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Navigating the worldly and the divine: Jewish American artists on Judaism and their art.

Of interest to scholars peering into the study of Jewish art, and also for informed historians seeking further nuances of the Held, are the copious comments made by Jewish American artists that shed light on Judaism's special place as a religioculture heritage and how that condition influences their art.(1) To that end, this article is not concerned with the concepts and debates that have dominated research literal tin- but rather examines some primary documentation, specifically Jewish American artists' observations on Judaism and their art.(2) Here I draw connections between the comments presented and note- especially how artists navigated traditional, faith-based dimensions and cultural aspects of Judaism with their artistic interests.(3) Because the study of Jewish American art is young compared to the study of art history in general, I have, in some measure, taken an archeological approach in this contribution to the discourse.(4) Several sources have supplied the important primary material that encouraged this discussion, including the artists' personal musings, notably an impressive body of autobiographical writings and verbal comments, and my own oral interviews and written correspondence with many of the living artists, thus bringing this material to light fur the first time.(5) Ultimately, by offering some Jewish American artists' perceptions of their background and work, not only ran we see the diversity of the artists' Jewish identification but also these new perspectives will invigorate subsequent discussions of both their Jewish and non-Jewish themed art.


Some Jewish American artists have described their art as emanating from a spiritual place, defined in various manners.(6) This view was first verbalized by one of only a handful of nineteenth-century Jewish artists, the painter Henry Mosler (1841-1920). Mosler was recognized in his own time for detailed genre compositions and narratives of Breton customs executed in a literal style, but he also painted a few works that indicate a relationship with the Jewish community. Without a commission, in 1866 Mosler painted Plum Street Temple (Hebrew Union College Collection, Skirball Museum, (Cincinnati, Ohio), a canvas detailing the exterior of the pioneering Reform rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise's newly built temple, Bene Yeshurun in Cincinnati. Painted in natural hues against a cloudy sky, Mosler precisely renders the Moorish style architecture, which dominates the canvas, dwarfing the well-dressed congregants who stand in front of the structure. Portraits commissioned by the Jewish community include a precise likeness of Wise's wife, Therese Bloch Wise (c. 1867, Hebrew Union College Collection, Skirball Museum, Cincinnati). Despite these religious associations, Mosler characterized art as his spiritual connection: "I am an eternal worshipper of the Creator. When I transfer a beautiful model to the canvas, I am engaged in an act of divine worship."(7)

A number of twentieth-century artists also see their art .is deriving from a more universalist concept of (he divine rather than from the traditional religious aspects of Judaism. Color field painter and sculptor Jules Olitski (1922-2006), who as a boy dreamt of becoming a rabbi but with the atrocities of the Holocaust, as he put it, "stopped believing in the God of my ancestors," still felt that his creativity drew from a "divine source."(8) In contrast. Abstract Expressionist Lee Krasner (1908-1984) alleged that art may have acted as a replacement for the religion of her youth: "It is possible that what I found later on--art--would be a substitute for what religion had been for me earlier.(9) 'Too, Max Weber (1881-1901), who painted dozens of Jewish subjects, notably many paintings of rabbis studying and at prayer, viewed his art as his religion, claiming "my studio is my synagogue."(10) Abraham Rainier (1893-1978) specifically felt that a Jewish God's presence influenced his art. As he commented in 1949: "a painting, if it is achieved at all, is made with the help of God. ... I would recommend to those who desire to be initiated into the Temple to consider that art lx*longs to (Inspirit, and pat takes of the nature of religion."(11)

Rattner's turn toward personal subjects and God, and subsequent disavowal of abstraction, was a reaction to World War II, as be remarked in an oral interview from 1968:

  [World War II] aliened me personally very much. ... anti-semitism
  [sic] was sharply underscored. It was something that troubled me
  very much personally. And it affected me in this way that I grew
  further away from the aesthetic thing. I had to keep my balance
  because my emotional response to these feelings that were stirred
  up in me went back to my anti-semitic experiences here in
  America. And I never could get over them because it left an
  awful mark on me. ... And now Hitler's voice disturbed me. It
  disturbed me in what I wanted to do. And I knew I could not keep
  on with abstraction, I could not keep on with the intellectual
  searching after an aesthetic direction, that I had to do
  something about this emotional thing in me.(12)

Rattner's comments are borne out by dozens of representational works with Jewish content that were made following the war, sometimes biblical, sometimes historical, and sometimes directed to current events. They include an over three-story stained-glass window, And God said Let There Be Light for the Chicago Loop Synagogue (1958), numerous paintings rendering subjects from the Bible, and a series of politically engaged paintings known as The Gallows of Baghdad (1969, collection unknown), which protested the hanging of nine Jews in Iraq.

Concerned with the relationship between his an and the sacred, Tobi Kahn (1952)--a painter and sculptor born in New York to Holocaust survivors--creates work in several media prompted by his Jewish heritage but in main cases broadly accessible to the spiritual needs of all peoples. The has made large-scale, abstract installations for both Jewish and non-Jewish organizations, including a nondenominational area for contemplation at New York City's HealthCare Chaplaincy Administrative Headquarters, and also has works in prominent public collections such as the Guggenheim Museum. His signature Sky and Water paintings, a series that conveys landscape through color rather than by representational means, evoke a sense of horizon and sky, and sometimes suggest other landscape elements like hills. These quiet landscapes remain ambiguous enough so that individuals can reach their own understanding of what the canvas means, thereby--ideally-achieving personal transcendence.

Kahn eloquently elucidates his inspiration and perspective: "Since my consciousness, sensibility, and visual acuity all derive from a self that is profoundly Jewish, my art inevitably tomes from that place. Which does not mean that I represent Jewish symbols or narrative's in my paintings and sculpture. Recognizable Jewish symbols do not particularly engage me- as an artist. Nevertheless, I consider my work, which is abstract and conceptual, profoundly Jewish. ... Everything I see, touch and make is imbued with my love of Judaism and the way it has shaped me. My interest in art as healing, in sacred spaces, in art's spiritual dimension, in the unique individuality of work marked by the- hand of the artist, are inseparable from my being a Jew.(13)


Other artists ate preoccupied with the worldly, ethnocultural component of Judaism. Feminist artist Miriam Schapiro (1923-) asserts that she is "not religious, his the cultural aspect of Judaism that interests me. In other words--where I came from and how these people lived before me and now. When I am interested to discuss my identity--being Jewish comes to mind and I make a work that reminds me of what it is to be Jewish."(14) Schapiro's work bears out this statement as some of bet later art transcends her familiar imagery about women that responds to the absence of their work in art's history. In the late 1990s, at times Schapiro directed her autobiographical an toward those aspects of her Jewish identity that she deems most meaningful. A work on paper in the shape of a house, My History (1997, private collection, New York), is divided into twenty compartments within which Jewish symbols appear. Topped by a menorah, in the compartments Schapiro includes a Star of David; elements that suggest the domestic work of Jewish women like a handcrafted challah cover; additional relevant references to Jewish history, such as a photograph of Frida Kahlo (a Mexican artist of Jewish decent); and a photograph of the "Tower of Life" at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.

Another feminist artist, Eleanor Antin (1935-), makes work that recalls her Jewish ness and points to the effects of secular characteristics of Judaism as well. Antin, who exploits several different media, including photo graphs, installations, performances, videos, and feature-length films, grew up as "a red diaper baby" in an environment that provided "a distinctively Jewish background without a hint of religion."(15) This cultural heritage, in pan passed on by Antin's mother, a Yiddish theater actress in Poland, has clearly influenced her art. Antin's installation, Vilna Sights (1993, Jewish Museum, New York) explores a lost Eastern European Jewish world. Within a gallery, pan of a wall is smashed, evoking the scene of a bombing; through the broken wall viewers see a set of the destroyed Vilna Jewish quarter. Accompanied by audio reproducing sounds of Jewish life during the Holocaust, Antin projects several scenes simultaneously to convey the last years in the shtetl. Her interest in exploring the tragedy of a decimated Yiddish world emerges from a childhood where Antin's mother owned "lefty hotels for basically first generation, aging Jews passionately devoted to Russia and the working class (though by then many of them had moved up) along with high Yiddish culture and language. They adorer! Sholem Aleichem and the poet I. L. Peretz."(16)

Photojourualist Richard Avedon (1923-2004) look pride in his Jewish cultural background; as a child he reserved a space in his autograph album for a section "Great Jews and Judges," and in a 1995 documentary Avedon asserted: "I'm such a Jew. But at the same time completely ... Is it agnostic, someone who doesn't believe in anything?"(17) Indeed, Avedon's interest in Judaism is evident in his 1972 photograph of Groucho Marx and subsequent comments about the image. Unflinching and characteristic of Avedon's work, Groucho is shown devoid of his grease-paint mustache, glasses, and signature smirk. Tightly framed, Marx appears as a tired old man with age spots on his balding head. The sharp light and unidealized, sparse environment serve Avedon's purpose, as his goal is to present the Viewer not with a photo of Groucho but rather with an image of Julius Henry Marx, the person behind the character. Discussing this portrait in a retrospective catalog (2002), Maria Morris Hambourg and Mia Fineman understand the characterization as one in which Avedon "approached Groucho Marx with love in his eye, portraying him not as a popular prankster but as a wise elder statesman of Jewish culture."(18) Evidence indicates that the photographer did view Marx as more than simply a fascinating sitter. In the introduction to his visual memoir, An Autobiography (1993), Avedon explains that the book is not arranged chronologically, but instead "each moment reaches backward and forward to all other moments. ... The story in the book is the story of my life, but sometimes I've found the image of a later event in an early photograph, and once or twice a late picture was made in the grip of a lost emotion."(19) Avedon also points out that the photographs on adjacent pages may seem unrelated, hut they are "driven by their own eccentric logic." To that end, Avedon describes his portrait of Groucho "as a kind of presiding Jewish intellectual what is placed among picture of my family.(20) It appears that Avedon saw himself as part of a continuum of Jews--that is to say, a lineage descending from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah. Viewed in this light, Groucho is a member of Avedon's family.

Shimon Attie's (1957-) awareness of the Holocaust has strongly affected his art: photography installations that project images from the past, particularly the world lost in the Holocaust. Attie recalls his childhood as one saturated with a

  secular Jewish, humanist, intellectual tradition imbued
  with progressive politics. I was raised to feel extremely
  Jewish in my identity, to be part of a long intellectual
  and cultural tradition in which being "Jewish" meant
  having a deep and profound regard for universal human
  rights and the welfare of minority groups throughout the
  world. In my family, being "Jewish" was not about religion,
  but rather about a sensibility, a tradition, a culture,
  a way of thinking. It was about understanding the experience
  of being part of a group that has experienced
  oppression through the ages, and to take that experience
  as a basis towards appreciating the importance of
  universal human rights.(21)

This intellectual and cultural tradition has resulted in, for example, a series of projects in Europe collectively called Sites Unseen (1991-1996). In several European cities, including Berlin, Attie projected let I photographs onto or from public buildings, and in one case on a IMMIV of water, all utilizing images from before World War II. In Germany, Attie first researched images in the city's archives, where he discovered prewar photographs of Jewish residents of the Scheunenviertel district. After consulting prewar maps of the area, for a year he then projected fragments of those images of everyday life at the original loacales where the pictures were taken in the 1920s and 1930s, or on sites nearby. Almstadstrasse 43 (1993, Museum of Modern Art, New York) shows a photograph superimposed on a building, picturing a male figure entering a Hebrew bookshop with a sign above. "Hebraische Buchhandlung." The black and white projection appears ghostly amidst the color building, and contrasts with the contemporary record of the environment, which includes a blue car and a graffiti-defaced door. Attie explains that he was "profoundly influenced by the stories about the war told to me as a small child by my parents and their friends, some of who were Holocaust survivors. I learned through these stories, particularly those told by my father, that part of being Jewish meant I was connected to a life and culture that no longer existed."(22)

Long-standing Jewish tradition--specifically ideas of social justice as described by the biblical prophets--as opposed to a personal and thus somewhat ambiguous spiritual connection, has informed some Jewish American artists' work. Photographer and filmmaker Rebert Frank (1924-), who was fifteen years old and living in Switzerland when World War II began, is especially recognized for his classic book, The Americans (first American edition, 1959; originally published in France in 1958), a volume of dark photographs that exposed the contradictions of American life. Frank fell that his experience in Europe predisposed his artistic conception: "Being Jewish and living with the threat of Hitler must have been a very big part of my understanding of "people that were put down or who were held back."(23) Frank brings up an important point that scholars have at times characterized as an influente on American Jewish artists: tikkun olam.(24) While the term tikkun olam, literally repair of the world, did not enter American parlance until the 1970s, the importance of social justice derives from the Bible and has always been a central Jewish value. Tikkun olam means, in the most universal sense, that Jews are not only responsible for the ethical and material welfare of other Jews, but also for the ethical and material welfare of society as a whole. Jeremiah 29:7 offers this statement: "And seek the welfare of the city lo which I have exiled you and pray to the LORD in its behalf; for in its prosperity you shall prosper." In "The Jew as a Radical," a 1927 article in the Jewish periodical The Menorah Journal, Maurice Hindus describes the Jew as the heir to radicalism because "the old Jewish religion has much in common with modern radicalism. Both exalt the underdog. Both scorn the wrongdoer. ... The ancient writings of the Jews bristle with such pronouncement. The prophets continually hurl threats and curses on the despoilers of the widows and the orphan, the exploiter of the poor and the weak, as does the modern radical.(25)"'While Frank's work rarely deals with explicit Jewish matter, his exposes of fractured America at times make important social comments. Trolley, New Orleans (c. 1955. Museum of Modern Art, New York), for instance, captures the alienation intrinsic to American life at that time by showing not only the separateness of individuals by the windows of a trolley, but also the division of whites and blacks, the latter of which sit at the back of the vehicle.

Harry Sternberg (1904-2002) made figurative, humanistic art that frequently falls under the rubric of Social Realism. For instance, a commentary on racial intolerance, the ironically tilled and incisive lithograph Southern Holiday (1935, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York) appeared in two antilynching exhibitions the year that it was made; Southern Holiday shows a muscular, naked, cast rated African American man lied to a broken column. Behind this disturbing scene stand factories, contrasting the advances of modern life with the primitive acts of lynching and castration. Sternberg aimed, as he put it, to make art as "an expression of my lime, to be of the people and for the people. The people--their struggles, their aspirations--are both the theme of my art and the audience I want to reach."(26) However, when interviewed in his nineties, Sternberg took this thought further, retrospectively commenting on why he believed that his work focused on social justice issues: "I think that's part of the Jewish tradition that affected me strongly. Even though I am still not a synagogue-goer."(27)

Like Sternberg, Judy Chicago's de-eels confirm her words. While she-grew up "in an assimilated, nonreligious household," her desire to fight against injustice and to effect a "transformation of consciousness through art" as Chicago wrote, relates to her "Jewish background. Out rabbinical tradition was combined with my father's (probably unconscious but deeply felt) belief in the Jewish concept of tikkun--the process of healing and repairing the world--and these were passed on to me.(28) Chicago's ma-jot projects, large-scale installations that combine art from several media and take years to conceive and execute, explore oppression from different viewpoints. In add it ion lo her widely admired installation The Dinner Party (1974-79, Brooklyn Museum, New York), the purpose of which was to raise awareness of women's history and achievements, a growing interest in her Jewishness led to Holocaust Project: hum Darkness into Light (1985-I993). Holocaust project first showed in October 1993 at the Spertus Museum in Chicago, and subsequently traveled throughout the United States until 2002. This installation culminated eight years of research and exploration, including extensive reading on the subject, visits to concentration camps, archival work on the subject in Eastern Europe, and a trip to Israel. Focusing on the Holocaust from all perspectives, not just from a Jewish one, Chicago references a variety of persecuted groups, such as homosexuals and gypsies. Further, although the project is about the entirely of the Holocaust, Chicago made a special effort to create imagery that portrays how the female experience differed from that of men.


Certainly, the division between the worldly and the spiritual is not always so clear-cut. Shortly before his death, conceptual artist Sol LeWitt (1928-2007) worked on Jewish projects, such as the 2005 installation Lost Voices. This temporary site-specific sculpture, accompanied by audio of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur liturgy, was designed for an abandoned synagogue in Pulheim, Germany. An interesting contradiction arises: despite the fact that in this installation LeWitt employs religious words from the holiest days of the Jewish year, he did not feel that "there is anything Jewish about my art (nor Chagall, Modigliani, Rothko, etc.)." He was, however, "interested in subjects that involve Jewish history and the Holocaust particularly."(29)

Although known for his biting representational works of social conscience. Jack Levine (1915-2010) was also a painter and print maker of Jewish sages and biblical stories, works that would seem to fall unmistakably into the rubric of traditional, Jewish, religious art. Levine created dozens of images of biblical stories and related figures, a sharp contrast to his satirical paintings, such as The Feast of Pure Reason (1937, Museum of Modern Art, New York), the WPA-canvas most synonymous with his name and one of countless pictures that caustically record corrupt politicians, crooked cops, and social and political injustices. Levine fart explored Jewish interests in earnest, specifically biblical material, in 1940 when he painted Planning Solomon's Temple (Israel Museum, Jerusalem), a small, ten by eight-inch homage to his recently deceased father. Hebrew labels identifying the expressionistically executed, robed figures of Solomon and Hiram hover above the pair's heads. Such finely rendered Hebrew letters soon became a staple of Levine's biblical paintings and prints. Yet, while Levine--who chose not to have a bar mitzvah despite his parents' wishes--asserted that he aimed "to develop some kind of iconography about my Jewish identity,"(30) he also stated that his interest in the Bible has more to do with the history of art than the history of Judaism:

  My father's death in 1939 started me on the path
  of painting these Jewish sages. ... During this
  period, I always kept these paintings of kings
  and other biblical scenes small. I was doing much
  of this biblical stuff because I was very much
  involved with the way the Flemish painted, and the
  way the Persians did. ... It wasn't Judaism bursting
  out of me kind of museumology. ... It brings
  me closer to some kind of artistic precedent I have my eve on.(31)

Archie Rand (1949-), who studied with Larry Poons and originally worked in an Abstract Expressionist-influenced mode until he reached his mature, representational style, has spent years decorating synagogues. Among Rand's Jewish works are 13,000 square feet of murals for Congregation B'nai Yosef in Brooklyn (1974-77), and twelve stained glass windows for Anshe Emet Synagogue (1980) depicting the twelve tribes of Israel as well as three windows portraying the patriarchs at Temple Sholom (1981), both in Chicago. More recently, Rand completed a remarkable five-year project depicting all of the 613 Commandments (2008). Titled The 613, each colorful principle appears on its own 20 by 16-inch canvas in a style inspired by 1950s comics and pulp novels. As installed, the 614 canvases--there is an introductory image presenting a man in fillies attire speaking on the telephone, perhaps receiving instruct ions from God--are hung side Inside and measure in total 15 feel high and 93 feel wide. Although from different generations and coming from diverse religious understandings-Rand is very educated about religious matters whereas Levi lie's Jewish education is more piecemeal--the two both fed an internal imperative to make Jewish imagery, and specifically work addressing biblical themes. Neither create such imagery because of a desire to participate in the religious dimensions of Judaism. In the case of Rand, who calls himself a "non-religious artist," he sees his explicitly Jewish art as emerging from a desire to augment Jewish culture: "I realized that one of the rights and obligations of any culture is to manifest a visual exponent of that culture. Judaism had been forced externally and internally to ignore that impulse. I wanted to make tangible artifacts that were Jewish, simply so unmistakebly and unapologetically Jewish work would exist in the fine arts."(32) Similarly, Levine asserts that his biblical works are an attempt to expand Jewish pictorial expression, which he felt was hampered by the prohibition against graven images: "Because of the Second Commandment, against graven images, there is a relatively sparse pictorial record of Jewish history or the Jewish imagination. I felt the desire to fill this gap."(33)

Like Levine, immigrant painter and sculptor David A ion son (1923-) thought deeply about the Second Commandment and focused on biblical al mallet, similarly influenced by his father but for different reasons. Born in Lithuania, Aronson's art was very much shaped by his Orthodox background and immigrant experience. Among the issues that Aronson struggled lo reconcile was the Jewish prohibition against graven images with his calling as an artist. As Aronson recalled in a 1967 Boston University lecture, "Real and Unreal: The Double Nature of Art": "The New World made only slight inroads into a closely ordered family hierarchy and a pattern of living centered around bread-winning, the synagogue, and religion-related scholarship. These were people for whom religion was the main purpose for survival and for whom figurative art was denied by Scriptural precept. ... I committed the combined profanations [sic] of refusing confirmation and choosing as my life's work that which is prohibited in the second commandment--the making of graven images."(34) Of his New Testament subjects-including images of Jesus--seemingly contradictor for a young Jew raised in Orthodoxy by a rabbi-father, Aronson said: "I, as a painter with an intense Jewish background, was doing something daring and dangerous. ... what better way to punish my father for the years of restrictions?"(35) Aronson did not turn to the New Testament simply to upset his father. He addressed such subjects because of their long heritage in the history of art, and vet there was also a religious component to his interest; Aronson characterized his New Testament images as "Jewish paintings. My own religious background was deeply woven into the fabric of the work."(36) To that end, Aronson's Jesus in Young Christ with Phylacteries 1949, private collection) bears a unique Jewish stamp.(37) Painted in three-quarter view, Jesus wears a single leather box on his forehead containing parchment with verses from the Bible and around his left arm and hand, straps bind a second box to Jesus' bicep. How ironic that one of only two Jewish artists in this article to openly identify his art as religious does so as he paints Jesus.

A biblical influence' permeates other Jewish artists' work, sometimes even those artists interested in nonobjective painting. For example, Helen Frankenthaler (1928-), one of the most important artists of the second generation of Abstract Expressionists, occasionally makes works that she gives biblical titles. Among nineteen paintings shown at a 1960 Jewish Museum retrospective was Jacob's Ladder (1957, Museum of Modern Art, New York), a 9 1/2 by nearly 6-foot abstract vertically oriented canvas soaked with floating organic forms of red, blue, green, and peach. Additional images, all abstract and with names that evoke elements of Jewishness, include the canvases Eden (1956, private collection) and Holocaust (1955. Rhode Island School of Design. Providence), and the 11-foot tall lithograph Lot's Wife (1971, Museum of Modern Art, New York). Despite these Jewish-stimulated titles, which in all likelihood are not incidental, in 1998, Frankenthaler distanced her art from her religiocultural background: "My concern was and is for good art: not female art, or French art, or black art, or Jewish art, but good art."(38)

Audrey Flack's (1931) art and comments combine secular aspects while at the same time convey an interest in the Bible. She recently made a 1 40-inch sculpture of Eve (2000-12), and at one time observed that she has "always been concerned with and intermittently included religious subject matter in my work."(39) Flack, though, is better known for her feminist photorealist paintings, such as Marilyn (Vanitas) (Will, University of Arizona Museum of Art, Tucson). Based on configurations of objects arranged by Flack in her studio and then photographed, the Vanitas canvases (1976-78) were executed with an airbrush from a slide projected on a wall and drew inspiration from Baroque still-life allegories that comment on the transiente of life. While Marilyn (Vanitas) is frequently reproduced, the first of the series--the Jewishly instigated World War II (Vanitas) (1976-77, private collection, Pennsylvania)--is not well recognized. World War II (Vanitas) combines a magnified, sharply delineated still life with a reproduction of Life photographer Margaret Bourke-White's famous photograph of the liberation of Buchenwald. Rendered in black and white, the exhausted and stunnted prisoners behind the barbed wire fence contrast with the glowing colors of the pastries. Among the array of objects in front of Bourke-White's duplicated photograph are a red candle dripping like blood, a rose, shiny pearls, a Star of David from Flack's keychain, and a book open to a quote about faith from a Hasidic rabbi. Flack explained why she amalgamated such diverse elements: "My idea was to tell a story, an allegory of war ... of life ... the ultimate breakdown of humanity ... the Nazis. ... to create a work of violent contrasts, of good and evil. Could there be a more violent contrast than that?"(40) When placing paintings such as World War (Vanitas) in the context of Jewish art as a whole, her ambivalence about the worldly versus the religious aspects of Jewish art come through: "I guess Jewish art is specific ally religious art like Christian art and like Muslim art. It's a catchy thing because Jews aren't supposed to make images. Jewish att is probably humanist ... I think World War His art that has a universal subject--war. death, evil, goodness, morality, and mortality. Jews represent humanism--to life, to life, l'chaim. With Jews there's a celebration of life. I think minimalism is the opposite of Jewish ail. One green pea on a piece of roast beef."(41)

Jewish American an is intricately interlaced with considerations of the secular and cultural while al the same time retaining aspects of the divine, and clearly this presentation of artists' comments about the influence of Judaism on their work delineates a diversity of perspectives layers of identity. It is remarkable how many artists of Jewish heritage made an impact on the art world, and just as compelling is how many have discussed Judaism--frequently as asides that need to be discovered in interviews or in writings--or who are interested in addressing the topic when asked. Across media and generations, a number of themes these artists describe are similar: for instance, Jack Levine and Archie Rand are both preoccupied with the legacy of Jewish art; Judy Chicago and Harry Sternberg affected by traditions of social justice; and Richard Avedon and Miriam Scharpio see some of their art through a Jewish cultural lens. Although room does not permit further elucidation here, numerous additional artists, such as Diane Arbus, Roy Lichtenstein, George Segal, and Larry Rivers also referenced Judaism, verbally and/or in their art, further illuminating the artists' varied relationship(s) to their religion. As scholars continue to excavate this fascinating material, the varied manifestations of Jewish American identity, often described by the artists themselves, will continue to enliven and nuance the field.


1. The tall 2011 issue of Jewish Quarterly Review included an essay "Looking Jewish: The State of Research of Modern Jewish Art." coauthored by me and Larry Silver, that examined recent and substantial contributions to this fast-growing field while offering a sense of some larger issues explored in the literature. While working on that project I thought about all of the unmined primary materials in one particular area: Jewish American art. Accordingly, this current research note focuses solely on Jewish American art and takes a documentary approach--providing a glimpse of the rich variety of little known primary sources and concern just wailing to be--cultivated-and serves as a companion lo that discussion (631-52).

2. For the substantial literature on modern Jewish art in America, Europe, and Israel, see Samantha Baskind and Larry Silver. "Looking Jewish: The State of Research on Modern Jewish Art," Jewish Quarterly Review 101, no. 4 (2011).

3. For several insightful essays on Judaism as a religion or a culture ethnicity/nationality, or as one essayist puts it, Judaicness versus Jewishness, see Gabriele Boccaccini, "What is Judaism?: Perspectives from Second Temple Jewish Studies." in Religion or Ethnicity?: Jewish Identities in Evolution, edited by Zvi Gitelman (New Brunswick. NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2009), esp. 30-32.

4. While art history as an academic discipline began, arguably, in the nineteenth century (in the United Stales lectureships" in art history were firs] established in the 1850s) and Jewish an has been discussed for the last five decades, Jewish American art was virtually ignored until a pivotal 1991 Jewish Museum exhibition and accompanying catalog: Norman L. Kleeblatt and Susan Chevlowe, eds., Painting a in America: Jewish Artists in New York, 1900-1945 (New York: Jewish Museum, 1991). Of interest, an anomalous article from the 1970s admirably, albeit briefly, delved into some essential themes of Jewish American art, and the author also took care to provide artists' thoughts. See Alfred Werner, "Ghetto Graduates," The American art journal 5, no. 2 (1973): 71-82. More current publications focusing on Jewish American art include Norman L. Kleeblatt. ed., Too Jewish?: Challenging Traditional Identities (New York: The Jewish Museum, 1990); Samantha Baskind, Raphael Soyer and the Search for Modern Jewish Art (Chapel Hill: university of North Carolina Press, 2004); Matthew Baigell, American Artists, Jewish Images (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2006); Samantha Baskind, Encyclopedia of Jewish American Artists (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2007); and Matthew Baigell, Jewish Art in America: An Introduction (Lanham. MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2007). Cecil Roth edited the first systematic English-language survey of Jewish art: Jewish Art: An Illustrated History (Greenwich, CT: NewYork Graphic Society. 1961). Revised by Bezalel Narkiss (Cecil Roth and Bezalel Narkiss. Jewish Art: An Illustrated History [Greenwich, CT: New York Graphic Society, 1971]), this book remains an important resource Notably, American art only received fourteen pages of coverage (rev. ed., 305-12 and 322-27).

5. Significant questions arise as aging, nostalgic artists made some of these comments. Too, observations about the art or motives may have been consciously or unconsciously omitted, altered, imagined, or edited out. Some artists may have decided to write certain words or speak about themselves as a way to project, and maybe even influence a particular public image. With all this in mind I remind readers who may use the primary source material herein, that the autobiographical theorist, as John Sturrock so eloquently describes, must "distinguish the dance from the dancer." John Sturrock, "Theory Versus Autobiography," in The Culture of Autobiography: Constructions of Self-Representation, edited by Robert Folkenflik (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1993), 24.

6. No doubt, the ways that Jews perceive the spiritual has differed over the years, ranging form Mordecai Kaplan's Reconstructionist approach to the current JewBu phenomenon. In this article I understand "the spiritual" in a more general sense, as the artists who describe the spiritual are speaking, or writing, not from a pedagogical perspective, but rather from a place of personal connection with God.

7. Henry Mosler qtd. in "New York Jews in Art: No. 11-Henry Mosler," The Federation Review 4, no. 4 (1910): 77.

8. Jules Olitski qtd. In Phillip L. Berman, ed., The Courage of Conviction (New York: Dodd, Mead, 1985), 146, 151.

9. Lee Krasner qtd. in Eleanor Munro, Originals: American Women Artists (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1979), 109.

10. Max Weber qtd. in Albert Werner, Max Weber (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1975), 23.

11. Abraham Rattner qtd. in Allen Leepa, The Challenge of Modern Art (1949; rprt., New York: Frederick A.Praeger, 1961). 195.

12. Abraham Rattner, Oral Histroy Interview with Colette Roberts, May 20, 1968 and June 21, 1968. Transcript in the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., 13.

13. Tobi Kahn, telephone conversation with the author, July 5, 2006.

14. Miriam Schapiro, written correspondence with the author, May 12, 2006.

15. Eleanor Antin, e-mail correspondence with the author, January 9, 2006.

16. Ibid

17. Richard Avedon qtd. in Helen Whitney, dir., Richard Avedon: Darkness and Light (Chicago: US Films, 1995). videocassette.

18. Richard Avedon. Richard Avedon Portraits (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2002), n.p.

19. Richard Avedon, An Autobiography (New York: Random House, 1993). n.p.

20. Ibid.

21. Shimon Attie, written correspondence with the author, April 22. 2006.

22. Shimon Attie, Sites Unseen: Shimon Attie - European Projects, Installations and Photographs, with an introduction by James Young (Burlington, VT: Verve. 1998), 9.

23. Robert Frank qtd, in Andrei Codrescu and Terence Pitts, Reframing America (Tucson: Center for Creative Photography. 1995), 86.

24. See Baigell, American Artists, Jewish Images; Baskind, Raphael Sayer and the Search for Modern Jewish Art, chapter 3; and Ori Z. Soltes, Fixing The World; Jewish American Painters in the Twentieth Century (Hanover, NH: Brandeis University Press, 2003).

25. Maurice G. Hindus, "The Jew as a Radical," The Menorah Journal 13, no. 4 (1927): 372.

26. Harry Sternberg qtd. in Louis Lozowick, One Hundred Contemporary American Jewish Painters and Sculptors (New York: YKUF Art Section, 1947), 180.

27. Harry Sternberg, Oral History Interview with Sally Yard. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., Mar. 19. 1999- Jan 7, 2000.

28. Judy (Chicago, Holocaust Project: From Darkness into Light, with photography by Donald Woodman (New York: Viking/Penguin, 1993), 3-4.

29. Sol LeWitt, written correspondence with the author, April 22, 2005.

30. Jack Levine qtd. in Stephen Robert Frankel, ed., Jack Levine (New York: Rizzoli. 1989), 37-38.

31. Ibid., 125.

32. Archie Rand, telephone conversation with the author, July 7, 2006.

33. Levine qtd. in Frankel, Jack Levine, 134.

34. David Aronson, "Real and Unreal: The Double Nature of Art," in David Aronson: Paintings, Drawings, Sculpture, by David Aronson and Asher D. Biemann (Boston: Pucker Gallery. 2004). 144.

35. David Aronson qtd. in Emery Grossman, Art and Tradition (New York: Thomas Yoseloff. 1967), 23.

36. David Aronson qtd. in Carol Kur, "David Aronson's Art." Moment 4, no. 1 (1978): 26.

37. Several Jewish artists through the ages have shown Jesus as Jewish. Ziva Amishai-Maisels, for example, convincingly argues that Marc Chagall employed the crucifixion, as did other Jewish artists before and after him, during periods of intense antisemitism as a symbol of Jewish martyrdom. See Ziva Amishai-Maisels. The Jewish Jesus,". Journal of Jewish Art 9 (1982): 84-104.

38. Helen Frankenthaler qtd. in Julia Brown, After Mountains and Sea: Frankenthaler 1956-1959 (New York: Guggenheim Museum, 1998), 28.

39. Audrey Flack qtd. in Lowery S. Sims. Saints and Other Angels: The Religions Paintings of Audrey Flack (New York: Cooper Union, 1986), n.p.

40. Audrey Flack, Audrey Flack on Painting, introduction by Lawrence Alloway (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1981), 78. Exact transcription from original.

41. Audrey Flack, telephone conversation with the author. May 10. 2005.
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Author:Baskind, Samantha
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Date:Sep 22, 2013
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