the responsibility of the artist in society

the responsibility of the artist in society is like an educator, a thinker, a rabbi, a father, a preacher, a prophet at the gate. it is his duty to preserve the things that have taken place. the artist must raise ideas, point out the direction, and continually flow like a stream within society.
i encountered this (slightly paraphrased) quote by the israeli sculpter, yitzkhak danziger, last week at the tel aviv art museum. it originally appeared in hebrew, in the july 22, 1977 edition of haaretz, explaining some of the philosophy behind a new wave of israeli artists trained at the betzalel academy, whose art was becoming increasingly political.

this quote continued to float through my head today as we went on a day-long field trip, meeting with israeli artists (jewish and arab) in tel aviv and the galilee, who all address issues of coexistence in different ways within their body of work.

  • we visited orna lutski at her studio in tel aviv, and saw slides of her many outdoor sculptures, other more controversial exhibits, and her recent project consisting of photos depicting the flags of mediterranean countries using fabric and women's hands. (e.g., see the israeli flag photo below):

  • we visited the umm el-fahim art gallery in the arab city of umm el-fahim. the gallery was established in 1996, and works to bring art to the residents of the city, and also build connections between jewish and arab artists, thereby also bridging the gap between umm el-fahim and neighboring jewish cities and kibbutzim. their current project is a fascinating photography exhibit, attempting to document the social history of the many arab towns in the region, some of which were destroyed and/or abandoned in 1948.

  • we visited ahmad canaan in the town of tamra, who showed us his sculptures and paintings, many of which express the feelings of diaspora, disempowerment and imprisonment that exist within the arab/palestinan psyche. the exhibit on display featured a recurrent image of a knight on horseback, reflecting, in-part, a looking-back towards the time of saladin, in the 12th century ce.

  • finally, we visited with luis yeshurun, an artist who combines painting and poetry on found pieces of wood. examples of his work can be found here, and here.
all of the pieces that we saw today were products of the artists' creative inspirational moments. some were more overtly political. others were more reflective.

i wonder whether subtle observations reflected in a piece of art can be ultimately just as effective, or even more effective, in changing the status quo than a piece with a more obvious message.

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