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So just what is “Jewish Art”?

By Flora Rosefsky, Not quite “Grandma Moses”! www.FloraRosefsky.com What does a grandmother of seven, who started her artistic “life chapters” in the 1980s -once her four children were basically independent, have to say about Jewish art ? Without a PhD in art history, a BFA or MFA degree – I embrace being an artist with no excuses for finding inspiration from my Jewish heritage, experience and enjoyment of seeking knowledge through exploring Jewish text. A favorite book in my personal collection of Jewish resources is JEWISH FOLK ART: From Biblical Days to Modern Times, by Joy Ungerleider-Mayerson, Summit Books, a division of Simon and Schuster, New York 1986. The author’s introduction gives an engaging and thought provoking history of how Jewish art developed, even when Torah and Jewish tradition prohibited any forms of idolatry. For thousands of years, perhaps the question, “what is Jewish art?” has been asked – going back to when seven branched Menorahs images were found on antiquities such as a stone fragment probably from a synagogue – Gadera, Um Qies, Jordan 4th-6th C.C.E. , The Menorah may be the oldest symbol of Judaism,, or perhaps Jewish art was introduced nearly 3000 years ago when Bezalel, an artisan, was appointed by Moses to design the Mishkan, or Tabernacle of the Holy Temple. Today, artists and artisans continue to explore creative ways, using their imaginations as well as research from Jewish sources such as Torah, commentaries of Talmud and Mishnah, other Jewish text such as the Psalms or particular prayers…or by looking at our world today, expressing contemporary visions beyond the more traditional outpouring of artistic expressions. Creativity of spirit joins both the artists who produce the actual work with curators or those who organize innovative contemporary exhibitions. The American Guild of Judaic art, made up of members from across the USA, Canada, Israel and some other cities around the world showcase the work of their hands, or those of others since members include museum curators, rabbis, collectors, writers, gallery and Judaica shop owners, along with the artists. Together, the connections made to support the appreciation of Jewish art in today’s world, build bridges. Visual art empowers messages. Images reflect what we see and what we imagine. Creating new work stokes the passion within our being, often setting aside the more practical business model. Jews, known as “people of the book” – are now also perceived as “people of the arts”. Where is Jewish art going today? How different is today’s Jewish sensibility compared to our parent’s or grandparent’s generation? Take a journey through the eyes, minds and hearts of members of The American Guild of Judaic Art as well as many artist colleagues, who appreciate and collect Jewish art. There is a renewal of artistic and creative energy among Jewish artists of all ages today – “pushing the envelope”, seeing our world in non-traditional ways. There is room in the tent of Jewish art – for a variety of expressions – perhaps to connect groups of Jewish artists that tie us together as we define what is Jewish art. Explore with the American Guild of Judaic Art how Jewish artists can bring meaningful beauty or thought provoking work into one’s home, synagogue, JCC, school, university and college centers, galleries, outdoor parks or perhaps used to enhance a book or magazine, newspaper, online media, or wherever Jewish art can be appreciated. The artist from Jerusalem, to the artist from St. Louis or perhaps Montreal, Canada- to the artist from Rome, Italy to the artist from Santa Barbara – the world of “Jewish art” – nourishes our souls, wherever we may choose to live.

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