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Imagining Jewish Art: Encounters with the Masters in Chagall, Guston, and Kitaj (Legenda Studies in Comparative Literature) [Hardcover]

Aaron Rosen
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

1 Jun 2009 Legenda Studies in Comparative Literature (Book 16)
What does Jewish art look like? Where many scholars, critics, and curators have gone searching for the essence of Jewish art in Biblical illustrations and portraits of rabbis. Rosen sets out to discover Jewishness in unlikely places. How, he asks, have modern Jewish painters explored their Jewish identity using an artistic past which is - by and large - non-Jewish? In this new book, we encounter some of the great works of Western art history through Jewish eyes. We see Matthias Grunewald's Isenheim Altarpiece re-imagined by Marc Chagall (1887-1985), traces of Paolo Uccello and Piero della Francesca in Philip Guston (1913-1980), and images by Diego Velazquez and Paul Cezanne studiously reworked by R.B. Kitaj (1932-2007). This highly comparative study draws on theological, philosophical and literary sources from Franz Rosenzweig to Franz Kafka and Philip Roth. Rosen deepens our understanding not only of these three modern painters but also of how art might serve as a key resource for rethinking such fundamental Jewish concepts as family, tradition, and homeland.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 200 pages
  • Publisher: Maney Publishing (1 Jun 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1906540543
  • ISBN-13: 978-1906540548
  • Product Dimensions: 1.3 x 17.3 x 24.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,602,298 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Product Description

About the Author

Aaron Rosen earned his PhD from the University of Cambridge. He has been a visiting scholar at the University of California Berkeley and a post-doctoral fellow at Columbia University. He is currently the Albert and Rachel Lehmann Junior Research Fellow in Jewish History and Culture at the University of Oxford.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

`Jews!', exclaimed Harold Rosenberg in mock exasperation. `First they build a Jewish Museum, then they ask, Is there a Jewish art?'. Though numerous exhibitions of `Jewish art' have been held since Rosenberg's remarks in 1966 at the Jewish Museum in New York City, no consensus has emerged about just what we might consider Jewish art. Where many exhibitions, books, and previous studies have attempted to formulate definitions of Jewish art, in the present work I want to adopt a different perspective. The imprecision of the term `Jewish art', I submit, can be a fecund one; at its best, helping to generate discussions about the multiple ways in which Jewish identity might surface within -- and be influenced by -- visual art. Like Margaret Olin, I believe the most productive approach to Jewish art is one which deals in terms of `narrative positions' instead of ontological definitions. That is to say, works of art are not inherently Jewish based on artist, subject, or style, but might `speak "Jewish" ' at certain times, under certain conditions.


Coming from a theological background, I am particularly interested in how works of art might speak -- sometimes quite subtly -- in theological terms; both for artists themselves as well as viewers. In the introduction to Art and Illusion, the art historian Ernst Gombrich informs his reader that he has set out in that work `to stage a counterraid across the psychologist's frontier'. While I make no claim to bring back quite so precious an intellectual plunder as that captured by Gombrich, I hope that my foray into art history might prove a similarly worthwhile incursion across disciplinary lines. I begin by asking: how have Jewish artists responded to common artistic dilemmas and situations? Or, to take the specific topic of this book, how have modern Jewish painters responded to the Western artistic past, a tradition largely lacking in Jewish precedents? And, in what ways do these responses reflect artists' self-understandings as Jews? Out of these investigations, wider theological resonances begin to emerge. The three artists I examine in this work not only relate to the artistic past in ways which draw upon central Jewish concepts, in the process they also suggest ways in which we might imaginatively reshape these same concepts. Through the eyes of Marc Chagall (1887-1985), Philip Guston (1913-80), and R. B. Kitaj (1932-2007), I hope to show in this book, artists as diverse as Matthias Grünewald, Paolo Uccello, Piero della Francesca, Diego Velázquez, and Paul Cézanne, can become unexpected partners in thinking about contemporary Jewish identity.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant book on Jewish art 23 May 2011
Imagining Jewish Art is a masterpiece by one of the finest Jewish scholars of our time. Aaron Rosen writes with wit, flair and captures the reader's imagination from the word go. Indeed he has achieved that rare thing - making an academic book highly readable, exciting and profoundly rewarding. I suspect this won't be the last we'll read from the erudite and talented Rosen.
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Amazon.com: 4.5 out of 5 stars  2 reviews
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superbly written 9 Oct 2009
By EcoKing - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Dr. Rosen has accomplished quite the feat in exploring Jewish identity through the works of Chagall, Guston, and Kitaj. Not only does he approach the subject matter comprehensively through the lens of art history, he has also successfully drawn on contemporary and historical theoretical approaches in theology. Rosen's contribution is even more significant given that he is one of the last scholars to have interviewed Kitaj prior to his suicide in 2007, 8 days before his 75th birthday. Illuminating, extraordinarily well written, and succinct; Dr. Rosen is able to communicate his ideas in an easily accessible manner. For anyone interested in Jewish art history, theology, or the three artists thoroughly researched, this is a MUST PURCHASE. I highly recommend it!
4.0 out of 5 stars Jewish Art; Figuration and Abstraction 27 May 2013
By Joel - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Mr. Rosen has written a fascinating work based on a particular critical lense. The issue of "Jewish Art" has elicited much debate over the last 20 years, from such diverse quarters as historians, cultural critics and artists. Sometimes this debate implies questions from within the Jewish Community as in "What is Jewish Art?", and sometimes from the larger Non-Jewish Art World, where issues of Jewish identity may be misunderstood or minimized for reasons which have nothing to do with Jewish culture and/or the respective artists. The author has traced a line or trajectory which runs from Chagall, to Guston, to Kitaj. They are all great and important artists with much to say, some of it about being Jewish. In the case of Guston, little is direct or overt in his Jewish references except his cultural background and a particular sense of alienation. This seems to emanate from the ghettos of Eastern European persecution and knowledge of the Shoah, within the context of a particularly American-Jewish perspective. Other artists should have been included, such as Maurycy Gottlieb, Ben Shahn, The Soyer Brothers and the like, while the mid-century Abstract Expressionists, most notably Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman, Milton Resnick, Michael Goldberg and others are really ignored. This is odd because abstraction and particularly Abstract Expressionism has always been linked to the concept of the Jewish Abstract Sublime as articulated by Arthur Danto and others. Be that as it may, if the author is tracing a particular route for a figurative Jewish art it is one which takes its origins in figurative Modernism and Postmodernism. It is also a path that not afraid to draw from text, particularly Jewish and/ or Hebrew texts as opposed to the "pure" visuals as articulated by Clement Greenberg in his doctrine of Formalism. In other words it is very significant if R.B Kitaj evokes the Holocaust in his portrait of "The Jewish Rider" (1984-5) with its references to Rembrandt's Polish Rider, (1650's) and its little smokestack symbolizing Auschwitz, then Rosen is implying that Jewish Art or Painting has more in common with the canon of Great Western figurative painters than Abstractionists merely by his scholarly omission. It's an interesting idea, certainly postmodern in its historical overview and frankly to my personal liking, but I don't know if it's really fair. As a critical method to predict future Jewish art, he may have discussed something significant and in that he should be thanked.
Joel Silverstein
Senior Curator
Jewish Art Salon
Please visit The Jewish Art Salon online for more on contemporary Jewish Art:
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