Today, images consume our lives in unquantifiable ways. Well over one-billion people hold Instagram accounts, to name but one photo-sharing platform, through which they exchange billions of photos of everything from mountain peaks to the day’s breakfast. The rapacity (alas) with which posters seek out “likes” is met by blithe flicks of the thumb that barely pause a second to allow the eyes to consider any one image within the visual flood.
This deluge of images can numb us to authentic beauty in the world, be it in religious artwork copied online (such as those images often embedded in TCT columns), in our local parishes and stain-glassed windows (if we are blessed enough to frequent a church well-endowed in this regard), or even in a church building itself. These works of beauty, rather than inspire contemplation, now are blended into a blinding panorama on which Caravaggio’s The Calling of St. Matthew is indistinguishable from Aunt Sally’s Thanksgiving turkey. The sacred has been reduced to the profane, the transcendent has become one with the immanent.
As an antidote to this situation, Catholics can take a long look at Christian icons – still the dominate form of religious art for Orthodox Christians.