Jewish Art: A Brief History

Contrary to popular perception, Jewish art dates back to Biblical times.

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The recent immigrant experience is reflected in the works of Mikhail Gorman whose native Russian is used as text in his paintings, while Israeli-born artist Yaakov Agam has created recognizable three-dimensional pieces significant both for their place in the larger Op-Art movement, as well as their interesting usage of Kabbalah and mystical texts as inspiration.

Modern Memory

The experience or memory of the modern Jewish artist has included the shared reality of pogroms, wars, persecution, and a modern-day version of Biblical wanderings. Jewish artists' work intertwined with the reality of the time, as with Felix Nussbaum, the Polish painter who later moved to Berlin and eventually died in Auschwitz with his wife, also an artist. His work reflects wide-eyed fear, as in his 1943, "Self Portrait with Jewish Identity Card."

And thousands of years after the wanderings of the Jewish people in the desert, some critics understand Mark Rothko's large canvases with blocks of color as a modern day tabernacle. In this way, Rothko, as with many Jewish artists, was both creating a sanctuary serving as a place of worship and also a mobile place, reflecting the enduring reality of wandering in the history of the Jewish people.

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Rabbi Jessica S. Brockman

Rabbi Jessica Spitalnic Brockman is Associate Rabbi at Temple Beth El in Boca Raton, Florida. She has been active in raising community awareness on issues including gun violence, battered women, and the separation of Church and State, and sits on the Reform Movement's Commission for Social Action. She received Rabbinic Ordination from the Hebrew Union College.