American Jewish Artists
- LAST REVIEWED: 19 May 2017
- LAST MODIFIED: 29 August 2012
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199840731-0081
- LAST REVIEWED: 19 May 2017
- LAST MODIFIED: 29 August 2012
- DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199840731-0081
American Jewish art, like Jewish art more generally, is variously understood. For some scholars, American Jewish art need only be art made by a Jewish American, independent of content, while others feel that both the artist’s and the artwork’s identity must be Jewish. Working in diverse styles and adopting both figuration and abstraction across varied media, some artists address Jewishness and the more specific American Jewish experience, while others make art indistinguishable in subject from that of their Gentile counterparts. This bibliography offers books and essays that explore the artists’ Jewish identity and relevant preoccupations in their art. In other words, it provides a gateway to literature that understands American Jewish art by theme, not just sociologically. To see it otherwise, considering the prominence of some of the artists—several of the most renowned 20th-century American artists were Jewish—would yield thousands of citations. Because the field of American Jewish art is still in its infancy, this bibliography delineates more than just a selection of scholarship reflecting the top of the field. Four important notes: other entries in the Oxford Bibliographies series include a section on anthologies, but to 2012 no anthology solely focusing on American Jewish art and artists exists, although in broader anthologies on Jewish art, American contributions are sometimes featured. In addition, some of the most valuable material in the field can be found in museum catalogues, chiefly from the Jewish Museum in New York. Importantly, a number of European artists working on Jewish themes spent some time in the United States, especially as exiles during World War II (e.g., Marc Chagall, Jacques Lipchitz). Because they are not “American artists,” scholarship on this period of their careers does not appear in this bibliography. Finally, a number of readings in the bibliography could be placed in more than one section (e.g., some works on Jewish Identity could be in the Holocaust section), but because of space limitations the entries are described in only one section.
As noted in the Introduction to this article, the scholarly study of American Jewish art has only recently gained momentum and still remains spotty. Kleeblatt and Chevlowe 1991, a pioneering museum catalogue focusing mainly on 20th-century art, spurred the field and is essential reading. Prior to this contribution, Gutmann 1963 describes earlier Jewish artists (see 19th-Century Art), unearthing figures that were previously little known or even lost to history. In broad surveys of Jewish art, American accomplishments are usually folded into larger discussions of modern Jewish art, with the exception of Baskind. Baigell 2007 is a selective overview. Kampf 1990, though brief, valuably lays out some key images and issues. The visuals in Soltes 2003 are strong. For good biographical details and also primary material, the early publications Lozowick 1947, Grossman 1967, and Werner 1973 highlight interviews with and commentary by artists. Baskind 2007 allows access to the major themes of each artist, as well as discussion of some works with Jewish content.
Baigell, Matthew. Jewish Art in America: An Introduction. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2007.
Loosely chronological and sometimes thematic (e.g., spirituality, feminism, the Holocaust), this book provides a brief and selective discussion of American Jewish art, primarily from the 20th century. Particularly strong through the Holocaust. Poor reproductions.
Baskind, Samantha. Encyclopedia of American Jewish Artists. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 2007.
A single-author encyclopedia, this volume opens with an extended history of American Jewish art and collects material for future scholars. Profiles of eighty-five artists include special attention to women artists and photographers. Each entry strives to reveal ignored Jewish dimensions of the artists. Valuable bibliographies for each artist follow the entries.
Baskind, Samantha. “Art, America and Acculturation.” In Jewish Art: A Modern History. Edited by Samantha Baskind and Larry Silver, 115–161. London: Reaktion, 2011.
This book surveys Jewish art-making in Europe, America, and Israel over the past two centuries. The lengthy chapter on American artists focuses especially on three consistent themes: a desire first to chronicle and then later to look back nostalgically at the growth of a newly emerged Jewish existence in America, the negotiation of living in two worlds, and a propensity to address topical social and political issues. Many illustrations.
Grossman, Emery. Art and Tradition. New York: Thomas Yoseloff, 1967.
Seventeen artists are profiled in individual chapters; Grossman interviewed several of them. A general understanding of the artists and some very helpful primary material can be found here.
Kampf, Avram. Chagall to Kitaj: Jewish Experience in 20th Century Art. Westport, CT: Praeger, 1990.
One of the first wide-ranging overviews on modern Jewish art. Kampf organizes his discussion thematically, including a subsection on American artists titled “Developments in New York.” Published in conjunction with a London exhibition, the volume is a revised version of an earlier book from 1984. When appropriate, American artists appear in other chapters as well (e.g., on the Holocaust). Highly illustrated with numerous color plates.
Kleeblatt, Norman L., and Susan Chevlowe, eds. Painting a Place in America: Jewish Artists in New York, 1900–1945. New York: Jewish Museum, 1991.
This groundbreaking catalogue offers the roots of the field. Matthew Baigell’s essay, especially, provides a lengthy, valuable overview of the Jewish historical situation in the art world and in American culture. He describes a number of Jewish artists in New York during the first half of the 20th century, tracing the effects of their Jewish heritage and immigrant experience on artistic production. Crucial reading.
Lozowick, Louis. One Hundred Contemporary American Jewish Painters and Sculptors. New York: YKUF Art Section, 1947.
Printed in Yiddish and English, this early catalog is also now a primary document. Published by the Yiddisher Kultur Farband (YKUF), organized by the Communist Party to demonstrate Jewish cultural contributions, it includes brief biographies and artists’ statements from many figures who would soon become synonymous with American art regardless of their Jewishness.
Soltes, Ori Z. Fixing the World: American Jewish Painters in the Twentieth Century. Hanover, NH: Brandeis University Press, 2003.
Mostly a picture book with excellent illustrations, this basic outline of American Jewish artists in the past century focuses somewhat on their social conscience. See also Politics and Social Action.
Werner, Alfred. “Ghetto Graduates.” American Art Journal 5.2 (1973): 71–82.
This early article delves into some major themes and also offers some of the artists’ own thoughts. Describes the large number of immigrant and first-generation Jews who became professional artists. Details difficulties encountered in their quest for artistic educations, and also asserts that immigrants, Jewish and non-Jewish, were less inhibited by American tradition and more likely to absorb European influences than were native artists.
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