Life of Jewish Art

An ongoing conversation about the existence and characteristics of the visual arts from the Jewish world. We welcome your comments on specific artists, aesthetics, exhibitions, or anything else you can think of related to this topic.

What is "Art from the Jewish World?"

What is 'Art from the Jewish world?"  What is its connection?  Does it have to be in a particular media?  Style?  Do all the works of Jewish artists automatically become "Jewish art?"  What about works by non-Jewish artists?  Are they acceptable?  What makes them so?  Who decides?

I think that there are many different views about what is and what is not included in the designation of "Art from the Jewish world."  It makes for a greater challenge in trying to fit all the art into one neat category.  It also makes for richer complexity in trying to figure out what works.  What do you think?Pomegranate

Further, it seems to me that the Torah is the basis for the Jewish world and usually influences the art objects.  But not always.  Something the artworks are related to Jewish customs and traditions....and they are frequently influenced by mainstream aesthetic art concepts. I imagine that most customs and traditions evolved from the Torah or from Midrashim (Rabbinic stories of interpretation).  I also think that  the biggest influence on art, besides the artist, was where and when the art was created.

One of the most important and still controversial issues is the role of the Second Commandment.  You know, that's the one from Exodus 20: 3-5 and is all about prohibiting "graven images."  It appears to me that the influence of this commandment depends on who you ask--and when.

Still, I do believe that the 2nd commandment is important to consider in both the creation and acceptability of art objects.  Many rabbis have made pronouncements in the past about what was or was not acceptable.  That was true until a little over 100 yuears ago when German art historians began to include Verse 5 in their understanding of the 2nd Commandment.  Adding this to the traditional reading of verses 3 and 4 sheds a new light.  Now the objection seems to be not to producing an art object, but to its possible use as a God.  So, it's OK to make art---just don't worship it!Pomegranate

Looking at ancient art tells me that we humans felt an innate need to 'capture' something from our familiar and real world that would become a tangible symbol  It would be a reminder or a stand-in for the real thing.  The pomegranate became just such a symnbol; one of fertility and abundance (both in the barnyard and in the bedroom) in the Jewish world.

This object contains a mystery.  It is a pomegranate shaped container and one of the earliest extant works from the 10th-8th c., BCE (Before the Common Era).  We don't know who made it or why or even what it was used for.  It is a vessel, so it probaby held some kind of oil, ointment, or perfume.  Who knows?  Maybe you have something similar on your dressing table.  What do you think it held?

Art in DC -- a range of styles and quality
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