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Crossroads: Jews Religion and Art

by Staff Reporter

"Is there some long standing antagonism between art and religion in America? Or are the objections to art confined to fundamentalists?" asked Garry Wills in the 'preface' to a unique illuminating book Crossroads: Art and Religion is American Life (Center for Arts and Culture - the Henry Luce Foundation, The Free Press, New York, 2001). The editors were Alberta Arthurs and Glenn Wallach.

The recent discourse of religion, faith and the arts originated in the conflict between art and faith which became public since 1994. For ex-ample: the 'Sensation' exhibition in the Brooklyn museum (Sept. 1999). The Henry Luce Foundation conducted a new research of these is-sues. The book, or compilation, Crossroads is the outcome of this research. John Wesley Cook, the president of Luce Foundation, wrote the 'forward,' Garry Wills wrote the 'preface,' Neil Harris (historian) dis-cussed the history of art and religion in America, sociologist Robert Wathnow discussed the issue of arts leaders and religious leaders, soci-ologist Peter Marsden discussed arts and religious Americans in the 1990s, sociologist David Halle discussed the issue of 'Sensation,' art historian Sally Promly and art critic Amei Wallach contributed to the success of this compilation.

These writers are great scholars who explored the intersect of religion and arts. One more issue which they discussed was the question of Federal or public support for the arts, for artists who fight for the absolute freedom of expression, freedom from any public norms. The cli-max of this issue was manifested when Rudy Giuliani tried to prevent the Brooklyn Museum from showing 'The Holy Virgin Mary,' a paint-ing by Chris Ofili because it was offensive to Catholics.

The authors of the compilation discussed the Jewish aspects of these issues of religion and arts. The major findings which are typical to Jews in America are the following: 1) Based on the General Social Survey (GSS), Jews tend to visit art museums in the highest frequency than other denominations: 75.9%, Catholics only 43.2%. The Jewish community supports the arts. Jews are the best clients of museums and probably the world of galleries. As we know, the 'Ten Commandments' is detrimental to the world of arts but Jews love the arts; 2) Jews tend more than others to allow inter-religious art exhibitions 88.5%, Catholics 56.6%, Protestant 50.6%; 3) Jews support Federal arts funding 83.3% more than any other, Catholics 61.6%. As we know, Jews in America support freedom of expression and support the authority which helps this freedom to climax! Jews are the natural fighters for absolute tolerance. Tolerance is the historical Jewish air to breath, their salva-tion; 4) Jews have the highest rate of attendance at 'popular' arts events (movies, musicals, etc.) or 89.6%. Jews are the most devoted movie goers in America!

Crossroads essays also express hope for a future dialogue between arts and religion. A minister from Dallas said: "I really think we have much in common. I think artists are concerned about saving the human spirit, creating a good community. that's the same thing I try to do." Crossroads means a dialogue. Crossroads is a call for a collaboration between faith and arts for the sake of our cultural spiritual life: "I am an atheist who says his prayers," said Karl Shapiro.

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