2017 Jewish Arts Month Essay Contribution: “Identify and discuss how creating Judaic art defines, enhances and expresses your spirituality.”
Art & Spirituality
As a papercutter, ketubah artist and Hebrew calligrapher, I have always been drawn, no pun intended, to Judaic art. There is something innately magical about Hebrew letters, and when I put pen to paper and form those letters I connect to something ancient and powerful, adding my creative voice to a long line of scribes, rabbis and teachers that stretches back thousands of years. In my work, I strive to give contemporary meaning to ancient Jewish texts and hopefully, offer a new perspective on old teachings.
Most of my Judaic work takes the form of visual midrash, a visual commentary on a specific idea or text in two or three dimensions, and in that sense, creating it is a spiritual act. Grappling with text that has served for centuries as history, mythology, legal precedent and tradition is an honor and a challenge. It brings out my creativity, reminds me of my roots, and ties me to my tradition and people in a way that few things can. Just as Jewish music fills my soul, creating Jewish art fills my need for making art with meaning. I have long been guided by the words of Felix Mendelssohn who once wrote, “Art can rise above mere handicraft only by being devoted to the expression of a lofty thought.” In that vein, I strive to make my work meaningful, something not only visually pleasing but beyond the merely aesthetic, something a viewer can look at multiple times and perhaps, find something new each time.
As a ketubah artist, I have the honor and privilege to work with couples who are embarking on a new chapter in their lives. I work together with them to create a document that symbolizes and sums up the couple’s hopes and dreams for their relationship and the home and marriage they will ultimately build together. It is a humbling experience, and a challenging one. The skills necessary to create a custom ketubah are very similar to ones used in marriage counseling: learning to listen to each others’ preferences and needs, exploring each other’s hopes, dreams and goals for the future, and clarifying priorities in the marriage. I like to tell couples that if they can agree on a ketubah text that both encapsulates their priorities and is visually agreeable to each of them, then they are half-way towards a successful marriage. The conversation that develops is an exercise in listening and compromise, and engaging in this creative endeavor can be a transformative experience. I count myself lucky to be part of the beginning of their spiritual journeys, and in a way, it is a spiritual experience for me as well.
Just recently, I celebrated the 25th anniversary of my business, Cutting Edge Creations. My hope is that, in my endeavor to create cutting edge creations, I will ultimately bring a little more beauty and meaning to the world of Judaic art in particular, and to the greater community in general. To my fellow artists, may we all go from strength to strength! Have a good and meaningful Pesach.