Image, Action, and Idea in Contemporary Jewish Art by Ben Schachter

Our Advisor and blogger Ben Schachter has an exciting new book out: Image, Action, and Idea in Contemporary Jewish Art (Dimyonot) is published by Penn State University Press and available here and on Amazon.

Contemporary Jewish art is a growing field that includes traditional as well as new creative practices, yet criticism of it is almost exclusively reliant on the Second Commandment’s prohibition of graven images. Arguing that this disregards the corpus of Jewish thought and a century of criticism and interpretation, Ben Schachter advocates instead a new approach focused on action and process.

Departing from the traditional interpretation of the Second Commandment, Schachter addresses abstraction, conceptual art, performance art, and other styles that do not rely on imagery for meaning. He examines Jewish art through the concept of melachot—work-like “creative activities” as defined by the medieval Jewish philosopher Maimonides. Showing the similarity between art and melachot in the active processes of contemporary Jewish artists such as Ruth Weisberg, Allan Wexler, Archie Rand, and Nechama Golan, he explores the relationship between these artists’ methods and Judaism’s demanding attention to procedure.

A compellingly written challenge to traditionalism, Image, Action, and Idea in Contemporary Jewish Art makes a well-argued case for artistic production, interpretation, and criticism that revels in the dual foundation of Judaism and art history.

Jewish Art Salon members featured in the book are: Archie Rand, Tobi Kahn, Mierle Laderman Ukeles, Doni Silver Simons, Andi Arnovitz, Ruth Weisberg and Ken Goldman.

Buy the book here

Some of the subjects: 

Images and Actions in Art Criticism and Jewish Thought

Melakhot, Creative Activities, and Artistic Practice

Contemporary Jewish Art

Visual Midrash and Artistic Interpretation

Reviews:

A highly original exploration of contemporary Jewish art practice and criticism at the convergence of theology and aesthetic theory. A welcome antidote to the preoccupation with the Second Commandment and Jewish aniconism.”

—Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, author of Destination Culture: Tourism, Museums, and Heritage

“This is a lively book. Rather than scraping over familiar territory regarding the Second Commandment (prohibiting graven images), Ben Schachter sketches out promising new paths for contemporary Jewish art that also reconnect with long-standing Jewish traditions. It’s particularly welcome in the suddenly burgeoning field of Jewish art to hear from a scholar who is also an accomplished artist—and who studies his contemporaries with an eye for process as much as product.”

—Aaron Rosen, author of Art and Religion in the 21st Century

Ben Schachter is Professor of Fine Arts at Saint Vincent College. He is the author of Tzit Tzit: Fiber Art and Jewish Identity.

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