In a college course on Western Philosophy and Culture, the instructor, a man of forty plus years proceeded to tell the class, when it was time to study Judaism, that the Hebrew peoples of history “offered no great works of art or literature,” except, of course, the Old Testament. He then went on to explain this was because the prohibition against “graven images” (art can be considered a type of graven image). At the time I was too shy and too naive of my own culture to respond , but I knew how stupid a thing to say that was. In his mind, were all Jews wrapped in their teffilin and wailing in synagogue? I said as much in my final paper, pointing out his fallacious assumptions, unable to hold back my anger, and even though I was in danger of failing the class, he gave me a B. I like to think it’s because of what I wrote. But it has always bothered me that I was unable to think of any great Jewish artist(s) or art at the time, so I could have called him out on his foolishness.
Today, I came across more ammunition for this ancient argument. This morning as I was reading Pakn Treger, a Yiddish culture magazine my father subscribes to, I saw this micrograph:
It’s hard to see here in this reduced-size image, but this is a penned image of Karl Marx assembled from the text of the Yiddish translation of the Communist Manifesto. Tiny Yiddish words in alternating light and dark strokes creates the likeness of Marx. It reminded me a bit of ASCII art.
The article goes on to say, “This exquisite form of calligraphy is centuries old. From the Middle Ages onward, Jewish scribes turned Hebrew texts into virtuoso religious artworks, decorating amulets and wedding certificates with elaborate scenes and portraits.”
Here’s the article, if you’re curious. And another web source on the art of the micrograph (with another image.)
I’m not sure I’d want the likeness of Marx hanging on my wall (I much prefer nature scenes!), but I think this type of art is wonderful!
I wish I could remember that professor’s name so I could email this to him. 😉