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Jewish Art

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How does "Jewishness" fit into Jewish art?

For many Jews, their only way to make an impact on society was through the arts. They were not allowed in many instances to be a part of the governments or universities in the cities where they lived, so they turned to the press, the theater, music, sculpture, and painting to express themselves. It varied from artist to artist as to weather they expressed their Jewishness in their medium, however. Some would put openly Jewish themes in their work, while other would not, yet often be accused of doing so.

Before the war painters in Germany were fighting giants the government and a leader, Wilhelm II, who, although he embraced technology and modern science, felt there was no place for modern art in his country. However, those who loved mo

Max Liebermann, although he would refer to himself as a German painter, was often not put in the writings of art history, or was made to be a "villain" within the pages. He was referred to as making oriental, French, and Dutch style paintings. This was done to take away from any German qualities that his painting had. "A true German, after all, can only have made German art." By making Liebermann a cosmopolitan Jewish painter, critics could deny him a place in the history books that contained German artists. Henry Thode, a German nationalist said of him, "Liebermann could just as well work in Holland or in France and be just as much at home; nothing explicitly German is present in him."

In Frankfurt even after World War I, many non-Jewish people frequented the arts of talented Jews giving little regard to their ethnic or religious circumstances. In some circumstances, their paintings and theater productions had little to do with Jewish life or combined the worlds of German and Jew. Moritz Oppenheim, for example painted the scenes of Jewish family life, but also a portrait of Austrian emperor Joseph II. Even if theatrical productions did have clear Jewish messages, such as "The Dybuk," which was about demonic possession and preformed in Hebrew, it did not seem to matter to the public at large.

In both the art and musical arenas, the term Oriental was used interchangeable with Jewish.

Before the war, Arnold Schoenberg, a famous composer, had become a Protestant, but because of numerous events, he would go back to his Jewish roots. The Dreyfus trials, which convicted a man of treason because he was a Jew among non-Jews in the hierarchy France, the census count of Jewish soldiers in 1916 Germany, the JudenzÐ'hlung, and his eviction from Mattsee in 1922, all made Schoenberg see the true nature of things and he returned to his faith and eventually embrace his ethnicity. As he stated in 1923,

'For I have at last learnt the lesson that has been forced upon me during this year, and I shall not forget it. It is that I am not a German, not a European, indeed perhaps scarcely even a human being (at least, the Europeans prefer the worst of their race to me), but I am a Jew.'

Schoenberg was one artist who modifed his art and thoughts after the war. There were also several others like him, but it is by no means the common condition.

After the war there was a need for a scapegoat and it found its victim in the Jewish population in many respects. Several Jewish artist would openly embrace their heritage for this very reason, claming that no matter what accomplishments they achieved, they were on their own.

Although Jews only represented one percents of the overall German population, their influence on the culture was vast. In the first two decades of the twentieth century alone they were part of the theater as producers, directors, and actors. Jews were among the best and brightest that Germany had to offer in the fields of architecture, painting, writing and performing music, and sculpting. Yet, with all their successes there was still a sense of isolation for many because not only did their "art" set them apart, but also their heritage. Grenzjuden, the marginal Jew, found them selves lost at the turn of the century. They had left behind their Jewishness and tried to full assimilate, yet were not fully accepted by non-Jews. In their art they did not express any hint of their heritage, but their public often held their ethnicity in their minds

In Ludwig Jacobowski's, Werther the Jew, he portrays his main character as a Jewish man who turns away from his heritage and tries to become totally assimilated into the German culture. He finds fault with the characteristics that make him Jewish.

Those looking for Jewish undertones in art that is in some way presented by a Jew, be it through painting, theater, writing or promotions behind the scenes, will see what they are searching for whether it is there or not.

"Karl Kraus--a Jew himself--criticized Jewish journalists for debasing the German language."

In many of the readings that talk strictly about the German artist and or writer, you would not know they were Jewish had you not looked it up someplace else. The question then becomes: Why is this fact left out? There are three possible answers to this inquiry. One, the author feels that this is a secondary and unimportant part of the person's work. Two they feel that it might take away from their work in the eyes of some readers. Finally, that the person in question may not have expressed an interest in their Jewish heritage and thus the author does not want to betray the artist's true intentions.

In the years before the war both the old establishment and the government itself fought against modernist arts. Wilhelm II was hostile to any type of new artistic movement.

Although their representation in new movements within the art world bolstered many Jews, it also gave fodder to anti-Semites.

Even those who were not Jewish yet modernists were thought of as Jewish just because modernism was thought of as a Jewish instinct. In reality, "most Jews were not modernists and... many modernists were not Jews." According to Peter Gay, 'It is sheer anti-Semitic tendentiousness... to canvass the great phenomenon of Modernism from the vantage point of the Jewish question.'

Because Jews had left their villages for urban areas a generation before other Germans, they were in a position to take advantage, in the late 1800's, of the industrial revolution that would sweep across Europe.

Those Jews who were involved in the modernist movement at the turn of the century were not quite completely assimilated, yet they were no longer a part of the traditional Jewish religion. They were immersed in German culture. They were a "transitional



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