Life of Jewish Art

Comments and discussion about the role of Jewish visual arts in Jewish civilization.

Art in DC -- a range of styles and quality

España, Barcelona, Montjuic : Fundación Joan Miró

España, Barcelona, Montjuic : Fundación Joan Miró (Photo credit: vincent ☆)

Over Memorial Day Weekend, I took the opportunity to visit the show of Juan Miro at the National Gallery's East Wing and took in 5 of the 8 floors at Artomatic in Crystal City.  I'm happy to say that "art" is alive and well in the Capitol.  While there was nothing particularly Jewish about any of the works, I found interesting the range of what art is expected to do for the artist and spectator as compared to the reactions is might actually elicit.  

Miro painted during some very turbulant times (WWI, the Spanish Civil War, and WWII).  As an ardant Catalan separtist, he used his art both to promote his politics and to escape to the imagination free from the realities around him but fraught with other (more poetic?) stresses of existence (e.g. male/female, sun/stars, bat spittle).  He used the image of a ladder as the connection between earth and the sublime -- the link connecting.  For one series of paintings, he unleashes the fury against the canvases themselves -- burning, stabbing, ripping -- as if art is not enough to depict the subjects he wrestles with.  It's a great show and I highly recommend it as a well-curated show to understanding both this artist and the need for but limitations of art.  Besides, hardly anyone was there (as compared to the Van Gogh show I went to see in Philly which was mobbed).  Which goes to show you, if they don't charge and make you get tickets in advance, no one bothers to see it.

Yet art seems to be unstoppable as demonstrated by the return of Artomatic -- bigger than ever (not sure if it's better).  It seems there must be 100's of wannabe artists who rush to show their works in this biannual event.  So what is the motivation?  Why are all these people making things they call art and eager to share their view of the world with the general public.  So much was horrible -- pure schlock -- or trite or decorative or boring or ambitious in concept but terrible in execution. It did seem to be more art therapy (individuals expressing their inner selves) rather than the creation of images that engage the viewer and elicits an aesthetic or meditative reaction. To me it demonstrated that art is an important outlet of our culture and that lots of people put lots of time into producing it and using as a method to discover meaning (or maybe deny the possibility of meaning). In any case, it provides another context from which to ask the question "What is Jewish art?"  Do Jewish artists have some different experience of the world which would somehow be expressed through their art?  Go and see what you think!

 

 

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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?

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