Tag Archives: creativity

Artists’ Beit Midrash Exhibit Opening Nov. 12

Artist as Kohen:

Transmitting Holiness

Art by participants in Artists’ Beit Midrash

Judith Joseph and Jane Shapiro, co-facilitators

Curated by Judith Joseph

Choshen, by Linda Sonin

Choshen, by Linda Sonin

North Suburban Synagogue Beth El, 1175 Sheridan Rd., Highland Park, Illinois Through January 2015

Opening Reception:
Wednesday, November 12, 2014, 6:45pm
Exhibiting Artists:
Lois Barr ▪ Sam Bernstein ▪ Sylvia Dresser ▪ Nessia Frank ▪ Judith Joseph ▪ Ruti Modlin ▪ Lilach Schrag ▪ Judy Solomon ▪ Linda Carol Sonin
Leah Sosewitz ▪ Sandy Starkman

Join us for a wine & cheese reception and study session with Jane Shapiro.
Reservations are requested to Marcie Eskin at meskin@nssbethel.org or 847/432-8900×234.

To view exhibit at other times, please call NSSBE  847/432-8900 for open hours.

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Artists: What Do You Think About The Art World Today?

critiquing art work by a group member

In a review of the Frieze Art Show in New York, Holland Cotter of the New York Times describes Frieze show artists as “worker bees in an art-industrial hive.  Directed by dealers and collectors who dress like stylish accountants, they turn out predictable product for high-profile, high-volume fairs like Frieze.”  He distinguishes between the art he saw at Frieze and art one would find in “studios, or going to offbeat spaces…   where all kinds of serious, in-touch-with-life work is going on.”

I asked the members of my monthly artists’ critique group what they thought about the hive metaphor for the art world.

Q:  What factors are contributing to the “art-industrial hive”, as described by Cotter?

E:   Art has become an industry that starts in art school now, manufacturing art.  Before, artists were told, “Express yourself” to the extent that the teachers didn’t actually teach anything.  People tended to grab onto their “gimmick” in order to show they had an artistic identity.

Now, there’s a move away from hands-on connection with art; it’s  all about where’s the next big thing.

J:  I think it’s very natural to have shifts in technology over time.  Whoever’s got the resources decides what people see.

G:  Art schools now think in terms of involving the engineering school [in creative projects, just so they can get grants] for funding.

C:  But, painting is looked at as quaint and not serious.

Q:  What do you think about what Holland Cotter’s description of the Frieze show?

E:  Art fairs are like a big box store for art.

C:   I get the impression art is marketed, packaged [and designed to] pull in investors.  I have heard some people who are running galleries now have financial backgrounds, not art backgrounds; it’s all part of this set up to sell the art work as another type of commodity.  Small dealers have been driven out of business.  Galleries in Connecticut [for example,] became an art destination where people would go when they got out of New York in the summer.  The dealers all knew the artists, they were friends; they had a real dialogue and relationship.  These galleries have been closing.  People with a genuine passion for art have been driven out.

Years and years of stripping art out of the schools has the result that people aren’t educated about art.  Their art choices are based on decorative or financial considerations.  People aren’t culturally sophisticated.  There used to be a respect for the humanities, no longer.

Architects and designers have become involved in designing interior spaces, to the extent of what people put up on their walls.  I have been stunned to learn people have a lot of money, yet they have blank walls, and they have to hire somebody to decide what goes on the walls.  Their choices are driven by status or decoration.  They’re either afraid to make choices of art or they have no opinion, no taste.  It’s cowardly, but also ignorant–  out of not having education, not having exposure to art and experience with it.  For people who don’t have lots of money, museums are often too expensive.

An alternative to the bee-hive: E and I attended an opening reception June 15 for “Facemask”, a juried group show, curated by Sergio Gomez, at the Zhou B. Art Center in Chicago, which fits Cotter’s description as one of those “ offbeat spaces…   where all kinds of serious, in-touch-with-life work is going on.”  (One of our critique group members, Gabriella Boros, has a work in the show.)

The work was fresh, provocative and varied, and the energy and dialogue among the artists/attendees was palpable.   E and I left feeling inspired and energized, eager to get our hands dirty in our studios.

Artists:  what do you think of the art-industrial hive?  How do you want to reach the public with your art?

Sunrise Ketubah

Sunrise Ketubah

I just finished this ketubah.  It makes me yearn for little spring buds and new green leaves.

Who’s In Charge Here?

"Interior With Cubist Chair," by Susan Chertkow

There has been much debate lately in the advanced painting class I teach at the Art Center, Highland Park, over whether or not an artist should explain “what she meant” when she created a work of art.  Stephanie looked at Susan’s series of paintings and asked her, “What were you thinking about?  What does this mean to you?”  Susan replied, “It doesn’t matter what it means to me, what matters is what it means to you, to the viewer.”  Stephanie made the case that it is interesting to know what the artist’s intention or story is.

I weighed in to say that, as the creator of a work, I don’t feel that my version of what it “means” is any more significant than anyone else’s.  In fact, once I finish a painting, what it means for me usually changes.  I’ve been painting long enough to have people show me works they bought from me decades ago, and not only do I not remember what I was thinking when I made it, occasionally I don’t exactly remember the piece!  (This is a rather disorienting feeling, since I remember selling it to them, and I can easily recognize my style, as familiar as looking at the shape of my own fingers.)

Serena Kovalosky, in her blog “365 Days Of Everything I Love About Being An Artist,” addressed the idea of interpreting art by saying:  “I’m not particularly attached to my translation of a piece and I find it fascinating to learn how my work affects others.  I’ll offer my version, discuss my influences as I was creating it, and I’ll gladly share the technicals.  But what people will remember most is how my work made them feel.”

I go a little further than Serena.  Not only do I enjoy hearing what other people bring to my work, I have found that sharing my version seems to quash their creative response.  Once they hear my “version,” they no longer feel theirs is valid.  I always hope that the engaged viewer actually has a creative experience when reacting to art, whether it’s visual, music or literary.

The great literary critic William Gass explores the notion of the “self” in art in his new book, Life Sentences.  As discussed by reviewer Adam Kirsch in the New York Times, Gass says:  “‘What works of art testify to is the presence in this world of consciousness, consciousness of many extraordinary kinds,’ he writes…  But this is ‘not that of the artists themselves, for theirs are often much the same as any other person’s…  It is not the writer’s awareness I am speaking of but the awareness he or she makes.  For that is what fine writing does:  it creates a unique verbal consciousness.'”

This is a fascinating idea:  that art creates a unique consciousness in the viewer’s experience of it.  This goes beyond what I tell my students, that the art should always “speak for itself.”  What do you think:  do you prefer to know the artist’s story behind his/her work, or would you rather experience it without explanation?

“Knittivists” Repairing The World

There is a wonderful project called “Tikkun Tree”, which is organizing fiber artists to contribute knitted, crocheted, embroidered and sewn leaves and doves to a fiber olive tree.  The tree will be a symbol of peace and cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians.  It is inspired by  “the courageous and remarkable efforts of Jewish and Palestinian citizens and activists in Israel and Diaspora who have been working toward peaceful coexistence” and also by “the many recent knittivist community needlework projects, including the pink tank, knitnotwar 1,0o0 Project , Knit a River, and the Red Sweater Project“.

I can embroider and sew, I think it will be fun to foliate!  If you want to participate, send your leaves to:

The TikkunTree Project
P.O. Box 2088
Philadelphia, PA 19103

I love to paint olive trees.  Here are some works which include olive trees from my portfolio:

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Art As Play: Mimicking The Act Of Creation

Midnight Garden, 2007, by Judith Joseph

Leah Hagar Cohen, writing about Ursula Hegi’s new book in the NY Times Book Review, beautifully describes the creative process of novelists.  As a visual artist, this description speaks to me, as well:

All novelists are godlike. Sovereign creators of worlds they populate with beings wrought from something less than dust and rib, they set events in motion and determine their consequences. The situation is less ideal than it sounds: omnipotence can be a dreary limitation. That’s why the best novelists are also childlike. Bent over impalpable dollhouses, moving their lips while they rearrange the furniture and figures, they give themselves over to such deep play that their stories read less like a premeditated imposition than obedience to the whispered suggestions of the universe.

Ursula Hegi belongs to this second category, and she attends not to a single dollhouse but to an entire imagined village…  One senses in Hegi a willingness to lose herself in play, in the service of play.

The idea of “a willingness to lose [one]self in play, in the service of play” is a useful one for creative people.  We need to get serious about un-seriousness.  There is a dreamy quality to play that Cohen describes so beautifully, it is worth remembering, or indeed, inscribing on the studio walls.  Acting in “obedience to the whispered suggestions of the universe” will remind us that, in our creative acts, we are mirroring the act of Creation.  If we view this not as egomaniacal hyperbole, but rather the humbling knowledge that each of us, in his or her own way, participates in the creation of the world in every moment, it helps us get out of our own way and dance to the tune of the creative song that is within each of us.


Miles of Letters; Years of Love

Rabbi Frederick Wenger (l.) and Rochelle Wenger, holding their ketubah from 1973, at the wedding of their daughter, Miriam, to Daniel Landis, in 2010. (Photo by Amy Little Photography)

In the photo above, my artistic life is graphically bookmarked.  On the left is Rabbi Fred Wenger with his lovely bride, Rochelle.  At the age of 17, I made the ketubah for their wedding (which they are holding).  It was Fred’s idea:  he’s the kind of guy who recognizes a spark of potential in a person and nags them until they blossom.

It came about because I was an arty kid, and I mentioned to Fred that I had discovered a Jewish folk art I hadn’t seen before:  the decorative ketubah.  Fred’s response was, “You know, I’m getting married this summer.  Why don’t you make my ketubah?”  To which I answered in typical teenage fashion, “I don’t know how.  It’s too hard.  I wouldn’t know where to begin.”  Fred coached me.  He knew that I had enough Hebrew and artistic background to pull it off, and to say he lit a fire in me is an under-statement.
The last time I saw Fred and Rochelle in person was sometime in the 80’s, when they were still living in the Chicago area.  They later moved to Salt Lake City, Utah, where Fred was the rabbi at Cong. Kol Ami until he recently retired.  They raised their two children, Haim and Miriam, and when Miriam announced her engagement, they called me to say that they wanted to commission me to make her ketubah as their wedding gift to her.  I told them that they’d have to come up with something else to give Miriam and her fiance, Daniel, because this one’s on me.
The amazing thing is:  Miriam and Daniel have my first second-generation ketubah, and their parents have the first one I ever made.  It was truly beshert (destined):  I had another couple in line to be the first second-generation couple, but they changed their mind.  The universe intended for this milestone to be in the hands of the Wenger-Landis family.
Perhaps it seems grandiose to say that the universe put it’s big hand into this little arrangement.  But, when I look at the photo: at the primitive, shaky, faded work done by a kid who didn’t know about archival materials, yet expressed the exuberance of discovery; contrasted with a ketubah that reflects my life’s work (so far) of making ketubot, it moves me.  What also moves me is seeing the faces of my dear friends, who were shy, coltish, crazy-in-love kids when I made their ketubah in 1973, and how well life has turned out for them.  They are beloved in their community, have years of good works that have helped many, and have raised two wonderful and successful adult children– now they have Daniel in the family, too!
We move through our lives, as my dad says when I ask him how he’s doing:  “Just plodding along.”  We seldom get the opportunity to take stock of where we came from, and where we’ve arrived.  This photo does that for me.  I feel very blessed to have met Fred and Rochelle, and for the tremendous impact Fred made in my life by simply saying, “Why don’t you make my ketubah?”  It reminds me that we all can have this impact, if we pay attention, and put our energies towards positive things, for ourselves and in encouraging others.  Being a free-lance artist isn’t an easy life; it is constantly challenging and frustrating at times, but this is more than offset by the joy I experience in making ketubot as a collaborative art form.
If you’d like to see Miriam and Daniel’s ketubah close-up, and some more, too, click here.