‘I am not the first man who wanted to make changes in his life at 60 and I won’t be the last. It is just that others can do it with anonymity.’ — Harrison Ford
Does anonymity bring us freedom? Consider someone living in a city. While being one in a multitude can be a source of isolation and loneliness, being one in a million seems also to give us as humans the freedom to do things that we might not do where we are known. Cities seem to be home to all the weird and wonderful expressions of fashion, lifestyles, and art. When one is anonymous, the impression we make on each other seems not to mean so much, since we’re likely to never see those people again.
Now, let’s turn to art. The issue of art and anonymity is not a new subject, even here on Transpositions. Anonymity of artists has been something that is advocated by those who are concerned about the negative impact of capitalism on art and artistic practice. Nicolas Bourriaud in his book Relational Aesthetics asks whether a signature on a work of art makes the work of art a commodity, reducing it to something to be consumed rather than allowing it to be an object of participation and interaction.  One could extend that concern now that the celebrity culture has extended into the world of the arts with big names drawing both attention and big sums of money. Perhaps it is legitimate to be concerned in some instances as to whether the fame of the artist eclipses either our critical engagement with a work of art or our ability to appreciate it as art (rather than as an artifact of a famous person).
Anonymity of artists also manifests itself within theology, most specifically among icon artists within the Orthodox faith. Traditionally, artists who paint Orthodox icons not only work within the confines of the visual tradition of how the icons look but they also remain anonymous as the icon’s artist. The reason for this is because the icon acts as a ‘window to heaven’, as a way by which the worshipper is led through the icon and into communion with the object of prayer. While the icon is an object of great beauty and craftsmanship, it is primarily serving as an guide in worship. In this context, the potential distraction that could come with knowing the artist is eliminated by anonymity. Additionally, the artist does not paint an icon in order to make a name for themselves but does so in order to serve the worship of God.
Protestant and Catholic churches do not have the same theological convictions as Orthodoxy that necessitate anonymity of the artist. However, as these churches re-engage as patrons of the arts in a celebrity, name-driven culture, should anonymity play a role in the works of art that are commissioned for the church today? How do churches resist the desire to secure a work of art by a ‘great name’ at the neglect of creating an artful space of worship? Nicolas Bourriaud, Relational Aesthetics, English Translation, trans. Simon Pleasance and Fronza Woods (Dijon: Les Presses du réel, 2002), 93-4.