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?
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.
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.