Tradition and Transformation: Three Millennia of Jewish Art and Architecture

Tradition and Transformation: Three Millennia of Jewish Art and Architecture

by Ori Z. Soltes


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This unique volume addresses the idea of Jewish art and architecture by posing and responding to a series of questions. These begin with the unresolved conceptual definition of "Jewish" and the consequent complication attached to any noun-literature, art, music, dance, thought-to which that adjective is appended. The questions continue with the complex matter of historical definition: Abraham was called a Hebrew; Moses and David were Israelites; Ezra was a Judaean. How are these terms related to and different from the terms "Jew" and "Jewish" and where, accordingly, must one place Israelite and Judaean art and architecture within the understanding of Jewish art and architecture?
The narrative further asks: when one uses the phrase "Jewish art and architecture," is the basis for employing that adjective the work of art or the identity of the artist? If the former, is the criterion subject, style, symbol, purpose? If the latter, is it the artist's convictions that are being labeled "Jewish"-does he or she need to be consciously trying to make "Jewish" art? Is the artist-based definition affected by birth or conversion: does an artist who converts into or out of Judaism suddenly begin to make Jewish art or cease to make Jewish art?
Against the background of these questions, the narrative follows a long and wide trajectory that moves from the Israelite period to the present day, and carries from the Middle East to Europe, Asia, North Africa, South and North America as it searches for answers to these questions. But it is the journey, not the arrival that is important. Through the presentation and analysis of over a thousand works of painting, drawing, sculpture, photography, collage, architecture, and mixed media-more than 700 of which are depicted-the author continuously addresses the ways in which various works and their makers do and/or do not fit comfortably into the rubric "Jewish art" or "Jewish architecture."
The discussion arrives at a necessarily aporetic conclusion: the very criteria of definition continue to shift across time and space, and thus in the end there is no absolute definition that will apply comfortably across what is a vast and lush realm of artistic creativity. Perhaps this is the point, however. For asking questions without easy answers or without answers at all, in the end, proves to be the consummate Jewish art.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781530201273
Publisher: CreateSpace Publishing
Publication date: 07/19/2016
Pages: 632
Product dimensions: 8.50(w) x 11.02(h) x 1.27(d)

About the Author

Ori Z Soltes teaches in the Program for Jewish Civilization at Georgetown University and is the former Director and Curator of the B'nai B'rith Klutznick National Jewish Museum. He has curated over eighty exhibitions on diverse historical and contemporary subjects, across the country and overseas, and is the author of several hundred articles, essays and books, including Our Sacred Signs: How Jewish, Christian and Muslim Art Draws from the Same Source and The Ashen Rainbow, Essays on the Arts and the Holocaust. He lives in Washington, DC with his wife and two sons.

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