INTRODUCTION TO THE HISTORY OF THE ISRAELI ART
HOW TO DEFINE JEWISH ART?
WHO IS AND WHO IS NOT A JEWISH ARTIST?
Defining what Jewish art is and who is a Jewish artist is more problematic and subjective than defining art itself. Jewish artists from all eras and various nations contributed ad infinitum to various and multiple schools, styles, genres and aspects of classical, abstract and modern art. In many instances, no Judaic or Hebraic artistic creativity was ever associated with the nature, the theme and message of their work. Add to the fact that, many non Jewish artists from all centuries mirrored and depicted memorable events from the history of Israel, the Bible and modern Jewish conflicts around the globe. For instance, the famous Jewish Polish Village Series which depicted destroyed wooden synagogues in Eastern Europe was done by a non-Jewish artist Frank Stella, who paid respect and homage to a bygone Jewish world. Thus, the enigmatic questions arise: Does the theme of a painting reflect the religious identity of an artist?, Does the Jewish birth of an artist, ipso facto defines the Jewishness of his or her art?, and How do we define the artwork of Palestinian artists, Muslims and Arab Christian artists who explored Jewish and biblical themes?, Is it the subject, the theme, the message of a painting which adheres, confers and determines the Jewish ethnicity, or simply, the birth certificate of an artist? Hard to tell!
THE MESSAGE IS THE KEY
Moritz Oppenheim has been considered as the first Jewish pioneer-painter. Unquestionably, his artwork has been described as the direct expression of Jewish culture, traditions, faith and socio-political struggles. As a fervent Jew, Oppenheim in his paintings, echoed, preserved and loudly reflected the Jewish collective identity, struggles and horrifying anti-Semite experiences German Jews encountered in Germany and Eastern Europe. The Jewish art identity was revealed in the message, the artist conveyed on linens. The message was the key. When Moritz Oppenheim portrayed the illustrious 18th century Jewish philosopher, Moses Mendelssohn with a zealous Swiss Lutheran clergyman, Johann Caspar Lavater, Oppenheim was intentionally conveying the message of and explaining the implications of an experience that illustrated a primordial juncture in Mendelssohn's quest for a Judaic philosophical and an intellectual path. Mendelssohn realized and understood that Lavater's renunciation of his Judaism was another illustrative example of polemics against Jews. Unfortunately, the pioneering Jewish spirit of Oppenheim and his struggles to preserve the Jewish identity through art are rarely mentioned in the history books.
PERSONAL AND COLLECTIVE JEWISH EXPERIENCES
In many instances and passages of life, personal or collective socio-ethnic experiences play major roles in shaping and defining the ethnicity of art and the religious background of an artist. It is not always the faith of the artist that categorizes and identifies the religious nature, race, ethnic origin and nationality of an artist or his/her work. Unforgettable personal experiences, pain, sorrow, fear, incertitude, despair, hunger, poverty, homelessness and hopelessness caused by racial and ethnic biases, social injustice and persecution redefine and frame the landscape, colors, structure, composition, vibes and psyche of a piece of art. After the Pogrom painted by Maurycy Minkowski retraces, illustrates and captures the fear, panic and hysterical trauma felt by Jews in Eastern Europe. It was a humanistic tableau of the decadence of the human race, the social prejudices, the despair and frightening hopelessness of the Jewish refugees; a personal and a collective experience of the suffering and persecuted Jewish people. And because Maurycy Minkowski was physically challenged (He could not talk or hear), his personal physical condition and related experiences added an extra sense of isolation, fear, separation, despair so closely attributed to and associated with prosecuted and persecuted Eastern Jews .Czarny Sztandar (The Black Banner), a masterpiece by Samuel Hirszenberg is another example of a personal emotional and religious Jewish experience. This fabulous painting depicts the funeral scene of a Rabbinic leader. Through the dark and somber colors of melancholic Hebraic lamentations, the painting has become an authentic Jewish mourning scene. Ironically enough, several totally different Jewish experiences, divergent and convergent in collective Jewish attitude and social reactions, and determination (Of a new generation of brave Jewish nationalists) to fight back, instead of fleeing, mourning or hiding, deeply influenced Jewish artists who were not accustomed to paint Jewish uprisings, revolts and public protests. Birth of Jewish Resistance painted by Lazar Krestin, after the Kishinev Pogrom in 1903, is an enlightening and a very convincing a propos example. Once again, the artist transmits a strong message based upon current Jewish efforts and perpetual fight to secure stability, security and new direction in the daily life of struggling Jews.
Return to News ArchivesBack to Top