Complex Identities: Jewish Consciousness and Modern Art

By Strauss, Lauren B. | American Jewish History, December 2001 | Go to article overview

Complex Identities: Jewish Consciousness and Modern Art


Strauss, Lauren B., American Jewish History


Edited by Matthew Baigell and Milly Heyd. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2001. xvii + 301 pp.

The intersection of visual expression and Jewish experience has long been fraught with ambiguity and confounded by the most basic attempts to define its parameters. Such questions as "what is Jewish art?" or "who is a Jewish artist?" address thorny issues of the role of art in a religion that is traditionally thought to eschew graven images or any figurative representation. In the past, studies of Jews in the plastic arts were frequently attempts to catalog and "claim" as many artists as possible who were born of Jewish parents. Now, however, contemporary studies of Jews and the visual arts are often part of a more sophisticated dissection of Jewish and minority group identity that increasingly cuts across disciplinary boundaries. It is in this interdisciplinary spirit, one which takes Jewishness as its unifying theme, that Matthew Baigell and Milly Heyd's important volume has been produced.

Baigell and Heyd, two of the most accomplished scholars in the field of Jewish art history, have set ambitious goals for their collection. Heyd, a faculty member at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, brings a number of Israeli scholars to the enterprise in addition to her own expertise in modern and modern Jewish art. (1) Baigell, a long-time member of the Rutgers University art history department, who pioneered much of the research about socially conscious American Jewish artists, has enlisted a wide-ranging group of American scholars. In addition to expanding the body of factual knowledge about Jewish artists, the editors and their coauthors ask probing questions about the relationship between personal history and visual representation. They record the search by secular Jewish artists to find meaning in religious texts, the relationship between Jewishness and universalist social agendas, and the importance of both the Holocaust and gender in interpreting a host of personal experiences, from R. B. Kitaj's eternal sense of "Diasporism" to Hannah Wilke's terminal cancer.

The book's value in highlighting these areas is one of its chief drawbacks as well; its effort to offer a taste of several different art historical approaches, eras, and geographical centers often lends it the character of a textbook, rather than a cohesive work whose contributions are bound together by common threads of inquiry and discovery. Its format flows loosely from an initial group of essays on Jewish identity, art, and history, to post-modern art installations. Some of the earlier essays, by Norman L. Kleeblatt, Elisheva Revel-Neher, and Ziva Amishai-Maisels, are among the most valuable in the book, providing historical background and laying grounds of inquiry for the articles that follow.

Although there are several essays that feature Israeli artists, and there is a fair representation of European (and occasionally Latin American) Jewish artists, most of the artists discussed in the book are American--from the elusive Dadaist Man Ray (Emmanuel Radnitsky) and the muralist Ben Shahn, to members of the heavily Jewish, left-wing John Reed Club Art School that receives mention in two articles. In this sense, the "complex identities" explored in the book are often those of Jews who have lived most or all of their lives in the United States. In many of these artists' life stories we can sample from a smorgasbord of experiences that contributed to American Jewish culture--from the environment of the shtetl to the trauma of the pogroms, from the immigrants' memorable overseas journeys, to the gritty, tubercular cauldron of the sweatshops. The articles also reflect echoes of political radicalism and the effects of both assimilation and the Holocaust on the Jewish psyche. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • A full archive of books and articles related to this one
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Complex Identities: Jewish Consciousness and Modern Art
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

    Already a member? Log in now.