Israeli Visual Arts: Where East Meets West

Visual arts in Israel predate the country's independence yet play a defining role in the country's identity as a nation.

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As the following article describes, issues of landscape dominate the development of Israeli art. But even when it comes to Israeli landscape-focused artwork, questions of politics and identity tend to be the true subjects; landscapes are intertwined with issues of possessing the land and developing and asserting a national identity through the land. This inclusion of politics in art often leads to tensions and controversies. Reprinted with permission from the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

From the beginning of the 20th century, visual arts in Israel have shown a creative orientation influenced by the encounter between East and West, as well as by the Land itself and its development, the character of the cities and stylistic trends emanating from art centers abroad. In painting, sculpture, photography, and other art forms, the country's varied landscape is the protagonist: the hill terraces and ridges produce special dynamics of line and shape; the foothills of the Negev, the prevailing grayish-green vegetation and the clear luminous light result in distinctive color effects; and the sea and sand affect surfaces.

On the whole, local landscapes, concerns, and politics as well as the very nature of Israeli existentialism lie at the center of Israeli art and ensure its uniqueness.

Encouraging the Study of Art

Organized art activity in the country began in 1906, the year Professor Boris Schatz (1867-1932) arrived from Bulgaria and founded the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Crafts in Jerusalem, according to a plan approved at the 1905 Zionist Congress to encourage talented young Jews to study art in the Land of Israel. By 1910, the school had 32 different departments, a student body of 500, and a ready market for its works throughout the Jewish world.

In addition to painters and sculptors, the country's artistic life comprises a host of talented craftspeople (ceramicists, silver and goldsmiths, weavers, calligraphers, glass blowers, etc.), many of whom specialize in modern interpretations of traditional Jewish ceremonial objects.

 

A painting by Nahum Gutman.
Image used by permission of the
Nahum Gutman Museum.

 

Enthusiasm for art prevails among people from all walks of life, as Israelis encourage and support art activities by attending exhibits--from one-artist retrospectives to comprehensive group shows at the country's many museums and private galleries--by frequenting the artists' quarters of Safed and Yafo [Jaffa] or the artists' village of Ein Hod, and by purchasing the works of local artists.

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