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Jewish Artists’ Paintings and Artwork

Jewish Artists’ Paintings and Artwork

Modern Jewish art, as opposed to traditional Torah art and traditional Jewish art, arguably originated in the early part of the 20th century when the Bezalel School of Art was started in 1906. The school closed in 1929 due to lack of funds and reopened in 1935. The Bezalel style is considered by many art scholars to be an Israeli Jewish style of art that was pioneered by the Jews living in Turkish and then Mandatory Palestine, attempting to create a “new” Jewish art in accordance with the “new” Zionist as opposed to traditionally Jewish man. Modern Jewish art before, becoming well-established and prospering, had to go through a lot of growing pains. There were many restrictions imposed on the subjects and styles of paintings by the Torah itself, including prohibitions against creating graven images or showing the faces of great figures of the Torah such as Moses. In the land of Israel in the early Zionist era, there was an initial attempt to reject Jewish art and Torah art and instead create a new identity. One laughable attempt was a Jewish version of the leftist socialist realism, showing happy farmer and workers building socialism. As the Israeli State matured, however, more traditional Jewish artists and Torah artists reemerged, fusing modern art techniques with ancient themes of Jewish art. Menucha Page’s art gallery in Jerusalem is one such example.

Jewish Artwork After the Establishment of the State of Israel

When Israel formally came into being via the Israeli Declaration of Independence and UN resolution in May 1948, Israeli art became independent and began to evolve with the broader culture.  The government supported an initial leftist socialist realism, portraying the building of the state via the muscle-rippling new Zionist men and women, the leftist Zionist version of the communist “happy workers and peasants.”  Yet the first 15 years saw the development of the methods, styles, and patterns that are still used today. These styles and patterns became a signatory of the Jewish artwork and Torah art. When abstract expressionism took off in the US in response to a cultural opponent to the social realism of the Soviet Union, Israel joined the movement. The advent of abstract art started late in Israel; the noticeable aspects can be seen beginning in 1950. The new style of art conflicted with the ruling political direction of the country, which as mentioned was based on a peculiarly Israeli form of socialism.  Many Israeli art galleries such as Menucha Page’s Jerusalem gallery opened, and as the Sephardic population, which was more traditional, and the Jewishly religious population of Israel began to come into its own and reclaim the Jewish art and Torah tradition, as well as opening Jerusalem art galleries and Torah art galleries elsewhere including in Safed in the north.

Styles and patterns developed

Regardless of the new techniques and patterns developed, even after the advent of modern art, the core of the Jewish Artists’ painting or Jewish artworks remained the connection with the Divine as expressed in the Torah (Torah art) or the manifestation of the Divine in nature. The addition of new styles and expressions added more subjects to the artwork. The Holocaust, which was a dreaded part of the history of Jews, entered the domain of art and attracted the attention of the world. Those paintings showed the aspects of the horrific event with which the world began to come to grips after its occurrence.  Paintings began to be used as a way of remembering and indeed it was this initiative that created art therapy in the Jewish art world.

Arthur Syzk was a Polish-born Jewish artist who worked on the religious theme. His artworks resemble the traditional style of Jewish artists’ paintings, which had religious scenes in European or American style. Many of his works have been purchased and displayed by the University of California. His famous paintings include “The United States of America (1945)”, “My People: Samson in the Ghetto (1945)”, and “The Scribe (1927)”.

Andi Arnovitz is a Jerusalem-based artist. She is a conceptual artist who brings out emotions and topics like infertility, divorce, politics, religion, and even Israeli-Palestine Conflict. Her artworks have been displayed in countries across the globe, even the US Library of Congress and Smithsonian Museum. Her famous artworks include “Unwearable Art (2018)” and “Exile (2015)”.

Menucha Page is an upcoming Jerusalem-based artist working out of her Jerusalem art gallery. She deals with the mixture of contemporary style, attraction, and the traditional religion based Jewish artworks and Torah art and themes. Her works are open for the public in her gallery in Nachlaot, Jerusalem.    

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