Via our Members-Only email listserv, a member asked for fellow members to share their thoughts on what it means to be a Judaic artist....over the last few weeks, the guild has been highlighting different members’ responses as blog posts. Please enjoy and join the conversation by commenting below, or if you are a member, sending your own thoughts to
What Being a Judaic Artist Means to Me – Part 3
By AGJA member, Arel Mishory (Denver, CO)
Opening Reception for the Windows to the Divine 2011 Exhibition and Sale Arel in her studio
In contemplating what might make my Judaic art "feel different" from the secular themed art that I create is that I think that I have a different thought process when I do my Judaic work-it isn't focused so much on what will "sell"-but what will satisfy me-my neshoma-which my secular work does also-so sometimes it is all intertwined. I do a different kind of research also for my Judaic work-and I hope that that work has a deeper layer of meaning (although-a clock that looks like a rubber ducky certainly has a very shallow level of "meaning"-it is just to bring a smile). One of the pieces featured in the photo of me at the Window's exhibition was made especially for entry to this show, so it was quite exciting that it was accepted. It was actually purchased by the main patron (non-Jewish) of the show to be hung in their dining room. They prefer to have Jewish spiritual art in the dining room. This show is a fund raiser for the Fra Angelico wing of the Dominican Friars. The show is an uplifting salute to artists, whom it is believed have a special connection to the Divine. Artists of all religious faiths are invited to submit work. This year, I was invited as a "Master Artist", which uplifted MY spirits and encouraged me to stretch a bit in making the Tree of Life, which is a mixed media collage. The trunk and branches of the Tree were cut from the text of Parshat Breishit (with the name of G-d removed). The other piece is a meditation piece (from my point of view) and also a mixed media piece-with the main medium being recycled roofing metal and found metal objects. Immersing myself in the study of the Hebrew letter Hey informed everything about the work. Because the subject matter was about the creation of the world, I often worked on the piece in a meditative state-which manifested itself in the finished piece.
How has creating “Judaic art” affected you personally as an artist? I made the conscious decision to focus mainly on Judaic work after recovering from my (first) brain surgery in 1998. I had been a selling artist since I was 12 and had a business with 14 employees from 1978- 1991 selling mostly secular work-with some Judaica-but after that surgery, I was moved to focus mainly on Judaica. Not completely, as I still want to sell my work, but heavily. For me-I am successful as long as I am selling my work-not just creating it. After the surgery, I also began working alone in my studio which is more conducive to creating one-of-a-kind pieces.
Is “message” an important part of your Judaic work and why? Perhaps the message that I aim to convey is the mystery, beauty, wonder, awesomeness, joy and satisfaction that I derive from being a Torah observant Jew. It is fascinating that my art (as I do unconventional mixed media-and work with recycled metal ) is often an entrée to someone who has misconceived notions of what an orthodox Jew can do or be, so it is a mind opening tool to reach people. I am perceived as an "expert in Judaism", which keeps me on my toes, and also I have had to realize what the comfort level my Jewish audience has with Hebrew, and general ideas in Judaism. So I find that I can use my art as a teaching mechanism when I have the opportunity to directly connect with the audience which is a lot harder these days because of the cost of travel. I used to do a lot more out of state shows-but these days I stick close to home. The audience is smaller, so I now have the kind of relationship with people that come from repeat exposure. People become collectors and want the message to be consistent.