WHY GOD WAS AN ICONOCLAST? THE VISUAL AND THE PICTORIAL IN BIBLICAL HIEROTOPY

  • A. Simsky Research Center for Eastern Christian Culture, Leuven, Belgium
Ключевые слова: vision, picture, iconoclasm, sacred space, performativity, atmosphere, hierotopy, mental image, embodiment, action, movement, Nikolai Bernstein

Аннотация

This study’s point of departure is a question: given that the Old Testament God so categorically prohibits all images, why is His Word, i.e., the Bible, so full of visions and visual imagery? In this paper, the issue is discussed in terms of a distinction between the visual, broadly understood, and the pictorial, relating in a narrow sense to graphic artefacts. I argue that mental images are distinct from and, in a sense, superior to pictures. The latter are contrasted with an ‘enhanced’ visual imagery that includes sensory and motor images as well. Holistic units of these ‘enhanced’ visual memories are termed as ‘image-experiences’. The first and most important quality of the ‘enhanced vision’ is its spatial character, which can even predetermine the emotional key of the response. This is particularly the case with ‘limitless’ natural spaces, such as the sea, the skies, or mountainous landscapes. The complex structure of the natural sublime and its affinity with divine imagery is discussed using the concrete example of the modern European aesthetics of mountains in its historical evolution. Then the paper turns to the hierotopic approach, according to which the spatial experience of religious imagery emerges from organized ensembles of sacred objects and symbolic pointers, conceptualised as spatial icons. Another important quality of the enhanced visual is in its organic link with movement and action. Image-experiences are lived through rather than passively watched. Calvinist visual theology provides a remarkable example of an iconoclast ideology, which explicitly supports the ‘enhanced visual’ and shows a way to develop it into a form of understanding and transforming the world. The motional/actional aspects of the ‘enhanced’ visual are further discussed in terms of a hierarchical model of motion control proposed by Nikolai Bernstein in which two kinds of spaces are defined: first, space as a geometric medium of locomotion defined by delimiting surfaces and dynamic constraints; secondly, spaces of purposeful tool-mediated activity as collections of meaningful objects. Our human talent for identifying things by unclear or incomplete features is instrumental to our ability to recognize objects in drawings and photographs. The Bernsteinian system helps to explain why the perception of 2D images is dominated by object-oriented parsing. Hence, there is a danger that the response to pictures be reduced to subject-object interaction in which many important holistic qualities of the enhanced visual would be lost. Hierotopic creativity – the construction of sacred spaces – can be seen as a strategy to mitigate these dangers by integrating image-pictures into higher-level spatial constructs of enhanced visuality.

Биография автора

A. Simsky, Research Center for Eastern Christian Culture, Leuven, Belgium

DOI: https://doi.org/10.34680/vistheo-2021-1-11-40

Andrew Simsky
Research Center for Eastern Christian Culture, Leuven, Belgium
andrew_simsky@mail.ru 
ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-0902-3634

Abstract
This study’s point of departure is a question: given that the Old Testament God so categorically prohibits all images, why is His Word, i.e., the Bible, so full of visions and visual imagery? In this paper, the issue is discussed in terms of a distinction between the visual, broadly understood, and the pictorial, relating in a narrow sense to graphic artefacts. I argue that mental images are distinct from and, in a sense, superior to pictures. The latter are contrasted with an ‘enhanced’ visual imagery that includes sensory and motor images as well. Holistic units of these ‘enhanced’ visual memories are termed as ‘image-experiences’. The first and most important quality of the ‘enhanced vision’ is its spatial character, which can even predetermine the emotional key of the response. This is particularly the case with ‘limitless’ natural spaces, such as the sea, the skies, or mountainous landscapes. The complex structure of the natural sublime and its affinity with divine imagery is discussed using the concrete example of the modern European aesthetics of mountains in its historical evolution. Then the paper turns to the hierotopic approach, according to which the spatial experience of religious imagery emerges from organized ensembles of sacred objects and symbolic pointers, conceptualised as spatial icons. Another important quality of the enhanced visual is in its organic link with movement and action. Image-experiences are lived through rather than passively watched. Calvinist visual theology provides a remarkable example of an iconoclast ideology, which explicitly supports the ‘enhanced visual’ and shows a way to develop it into a form of understanding and transforming the world. The motional/actional aspects of the ‘enhanced’ visual are further discussed in terms of a hierarchical model of motion control proposed by Nikolai Bernstein in which two kinds of spaces are defined: first, space as a geometric medium of locomotion defined by delimiting surfaces and dynamic constraints; secondly, spaces of purposeful tool-mediated activity as collections of meaningful objects. Our human talent for identifying things by unclear or incomplete features is instrumental to our ability to recognize objects in drawings and photographs. The Bernsteinian system helps to explain why the perception of 2D images is dominated by object-oriented parsing. Hence, there is a danger that the response to pictures be reduced to subject-object interaction in which many important holistic qualities of the enhanced visual would be lost. Hierotopic creativity – the construction of sacred spaces – can be seen as a strategy to mitigate these dangers by integrating image-pictures into higher-level spatial constructs of enhanced visuality.

Keywords: vision, picture, iconoclasm, sacred space, performativity, atmosphere, hierotopy, mental image, embodiment, action, movement, Nikolai Bernstein

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About author

Andrew Simsky
Cand. Sci. (Physical and Mathematical Sciences), Research Fellow.
Research Center for Eastern Christian Culture, Leuven, Belgium.
E-mail: andrew_simsky@mail.ru

For citation:
Simsky A. Why God was an Iconoclast? The Visual and the Pictorial in Biblical Hierotopy. Journal of Visual Theology. 2021. 1 (4). P. 11–40.
https://doi.org/10.34680/vistheo-2021-1-11-40

Опубликован
2021-06-28
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