Tag Archives: sculpture

Sculpture and the Jews

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We have a problem with art. In Hebrew, art and craft are almost the same word. They come from the same root, which is also the root for the word ‘faith’, from which the English word ‘amen’ is a derivative. Amen simply means ‘(I) have faith’. It is a Hebrew word. And though sculpture of a certain kind was found in the holy temple, it has most been associated with idol worship. And there are specific laws found in the bible prohibiting making reproductions of men or women, animals, or even objects found in nature. Throughout our long history, the plastic arts have been avoided by most of our people and those artists who did produce something, were always the exception to the rule.

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During the 18th century, there was a movement that gained some popularity among our people who were living in Europe, called ‘the enlightenment’, which tried to import some of the cultural standards and the knowledge which had been accepted in the west into our own culture. Despite the opposition of most of the religious leaders of the time, the movement became quite popular, and is credited with easing some of the anti-semitic laws which severely restricted us, as well as promoting greater integration between Jews and non Jews in Europe. It also brought about the modernization of a great many Jewish communities. Scientific and literary texts were translated into Hebrew, and absorbed into our common culture.

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But influenced by cultural prejudices an ingrained attitudes, even the non religious, secular, and highly educated creative souls among us were reluctant to express themselves in the arts. And when they did, they often chose some sort of abstraction or embedded a flaw in the image so as to make it clear that the work could in no way be interpreted as idolatry.

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The concept of one god who could not be represented by any image was in direct opposition to art as understood by other cultures. Sculpture suffered the worst. And to this day, one can find numerous abstract works of sculpture on some of the streets of Jerusalem, but the more realistic, representative pieces are hidden away in private spaces.

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One of the most interesting sculptures in modern day Israel was created as a memorial to the holocaust, and is hidden away in a forest, and completely unknown by most of the citizens of Jerusalem. It presents images from the history of our people and particularly from the holocaust in a series of reliefs found on a large column.

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Aside from the religious injunction prohibiting idolatry, modesty is considered one of the most important virtues. This too, has dissuaded many artists from using nude images. Even so, the restrictions inspired a creative spark as well, and I have seen fascinating two dimensional sculpture, and other variations on the use of three dimensional media by a number of our local artists.

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The conflict between the arts and our traditional view of the world is felt in other areas as well, including music. I hope to write about that one of these days. And because I feel limited regarding how many images to show on a blog post, I might add another post regarding the many ways Jewish artists have tried to express themselves in sculpture while still respecting the prohibitions of our culture.

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thinking of tolerance

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A newly found blog friend of mine, Corina, posts a regular sort of weekly post, in which she says, “If we were having coffee”, and then shares what’s been happening in her life, or some ideas she’s been thinking about. Turns out there are a lot of people who post their Weekend Coffee Share as a regular feature. Last week, when I was writing about the walk along the promenade opposite the old city in Jerusalem, I mentioned the monument to tolerance, and I thought I’d use this template to discuss tolerance this week.

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The monument was built by Aleksander Gudzowaty. And he carved his thoughts on the subject into stone, next to the sculpture, in Hebrew, Arabic, and English so that everyone might think about his inspiration for building this piece. When considering publishing the photo of the shrine, I couldn’t help thinking of how such righteous messages are received on the internet. There are so many fine posts regarding improved human relations, sensitivity to our fellow man, and peace. So how is it that within most societies, we see countless examples of needless cruelty, prejudice, and unfair treatment?

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What is the true measure of tolerance? Does it mean that when working alongside of a man or woman whose skin is of a different color than ours, we should treat him or her as an equal? Well to tell you the truth, I believe that a person who judges others by the color of their skin, is so unaware or stupid, that he might be a danger to himself. When I hear jokes about dumb blondes I have to make a quick exit to get a breath of fresh air. And on the other hand, someone who insists and preaches to us that blacks deserve equal rights to whites sounds much the same as someone who gets on a podium somewhere and announces to us that the world isn’t flat. So just maybe, tolerance demands that we listen to those who declare the obvious with respect and patience.

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It might mean that one who is a vegetarian or vegan have patience with those who eat cows and chickens, insects or frogs… for if we travel around the world, we find that there are those that eat horses, and those who eat dogs and cats. Tolerance is accepting the habits and customs of those unlike ourselves… as long as they don’t attack us or murder or kidnap our children. But at what point do we put an end to tolerance? There was a museum exhibit in New York, a number of years ago. As it happened, I was visiting there at the time, and heard the controversy first hand. It seemed that an artist of some sort was granted the opportunity to exhibit a little figurine of Christ on the cross in a bottle of piss. I don’t have to explain to you what this provocation did to those people who see Christ as a physical manifestation of god himself. There were those who felt the exhibit should be removed from the museum. Others felt that removing it would be a deathblow to freedom of speech, and the cultural enrichment of the American people.

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Sometimes it’s hard to know just how tolerant we should be if it is peace we truly desire. When one thinks of tolerance, one remembers all those circumstances in which we were bothered by the behavior of another, and overcame our immediate desire to make light of the taste or behavior of another. Perhaps some of us are too quick to take offense. Maybe we are insensitive to others, and don’t give them enough space… don’t respect their need to express themselves, or to follow their own intuition or beliefs. But is it possible to tolerate any and every affront… or attack. How do we design the borders of social behavior? I would like to ask you, my reader. Is there a point at which tolerance must stop? And what is that point?

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Where I’m staying as I write this post, I am about half a kilometer from a Moslem neighborhood. On schedule, a number of times a day, the local mosque broadcasts prayer calls at full volume, with powerful loudspeakers aimed in my direction. Even listening to the music, with the windows closed, the prayer is heard, disrupting all other sound. I do believe in the freedom to worship. But I find such practices disturbing.

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poster composed of paintings by children on the subject of ‘different but together’

Here in our country, we have neighbors who opposed our laws and believed that we had abused the rights of their co-religionists. They started shooting rockets at us. To insure that we wouldn’t strike back, they surrounded themselves with their own children while they were shooting at us. They would shoot at us and run away, leaving their children surrounding the rocket launcher. And when there was return fire, they held a press conference, waving the body parts of their children to show just how cruel we were.

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The monument found in Jerusalem is the work of an artist who appeals for sympathy regarding the beliefs and practices of others. But let me tell you how the concept of tolerance is used in mechanics or in building. When a part is made that has to configure within a machine or a physical system of any sort, it’s dimensions are cited by the engineer or designer. However, since an exact measure is often unobtainable, the tolerance describes the allowable deviation from a standard. For example, the range of variation permitted in attaining a specified dimension in machining a piece.

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sculpture by Ran Morin

Is it not necessary then, that we delineate our objectives in codifying human behavior within a social system before we speak of tolerance? Otherwise, we may find ourselves looking out at the world from behind the teeth of predator who is about to swallow us up and devour us, about to leave this world behind forever…

escaping the ivory tower

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This week, in honor of the last day of the holiday, Chana and I took a trip. Not to the sea shore, nor to some ski resort up in the mountains… nor to some exotic foreign city… I didn’t choose to commune with nature in the desert, or among the tall trees of a forest. My heart’s desire was to go south to a small town in the northern Negev… where the sun always shines, and people live their lives more or less as they did fifty or a hundred years ago. You can buy a lunch there for less than the price of a pack of cigarettes, and you can talk to a stranger, and he’ll answer you. It was a thrilling trip; heart warming, and a pleasure to the senses.

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The getting there was a great delight too. Not only did we leave the rain behind in Jerusalem, as we rolled out into the country, but the traffic too, is so much easier as you move from the big city to ‘out in the sticks’, far from the crush of people going two blocks in their cars to pick up some groceries, or ferrying their children around… people rolling back and forth to visit friends and family members, tied up in traffic jams that have you crawling at snail’s pace in long lines of metal boxes… whose inhabitants are all engaged in conversation with one another, with one foot on the brake, gingerly releasing its hold every now and then to let the automatic transmission pull you another few centimeters to avoid an excess of space between cars…

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I buy roses every Friday to exalt the Sabbath, but I’d almost forgotten the smell of natural flowers grown in the fields… of hay stacked alongside the barn… of cow shit… ah, I love that smell; it brings back the finest memories… that, and the sight of prickly pears growing out the edge of cactus leaves. The old trees standing along the soft shoulders of the old fashioned highway, where you can cruise at a moderate speed… even at the pace of a country walk, the better to see the trees and smell the fields… unlike the super highways and the freeway, where you have to use an official exit in order to take a leak, and while driving along with the rest of the herd, are unable to get even a hint of the world outside the rapid transit system.

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When we got to Kiryat Gat, we easily found a parking spot not far from the roundabout near the commercial center, and I got a chance to take a long look at the sculpture in the middle of that roundabout. The sculpture depicts a man in a winter coat, politely tipping his hat, carrying a violin case in his right hand. The man has no head. The moment I saw the sculpture, I knew exactly who the subject was, of this work of art. I won’t mention his name, because I have to keep living in this country. But I will say that he plays the violin with magnificent expression. It’s just when he opens his mouth, that you realize he has no head at all. I love art.

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It was Wednesday, and that’s the day when the shuk is set up in tents and stalls across the wide plaza alongside the commercial center, and all the produce from the local farms in the area were on display as well as an exquisite collection of olives, and a wide variety of pickled vegetables, and endless products that might attract the interest of the locals, such as a couple of thousand bras in the colors of the rainbow, and handy tools from far away China, with the names of prestigious American factories printed on the front of the plastic packaging. I bought a vice grip pliers to give to a friend. I didn’t need anything I could think of at the time, but I didn’t want to pass up such a unique occasion to buy. I wanted that total experience of a visit to the shuk.

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We were on our way to buy lunch when I bumped into Benzion with his arm in a cast. I had never met him before in my life, but the moment our eyes met, we realized that we had been friends all our lives, and just hadn’t had the opportunity to meet till this moment. He asked me to take his picture. I could have died of happiness right then. But not before I’d snapped his photo. I asked him for his email address, so I could send the photo to him. He said, he didn’t have a connection to hi tech, but his children knew all about computers, and I could send the photo to them. I pulled a business card out of my pocket, and gave it to him, showing him where my email was engraved. Told him to tell his kids to send me their address and I would send the picture. And he promised to do so.

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Lunch was fantastic, and so was everything that followed. The people were as sweet as candy, and the cats were well fed, but willing to accept a few tributes, just to make us feel good. On the way back, we watched the sheep munching on some exceptionally green grass to the beat of fine country music, and some of the most beautiful clouds making their way across the heavens to Jerusalem. Ya lalai, ay yay yai. Ya lalai, ay yay yai.

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rooms of our home

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Our city is our home on a larger scale… There are rooms for intimacy, and rooms for study. Bed rooms, and entertainment halls. There are dives in which to lose ourselves to dreams and fantasies, and subconscious urges… and holy places where the whole includes that which is beyond us.

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mother and daughter

There’s the toilet, and the laundry room, and the balcony that looks out at the world around us… and the kitchen, and the dining room, and the salon where friends meet. There’s the store room, where we pick up what physical objects we need, if we can find them… the rooms with somber quiet, and the rooms with screams of excitement…

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synagogue

There are the halls we go through on the way from one place to another, and the chamber where we shine our shoes, or brush our hair. The TV room or the cinema… the children’s playroom, and that for the adults… and the sickroom, the dying room, and the room for giving birth.

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Some spend their time in art galleries… while others pass through halls, barely noticing the art hung there as decoration, meant to inspire the imagination as we go along our way to something else. There are work rooms and libraries… And high tech labs, and virtual rooms.

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There are those who like to read on the toilet. Some have sex there. Others prefer to be left alone there. Many like to hang out in rooms where you can stay in your underwear. And then there are those who prefer the rooms that demand that you come in suit and tie.

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Some like the rooms where people talk only in a whisper. Others like a never ending stream of music. And there are folk that breathe best on the balcony… mostly outside, but still attached to the home. It can be a venue for solitude or for love making; a place to gather with friends for sipping wine or drinking tea.

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Each of us can best judge the city by those rooms he or she most prefers. Some people have a favorite room, a favorite corner, a favorite chair… and you can mostly find them there. Others like to move around, take in the sights, enjoy the variety. There are some rooms you have to visit now and then. And others you may never see.

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The scenes in these photos are from the sick rooms of our city. There is no discrimination here. The young and old mingle in the hallways, and find solace in the compassion of healthy people who care enough to spend their time nursing and healing people from all walks of life and cultural backgrounds. The ill too, have access to the sacred, to study halls, art and play. I sat in the coffee shop, and had a double espresso and some cheese cake.

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relativity and legitimacy

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Listening to the news yesterday, I heard the story of a secretary of an infamous local scoundrel, who agreed to serve as a witness for the state at his trial. At first, I was frustrated and disappointed that the secretary, who was his partner in crime, would be able to avoid punishment. But then, I realized that this was part of the game, and what had to be done to successfully prosecute the senior criminal. This brought to mind thoughts I’ve been having lately, about the values of our society. It seems everything is relative these days.

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I often wonder about the character of this age of ours… what it is that characterizes our particular period of history. Historians and philosophers refer to this period as ‘post modern’, but I see that name more as a place keeper, until historians looking back, will give it a name worthy of our time. Certainly, the great leap forward of present day technology… the move from analogue to digital instruments and memory has influenced our world to such a degree that it is the first thing anyone thinks of, when contemplating the unique qualities of our time. But there are other characteristics too, that are worthy of consideration.

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Pluralism is the hallmark of the politically correct attitude in the west. After ideological wars, and the cold war of the previous century, we are trying to exercise tolerance and understanding in our meetings with different cultures, traditions and languages. We’ve learned that there are an infinite number of grays between black and white… and in fact, have embraced color too, in an attempt to reach a higher level of awareness. We acknowledge the possibility of many variations on any theme. It seems somewhat ironic that this philosophical attitude has become popular at the same time that our world is being restructured through the use of digital technology based on the binary code, a series of two letters, 0 and 1. On the one hand we have a language which is rather black and white, and on the other a culture that reflects an infinite spectrum.

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The same can be said regarding our social mores. In principle, we are tolerant of deviations from what was once the standard of social behavior. We are willing to accept differences between people. But at the same time, because of our desire to legitimize every sort of behavior, we have begun to categorize almost every deviation from the norm, often as a syndrome which hints at some sort of genetic accident. For some time now, a child having difficulty reading is categorized as dyslexic. With the passage of time, we’ve learned of the growing ranks of OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder), bipolar disorders, ADD (attention deficit disorder), and ADHD (attention deficit hyper activity disorder). Why the need to label every departure from the norm?

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As it happens, the proponents of democracy tend to embrace the idea that all people are virtually the same. The belief in this thesis promotes empathy towards our fellow man. And if someone just happens to suffer from obsessive compulsive disorder, he can’t be judged for his inability to keep up with the class at school, or to produce as much at work as his fellow employees. Yet at the same time, the very classification of the syndromes makes society more aware of a growing variant citizenry. Like the apocryphal family that has two and a half children, we may eventually realize that there are very few normal people around. And then we may finally find our salvation in the recognition that it is normal to be different… maybe even different without a label. But let us leave such thoughts for tomorrow.

work at something you love

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… to Janne with love…

work at something you love
’cause work wasn’t meant to be a picnic
isn’t just highs and deep realizations…
but drudgery and pettiness, and remaining true
through the worthless moments…
going back to hoe another rut again
under the hot sun, breathing the gray fog
carrying meaningless loads… of something
that should have been thrown away last year
being kind to complaining animals
who think they have it coming to them,
straining at the ropes… barking through the fence…
remembering that those old tiles on the footpath
were going to be replaced long ago
looking at the salesman’s catalogues, thinking…
what’s the minimum that I can buy
to keep this old farm still going
and avoiding the glamour, and the color,
and the promised miracles…
getting up when you’re still tired
keeping on when it looks like hope is gone…
the horse has blinders, but you just have purpose
and a fading commitment that doesn’t make sense
if you love your work…
if it doesn’t come out right the first time… or the second…
who’s counting… when it’s been all day…
rubbing in that old stain… till you’re carried away
the doctor heals the sick… and there are more sick
from here to the end of life, than we could imagine…
facing sad eyed misery, again and again…
from the road cleaner to the laundry man
to the cook in the hash house who’s fried more eggs
than there are flies round the garbage can.
from the man on the assembly line to the boss himself
there are excuses and embarrassments and expectations
mistakes and retakes and going through the motions…

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so love your work and await the sublime
which makes up for what happened that other time…

studying art

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painting in the forest

Teaching art is in itself a rather difficult occupation. The teachers are almost all artists themselves, but what they teach is not how to be an artist. They teach the tools and the methods which an artist needs in order to produce his art. And aside from that, try to expose their students to varied and far reaching examples of works of art. They teach the history, and the stories of how different artists grew and evolved from art enthusiasm to the stage where they felt capable of producing works of art. The student is not graded or judged for his capacity as an artist, but rather for his ability to use the tools which he or she has chosen to learn or employ. Before the art, comes the craft. One has to learn to draw or to sculpt, or paint, or photograph. Each craft has its own rules. Though it might seem that a small child is able to produce a picture with complete freedom on the basis of talent alone, once that child has grown up, and tries to draw a tree or a horse, he discovers that there is a large gap between his intuitive ability to express his impression as a drawing on a page, and his own perception of the subject of his drawing. In order to bridge that gap, he or she has to study the techniques of drawing.

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metal sculpture of a spider’s web with fly

What makes the study of art more difficult than the studies of bookkeeping, law, or engineering, is that only a very small portion of the students will eventually become artists. For unlike other crafts or professions, art demands a personal commitment, and a life of continuous doubt and danger.

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being an artist is risky

A master carpenter will build a fine set of table and chairs. And after he has completed his work, he will build another set just like it. He may include a few improvements as he works, but the basic idea will remain the same. What he has learned from the first set will make producing the second set that much easier. But an artist is not permitted to be repetitive. He has to start from scratch, even after his greatest successes.

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painting and photography in the forest

There are students who realize, shortly after beginning their studies, that they do not have the many characteristics needed to become an artist. But even so, they do not abandon their studies, because most of the students are motivated by a love of art. Many say, ‘even if I can’t be a great artist, it is enough for me to be part of the art community. Perhaps I will teach painting; perhaps I will find work in a community center. Perhaps I will learn another profession… But art, even as a hobby, will enrich my life’. There are artists who learn their crafts by apprenticeship. But most artists, these days, study in art schools. And the dynamics of the class, working together, learning together. Competing, and helping one another is extremely valuable to their education.

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working on a sculpture made of oranges and orange peels

Taste is an important part of the creative process. It is personal, and not to be judged. An individual student may excel in learning how to draw or paint, or how to make silk screen prints. He may receive the finest grades in all his classes. But even so, his fellow students and his teachers may find his works atrocious. All the same, it his choice as what to draw or paint. His teachers won’t judge him according to taste. His work in the craft might even be an inspiration to his fellow students, but when he leaves the school and tries to sell his art in the market, he might find himself unable to find an audience.

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an installation supporting empathy for our environment

Of course, we all know the stories of those artists who were rejected in their own lives, and after their deaths were acknowledged as great artists. These stories give hope and encouragement to artists who are unable to sell their works. But even so, one has the need for recognition and approval from some source. If one receives praise from critics or fellow artists, there may be reason to continue to work at his art, even if the artist is unable to sell it. But only a very few are willing to languish in poverty for years, in the faith that eventually they will be recognized.

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the head of an enormous centipede made of stone and wood

In late spring and early summer, I used to participate in creative art seminars for college students, in which we would leave the lecture halls, the classrooms and the libraries, and try to experience the creative process of producing art in a natural environment. These ‘art trips’ were among the most enjoyable and challenging experiences I’ve had as a teacher. During these trips, the students would try out some of what they had learned in school, which enjoying the surroundings of nature. Teachers, and artists of all sorts were invited to join the trip. Some of them would work alongside the students, some would give helpful advice, and some would offer criticism. The students viewed such criticism as a positive input.

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In the evenings the students would share their work, and they would criticize each other’s work. The pictures I’m showing today are from such a trip.