The Aesthetics of Meaning:
Jewish Arts & Culture

Jews Behind a Century of Photos
(response to article on an exhibition)
by David Chack

An overwhelming number of Jews have been integral to the development of 20th century photography as an urban art form, as writer Richard B. Woodward concedes in his review of Max Kozloff's exhibit "New York: Capital of Photography". Kozloff's companion article "Jewish Sensibility and the Photography of New York" in the exhibition's book, raises this as an important issue. But Woodward responds to Kozloff's points as though a mere sociological experience of Jews in America is the only way these artists can be viewed. For him, the very idea of a Jewish artistic sensibility is problematic.

The phenomenon and evidence of a uniquely Jewish artistic viewpoint abounds in modern art (Woodward muses, "Why in the canon of 20th-century painting and sculpture. Have Jewish artists been the exception, while in photography they've been anything but?" Yet, Pisarro, Soutine, Pollock, Modigliani, Chagall, Frankenthaler, and Rothko are hardly exceptions.), literature, film and screenwriting, modern dance, the American musical, playwrighting, popular entertainment, and comedy--as well as in photography.

Clearly, the artistic involvement of Jews with America is expressed aesthetically. So, why not in photography? The important question is not whether, but how, and why, the Jewish aesthetic is expressed in fleeting images caught in silver on paper. The aesthetics of African-American art forms, Christian-inspired art, and ethnic art are continually explored and taken for granted in the pages of the Times. The next article should be about the aesthetics of one of the most prolific groups in American cultural experience and why this concept is still in question.

Copyright 2004 by David Chack. All rights reserved.

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