Matthew Baigell on Stereotypes and Jewish Identity for the Jewish Book Council

Matthew Baigell, author, professor emeritus at Rutgers University, and Jewish Art Salon advisor, guest blogged for the Jewish Book Council last week, posting two short essays. The first one speaks of Jewish identity in art seen in the media:


Baigell Jewish Art in America
Cover image for Jewish Art in America designed by Archie Rand

“As an art historian specializing in American art, I had wondered why contemporary Jewish art had been neglected in the mainstream press. True, there are famous artists who are Jewish but they do not explore Jewish subject matter. True, one can find demeaning, cheap-shot humor directed at Jewish subjects. But by Jewish art, I mean subject matter based on religious, historical, and positive cultural sources…

What ever the reasons, artists who explore Jewish subject matter exhibit less and are not as well known as artists belonging to other minority groups. This is not just a question of talent. In my own experience, although the situation is improving, I have been directed to Jewish and Jewish-friendly rather than mainstream publications when submitting or suggesting articles or books on contemporary Jewish subjects or artists. We are still in a ghetto.”

Read more here.

The second article tackles Jewish stereotypes and their impact:

Baigell, Matthew. The Implacable Urge to Defame: Cartoon Jews in the American Press, 1877-1935. N.p.: Syracuse U Press, 2017. Print.

“…For [my book] The Implacable Urge, I looked at cartoons in the mainstream press. These were uniformly anti-Semitic and presented Jews stereotypically as big nosed, fat slobs wanting to game the system, cheat people, and steal whenever possible… [It] made me aware, as Saul Bellow said in his novel, Ravelstein, ‘As a Jew you are also an American, but you are also not.’

You see the ‘not’ part in the mainstream magazines and you become aware that you are identified as a Jew regardless of how you conduct yourself on a daily basis—whether you pay your taxes on time, serve in the military, vote in every election. Ivanka, for example, is always the Jewish daughter and her husband is the Jewish son-in-law. They are not fully American… but Jews who are also Americans.”

Read more here.

Header image credited to Alfred Rosenberg.