Judaism and the arts have always spoken to each other in halting conversations. The Ten Commandments forbids us graven images. We don’t have a strong history of visual arts. In fact, we might think that art is discouraged, and perhaps the artist is to be marginalised. But is it all visual art that is forbidden, or is it the creation of an idol?
We definitely have a rich history of singing, dancing and creative storytelling –all the other major art forms. In fact, some of our most artful quips lie in the legacy of Yiddish curses (‘May our enemies go to hell and only pack sweaters’).
Even with our hesitancy around visual arts, the Torah this week, in parshat Ki Tisa, discusses the heart of an artist. We meet the first Jewish artist, Bezalel Ben-Uri, and we immediately notice his name: ‘Bezalel’ means ‘In the shadow of God’, and ‘Ben-Uri’ means ‘Child of My Light’. The artist is to feel most comfortable in the greys, in the shadows, never seeing the world as black and white. At the same time, the artist is to see something new, a light, an inspiration. That is what embeds into the art that is produced, the windows offered for new perspectives.
It continues to say that God inspires the heart of the artist; God is the Divine Muse. Since God is infused into creation itself, it is the universe that becomes the inspiration. It is the view of eternity that opens the artist.
Judaism does not dismiss the artist, on the contrary, we are shown the potential power to inspire and to influence. We are cautioned not to worship such power or to ignore its influence. The artists in history have often sacrificed more than we can imagine by being so powerfully inspired.
In fact, these layers that lie between the artist and God are so complex, we often can’t imagine their implications. If God answers all prayers, Beethoven is not deaf and the music he gives would not change the world.
May we always be inspired by these souls.
I’d like to wish everyone a sweet and peaceful Shabbat –our Jewish. time to regroup, rest, and reinvigorate.