Saintly Shapes: The Evolution of Iconography to the Avant-Garde

Have you ever thought of an icon as a type of abstract art? An icon is more than just a depiction of a saint or a biblical story. Russian Orthodox iconographers use colors, shapes, and symbols to communicate feelings. Many art historians consider the icon to be the first kind of abstract art. The famous abstract painter Kazimir Malevich said, “Icons have influenced me greatly…I sensed a connection between peasant art and icons…in fact, I came to understand peasantry through icons.” In Russia, at a time when the government was violently toppled by a regime claiming to benefit the peasantry, artists sought a new and evocative way to depict the world around them. The artists of the Russian Avant-Garde movement looked back at the symbolism of traditional iconography and removed the recognizable people and animals, replacing them instead with simple, evocative geometric shapes.