But I digress. I've spoken before in a way of a potential way forward for icons. However, I've backed off, particularly in regards to veneration, and yet still favorable to images for teaching and forming the imagination.
However, I've found at this art history blog on icons (here) that distinguishes between art (or maybe symbols) and icons. He has a few posts on the history of iconography in Christianity. In short, he distinguishes between images/art which was symbolic and episodic, engaging the mind in teaching and icons, with subsequent veneration. The former had roots in Greco-Roman culture, utilizing symbolic tropes for the purposes of conveying biblical stories. Thus the church and synagogue in Duros Europos had various art pieces depicting scenes of David, Moses, and Christ. Even Clement of Alexandria is quoted in saying Christians who use wax-seals should adopt images that connect to Christian themes (e.g. fish, boats, etc.), forbidding use of pagan themes or vanities. Icons, however, involved veneration and linkage, and were condemned as pagan ("gentile") rites. Of course condemnation meant that there were people who practiced these things. Irenaeus mentions that the Carpocratians utilized these "gentile" practices, and Alexander Severus (who was reputed to be favorable to Christians) had a portrait of Jesus, set aside portraits to Abraham, Orpheus, and Appollonius of Tyre. It was not until the seventh century when icons (in contrast to symbolic or episodic images/art) began to have apologists.
But what's most interesting is how, from a very early period, there was a clear-cut discomfort with the practice of icons. The following is from the Acts of John, an apocryphal collection of narratives about the St. John the Elder from the middle of the second century. It's worth consideration, especially when engaged with Orthodox apologetics for their theology of icons:
There came together therefore a gathering of a great multitude on John’s account; and as he discoursed to them that were there, Lycomedes, who had a friend who was a skillful painter, went hastily to him and said to him: You see me in a great hurry to come to you: come quickly to my house and paint the man whom I show you without his knowing it. And the painter, giving some one the necessary implements and colors, said to Lycomedes: Show him to me, and for the rest have no anxiety. And Lycomedes pointed out John to the painter, and brought him near him, and shut him up in a room from which the apostle of Christ could be seen. And Lycomedes was with the blessed man, feasting on the faith and the knowledge of our God, and rejoiced yet more in the thought that he should possess him in a portrait.
And he took it and set it up in his own bedchamber and hung it with garlands: so that later John, when he perceived it, said to him: My beloved child, what is it that you always do when you come in from the bath into your bedchamber alone? do not I pray with you and the rest of the brethren? or is there something you are hiding from us? And as he said this and talked jestingly with him, he went into the bedchamber, and saw the portrait of an old man crowned with garlands, and lamps and altars set before it. And he called him and said: Lycomedes, what do you mean by this matter of the portrait? can it be one of your gods that is painted here? for I see that you are still living in heathen fashion. And Lycomedes answered him: My only God is he who raised me up from death with my wife: but if, next to that God, it be right that the men who have benefited us should be called gods -it is you, father, whom I have had painted in that portrait, whom I crown and love and reverence as having become my good guide.
And John who had never at any time seen his own face said to him: You mock me, child: am I like that in form, [excelling] your Lord? how can you persuade me that the portrait is like me? And Lycomedes brought him a mirror. And when he had seen himself in the mirror and looked earnestly at the portrait, he said: As the Lord Jesus Christ lives, the portrait is like me: yet not like me, child, but like my fleshly image; for if this painter, who has imitated this my face, desires to draw me in a portrait, he will be at a loss, [needing more than] the colors that are now given to you, and boards and plaster (?) and glue (?), and the position of my shape, and old age and youth and all things that are seen with the eye.
But do you become for me a good painter, Lycomedes. You have colors which he gives you through me, who paints all of us for himself, even Jesus, who knows the shapes and appearances and postures and dispositions and types of our souls. And the colors wherewith I bid you paint are these: faith in God, knowledge, godly fear, friendship, communion, meekness, kindness, brotherly love, purity, simplicity, tranquillity, fearlessness, grieflessness, sobriety, and the whole band of colors that paint the likeness of your soul, and even now raise up your members that were cast down, and levels them that were lifted up, and tends your bruises, and heals your wounds, and orders your hair that was disarranged, and washes your face, and chastens your eyes, and purges your bowels, and empties your belly, and cuts off that which is beneath it*; and in a word, when the whole company and mingling of such colors is come together, into your soul, it shall present it to our Lord Jesus Christ undaunted, whole (unsmoothed), and firm of shape. But this that you have now done is childish and imperfect: you have drawn a dead likeness of the dead.
*This text is clearly anti-gnostic, as its John clearly connects virtues in the soul to the effects one sees in the flesh. The point is not that the soul is important, forget about the body, but only the soul can shine forth through our flesh.