to him. If we have given hospitality to God in our work, then our art work will give hospitality to others too.