There is old school Jewish art; we all know what that looks like – an old man bent over fixing a shoe, or a dark shtetle landscape.
Then there is the new Jewish art; a wave of mostly young artists who grew up in the new world only understanding the shtetle from stories, and want to interact with Jewish art on their terms.
One such artist is Dan Weinstein.
A NJ native and son of an artist, Dan attended a Yeshiva where they neither encouraged nor discouraged his use of art. Growing up, art was a personal experience, without a relationship to the Jewish values surrounding him.
It was only after a trip to Israel to visit his brother, a fervent Breslov chossid, that Dan was exposed to how art can convey the joy and beauty of Judaism.
“Judaism can always be seen in two ways” Dan explains recounting a story of a man approaching two Jews, “What’s up with this Shabbat thing?” the man asks.
The first man answers and begins to share a list of all the ‘DO NOTS’ he can think of.
The second man quickly pipes up and says “You have it all wrong, Shabbat is the best day of the week, we get to unplug, to relax and spend time with our loved ones and focus on meaning…”
Dan says “there are two perspectives to look at Judaism and I choose to focus on the joy, the energy- the positive energy”.
And he sure does. Dan’s work (digital media) is filled with Rabbis with surfboards, dancing/flying Chassids, and more color than you are likely to have seen in the average Jewish home.
Dan’s work depicts traditionally fervent Rabbis in sunglasses sporting anything from a fender to a surfboard to drums- all high on life, often floating through the air with a Torah.
Far from seeing Judaism/ Torah as limiting as a subject matter it has actually guided Dan to focus on his message. Before his big trip to Israel he was adrift without a focus for his art. Now Dan sees his work as an opportunity to share his joy of Judaism with those who don’t feel that way or who were never exposed to the other side of the stereotype.
He is not trying to be sensational in his work, but some people within the orthodox community are simply oblivious to the message and impact he hopes to share with his art. Dan is trying to enrich the dialogue and generally he is successful, even in his hometown of Monsey, NY, a mostly fervent orthodox community.
“Step one is for them to appreciate it, and for the most part they do” says Dan. The next step is for people to buy the art, which was more common when the economy was good.
Judaism is rich with meaning and spirituality. Good Jewish art has the power to do so much more than just be visually appealing, it has the capacity to engage the viewer and convey a deep spiritual message. And that is exactly what Dan attempts to do.
To quote Dan in the caption of the accompanying image ‘Waiting for the Sun’
They sleep, We play. They slumber, We pray. Wake up the dawn! Furry is the night. Glory is the morn. Instead of snoring can you hum me a bar? 3..2..1 …. nicotine…..caffeine……….MODEH ANI.
What is Jewish art according to Dan?
“Art with Spirituality, Art with Soul, a Higher Purpose, and a Myriad of Meanings.”
“Jewish Art, like Judaism, is about new beginnings, endless possibilities and True Joy- all within reach when you feel connected to G-d.”
“My Jewish art is about “stripping away” layers of the mundane and getting to the truth, which exists in a different reality. I strive to use Judaism as a vehicle to find an altered and more beautiful state of reality and translate that onto canvas.”
“What is Jewish Art? A canvas that has the power to open doors for people.”