Jewish Art 101
Jewish folk art has pervaded Jewish homes and synagogues for centuries. This has included the mizrach, an emblem placed on the eastern wall of the home to remind family members which way to direct their prayers; the shivitti, an adornment in the synagogue intended to focus attention; and the art of micrography, which uses sacred words and texts to create drawings. Artistic ritual art has included kiddush cups, mezuzot, candlesticks, and more. These art forms were once an expression of folk-piety by Jews who worked without the benefit of artistic training. Today Jewish folk art has grown in sophistication as trained artists focus their skills and sensibilities on these traditional crafts.
From the beginning of the 20th century, visual arts in Israel were emblematic of the unique encounter between East and West in Israel. Artistic visual expression was enhanced in Israel in 1906 with the founding of the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Crafts in Jerusalem. The school aimed to create an "original Jewish art" by blending European artistic techniques with Middle Eastern influences. Artists from this school--along with other artists who were part of the burgeoning visual arts movement--created paintings of biblical scenes depicting romanticized perceptions of the past linked to utopian visions of the future. Examples of such artists include Shmuel Hirszenberg, Anna Ticho, Nachum Gutman, Mordecai Ardon, and Reuven Rubin. As the State of Israel has matured, so too have its visual arts. Yaakov Agam has attracted international attention for his unique use of shape and dimension. As Israel has continued to attract Jewish immigrants from around the globe, they have brought with them their artistic training and sensitivities shaped by their host culture. Throughout Israeli history, the visual arts have been used to interpret and make meaning of the difficulties of Israeli and Jewish history.
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