Have you ever made an artwork “addressed” to an artist?
Many years ago I went to an exhibition mounted by the Museum of Modern Art that exhibited artworks by Matisse and Picasso. The curators chose images that had particular qualities, they spoke to each other. Pairs of paintings, one by each artist, were hung side-by-side. What became immediately clear was that the artists were speaking to each other with their color choices, brushstrokes, and composition. Speaking not with words, of course, but with how they painted the image. It was fascinating to see how Picasso could adjust his style to make it clear he was talking to Matisse.
Recently, “Matisse/Picasso” came to mind as I prepare for a lecture I am going to give. In the lecture, I’m going to show examples of artworks that build off of a particular motif, tefillin. Tefillin, or phylacteries, are a set of small boxes that are temporarily strapped to one’s forehead and arm during morning prayers. Several artists have explored both the material thing – the leather straps and small angular containers – and the physical act of tying something to the body in their work.
And I began to wonder, are these artists talking to each other? Are they making artworks that directly comment on another artist’s ideas, style, or what have you? And then I thought that while that was possible, there might be a larger conversation going on. Might it also be possible that artists speak not only to one another but also speak to Jewish tradition? By using a Jewish motif an artwork might be the most recent addition to a long historical line of responses to Jewish experience, texts, and ideas.
Ben Schachter received a bachelor’s degree from Wesleyan University in studio art and art history, and received an MFA in studio art and an MS in art history and criticism from Pratt Institute. He is currently professor of visual art and chair of the Fine Arts department at Saint Vincent College. He exhibits regularly and gives public lectures. In the Fall of 2017 his first book “Image, Action and Idea in Contemporary Jewish Art” will be published.