Free The Jewish Artist!

The question comes up all the time.

Is it possible to be creative and still be a Jew? Can I, a person filled with this passion in my heart – a passion that is alive, breathing, on fire – translate that passion into a piece of art without compromising my principles?

Oh, please.

How can people ask such questions? Don’t you know that G-d created you? You are living in his mind right now, and his lips are constantly uttering you into existence. That emotion in your heart, that one that wants to come out as some sort of rap, or drawing, or whatever, that’s being whispered right now, right out of G-d Almighty’s mouth.

And you know it. So why all the ho-humming, and why all the back and forth, and why all the shuckling?

Because we are afraid. And with good reason. We’ve seen only one or two true and truly successful Jewish artists in the world. Artists who have truly held onto their principles in the face of fame, an upside-down creative world and their own desire to be personally fulfilled.

And so we hold back, blocking our inner Artist, letting him out for a guilty gasp every now and then, just so we can walk around and feel like we’ve done something with that poor guy.

So sad.

But this is all a bit silly isn’t it? A Jewish artist is just a Jew at the end of the day. And Jews have been screwing up since day one, sinning, selling out to golden calves, the whole nine yards. So why don’t we give ourselves any allowance to screw up as well?

This allergic reaction to selling out, this righteous anger that erupts from the religious world and from the very artist himself, is what has created such a schizophrenic split down the Jewish artistic world. It’s what makes “frum” art so incredibly, horribly, depressingly, boring. Paintings that sell, traditional songs, badly-written stories that everyone already knows, etc. Yawn. Art created by people who have replaced their artistic heart with dogma.

And so the ones who still have that heartbeat banging in their chests, and aren’t willing to part with it, who know it’s a real and true part of who they are, they hold onto it with all they have and they end up telling themselves that if the world won’t accept their screwing up, then the world must be wrong and screwing up is really right and they might as well make the choice to always screw up since it’s not really screwing up at all.

And so we have a side that’s dry as a cracker and another side that’s bleeding out of its own ears, creating works of art that are full of fatty, ugly, non-G-dliness dripping over a core of truth, like some chocolate bar left out in the sun. Not because they hate G-d. But because the others have rejected them.

It is all of our jobs, in this new generation, to fix this rift. Like good friends, like ones who love those who share our soul, we need to allow screw-ups, but still demand truth.

An artist is simply a person, he is not a saint. His art will never be truly 100% G-dly. But it will be G-dly, because it is coming from a strength that G-d himself is uttering into the artist’s pen, paintbrush or keyboard.

The more we understand this, and still allow his art into our hearts, the more we will realize that we have been missing more than we can possibly imagine: G-dly energy humming inside of thousands of Jewish artists, just waiting for us to allow it to burst forth into our souls.

 

  • Moshe

    elad,

    Loved this piece.
    I agree all the way…
    But I’m sure there some artists out there in every medoium, we just haven’t discovered them yet.

    I hve several friends that dabble in art and they love it.
    It’s too bad that many only get around to taking it up later in life.
    Imgine what they could hve done if they started as children.

    A fan.

    • Yeah, Moshe, I totally agree. But I guess that’s actually part of the whole issue, no? Artists everywhere, but some of them don’t even know it, it’s so looked down up. To be honest, this is a truth even in the secular world, but I think it takes on a whole new dimension in the Jewish world. One where someone doesn’t feel like something is “impractical”, but actually comepletely un-G-dly. A shame.

  • B”H
    I am a frum Jewish Artist. It’s not easy to be one. I get upset when I see paintings defaced in Jerusalem. I see some Jews turn their backs on art. Sometimes I feel guilty that I am painting when I could be using the time to study Torah instead. I worry that something I’ve painted may not be regarded by some as ‘kosher’. I’m continually checking with my Rabbi and orthodox friends. But I keep painting because I believe that I feel that ‘Godly energy’ which you write about. May all of us be free to express it in our individual ways.

    • Baruch Hashem! Such a beautiful comment. And it perfectly describes the difficulties of being a Jewish artist. Thank you so much for sharing.

  • Art Goldsmid

    So, what is the author going to do about the perceived problem? Open an art gallery so more artists can display their work? Start a Kosher version of First Fridays (I.e. Second Sundays)?

    It is easy to talk about a problem, the main thing is to actually do something about it.

    Also, many non-Jewish artists are obsessed with incorporating immodest imagery into their art as a way of expressing themselves. Just because your creative mind wants you to express immodest concepts in art does not mean you should. You must ultimately remember where your creative powers come from – HaKadosh Boruch Hu … and his rules overide those of any artistically driven license.

    • Don’t worry, Art, things are in the works 😉 I actually like your ideas a lot! Want to do it also? I’d love partners on any ventures.

      I also find your second argument a bit confusing. Did you read the part I wrote about the need to respect Jewish artists? That it is when we become judgmental of them that we actually push them further away rather than bringing them closer? I don’t know, maybe I’m missing something.

      • Art Goldsmid

        So, if I’m to understand what you’re saying correctly, you’re implying that it’s more important for an artist to express himself than to follow Halacha?

        It is ironic to ask that I not to be judgmental of artists. Any authentic artist understands the need to be judged and critiqued, as is standard procedure in the art world, in order to improve her/himself and her/his work. In this case it is simply spiritual critiquing.

        As far as working on a joint venture in the arts – that’s an excellent idea.

        • No, that’s not what I meant. What I meant is that if someone cares about someone else following halacha, attacking them, as well as their entire craft, is counterproductive.

          We need to be, as I said in the piece, “Like good friends, like ones who love those who share our soul, we need to allow screw-ups, but still demand truth.”

          I think this is a pretty universal truth, whether we are talking about artists or otherwise. A Jew needs to be accepted for his soul first and foremost.

          Are you an artist? Do you do artistic collaborations?

          • Art Goldsmid

            So, if an artist decides that he needs to paint a nude of the Vilna Gaon, for whatever reason, C”V, we should just say “Oh, how wonderful!” and accept the artist for who she/he is? Would you hang such a painting up in your living room?

            Of course “A Jew needs to be accepted for his soul first and foremost”, but that has nothing to do with this. Being accepting and welcoming art that opposes the guidelines of The Torah from a Jew is like being accepting and welcoming a ham sandwich with swiss cheese from a Jew, just because “A Jew needs to be accepted for his soul first and foremost.”

            Yes, I am an artist, and no, I have not done any major artistic collaborations.

          • No, I don’t think I said that. There’s difference between how you react to the painting as opposed to the person. A person, you appreciate them. The art, you have to be real with. Especially if you’re deciding to hang it in your living room. Don’t hang it. But don’t hang the person either.

            You can see my wife’s article on this blog entitled Matisyahu, Say It Ain’t So. She loves Matisyahu, still does, thinks he’s an amazing artist, and is incredibly proud of what he’s done for Jewish art. On the other hand, when he did something she found very wrong, she felt compelled to write about it publicly. This is what I mean by, “we need to allow screw-ups, but still demand truth.”

            I would love to see your art. Do you have a website or anything?

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