Life of Jewish Art

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

Tikkun Olam

Tikkun Olam is a Hebrew phrase that means "repairing the world," or "healing and restoring" the world.  Some of the ways to achieve tikkun olam are through engaging in individual and community-centered religious commitments and working toward the attainment of a better world through social justice and social action works.

Many artists are addressing the theme of Tikkun Olam in their works. Some recent and noteworthy tikkun olam focused art initiatives include a project and exhibit that culminated in 2011 and was organized by artist Christy Honigman at the Mizel Museum in Tikun OlamDenver----"54 participants from 27 countries who participated in a project "to represent the universal nature of Tikkun Olam, and the inherent connection between art, healing and transformation. The participants, many of whom are survivors of torture and exile, share their personal expressions to in the project, and in the process of its creation have experienced the power of art to heal and transform."

Prof. Matthew Baigall in his recent article "Social Concern and Tikkun Olam in Jewish American Art" (Ars Judaica, v. 8, April 2012) discusses how contemporary artists are addressing Tikkun Olam in their work.

One of the artists discussed in Yona Verwer, a Dutch-New York based artist, ( whose art explores identity, current events, and tikkun olam.  In one of her series titled City Charms, she created and then photographed what she describes as "protection devices" and placed them at various well-known American architectural landmarks. Other fabulous, inspiring, beautiful and poetic works can be found at the Tikkun Daily, an online blog with an art gallery, found at

This holiday season of teshuva calls for our attention to attend to the personal, community and global events that we can no longer ignore and to explore the question: How can we embrace tikkun olam within our professional, educational, and artistic practices?

Art pictured at right is Teshuva, by Sheri Klein, oil and pastel on paper.

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Interview with artist Ellen Soffer

Ellen Soffer's paintings are intentionally ambiguous-evoking feelings left behind by a dream, emotion or memory. She has been a resident at Ragdale and Skowhegan and was awarded Shreveport Regional Arts Council's Visual Arts Fellowship.  Originally from Philadelphia, she has an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. JAE blogger Sheri Klein, talked to Soffer about her art and her career. Her interview follows:

What are the influences for your work?

I explore the self through an abstract narrative with reference to human, nature, and formal elements. I looked a lot at Picasso, Matisse, and early Pollock when I first started painting.  I think of those artists as my roots in painting. I also like Gorky, Cezanne, Lee Krasner, Eva Hesse, Elizabeth Murray, Phillip Guston, Miro, Frank Stella, Mondrian, Leger, Morandi, Diebenkorn, Marsden Hartley, Rothko, Newman, Giacometti, and Stuart Davis.

Do you work from sketches? Or do you start painting and let the painting emerge?

I work on paper a lot, from sketches to more finished work, but they are usually working out visual ideas that may overlap with my painting.  I usually do not transfer sketches to painting on canvas.  I work directly on canvas, usually with a drawing method of creating shapes and a loose grid but not based on a direct drawing.  Sometimes these compositional elements at the beginning of the painting have a direct influence on the finished painting but other times they are completely changed.Chamber by Ellen Sofer

Has your artwork been influenced by Jewish art, themes in art, or Jewish beliefs and principles--and if so, what in particular?

I think about my paintings as a moment in time captured and made still, sort of a snapshot of a churning universe. I am probably influenced by the awareness in Judaism of time by day, week, season, and year, but I am unsure as to how it manifests in my work.

Whatever Jewish-ness is in my work is deep and unconscious, though I can't help but insert some of my cultural experiences. For instance, I have used Hebrew month names as titles to my paintings and have signed the back of some paintings with the Jewish year.  Sometimes when I use a number in the title, I think about what the number would symbolize in the Jewish use of number symbols.  I would like to explore this idea more.

How do you identify yourself?  Do you identify as a Jewish artist or as an artist who is Jewish, and what does that mean to you?

I think of myself as an artist who is Jewish, not a Jewish artist.  I think of a 'Jewish artist' as someone who is taking more direct themes from Jewish life, historical or religious, and can clearly identify their content as connected to Jewish themes.  I would be open to having someone read my work in a Jewish context as I'm open to them looking at it in terms of gender or geography, or their own personal beliefs, but I don't think that is main focus of my work.

Where can we find your work?

My website is, and I have a Facebook public page:

During the month of August (2012) I have a painting in the Trans- exhibit at the McKinney Avenue Contemporary in Dallas, Texas ( and a painting in the Texas Artists Coalition Membership exhibit at the Fort Worth Community Center in Fort Worth, Texas.

In Shreveport, Louisiana I also have small works available at artspace, a painting at the Shreveport Regional Airport, and an ongoing exhibit at Agudath Achim Congregation, Shreveport, LA

For more information: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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