I’m fascinated by what you write because I can relate to it.
Viewing abstract work used to alienate me, but slowly you have changed my
response. When I paint I often feel overwhelmed by all the decisions that need
to be made. It often leads me to “run away” because the task feels
too difficult. I’ve been wanting to free myself from this and turning to
abstraction certainly helped me gain momentary courage. For each painting (not
abstract) I choose to do, I burn inside with an incredible intensity to give
expression to a visual equivalent of my inner experience. I also burn with a
desire to communicate in a visual language that feels more accessible to me and
my viewer. These two needs mostly end up chocking me and my productivity is
very low and very slow.
Why I’m writing, is because I wanted to ask a question, if I
may. What do you think about while you are working on a specific piece? (I
don’t really know how to phrase that question).
response: I have much to offer on the subject of Abstract art-making and I am happy to offer to you what you would wish to receive.
I think that first you have to decide if it is
really a path you wish to explore. I think that you have trepidation and that
you sense uncertainty and fear that it could take you to places that you
preferred not to visit, so to speak. One the one hand you feel very closed-in
by the path of realism, that it is preventing you from connecting with the
needs of your soul to find satisfaction in art-making. On the other hand….You
are not sure of what you are frightened of, yet you sense that there is truly something
If I can help you it is from my own
When I began as an adult to pursue a
“career” of art, I knew that I needed to acquire a strong foundation
in the basics: drawing from life, afterwards, painting from life, in the
Classical tradition; studying the Master’s works, trying to learn the rules,
etc. This was several years of labor.
The peak of my learning was when I spent a
year in NYC at the New York Studio School. There I became immersed more in the
atmosphere of Modern Art, and began to move from seeing myself as a little
student to trying to artworks to a mature artist who “speaks what he has
to say”. Thus, although I was still painting from life, my colors
began more expressive of my emotions and I also gave myself license to let the
forms mingle with one another, not being tied so literally to what I saw, but
to make associations between objects in order that a picture become something
more of a determined composition and not simple a copying of what I see.
This is an example of a drawing, before I went to New York.:
Here is an example, also before I went to NY, a self-portrait.
This is in line with the tradition I had been taught, which was to abstract and
simplify what is seen into “blocks” of color, representing the major planes of
the form. This is already a “Modern” idea:
Also before I went to New York, the same time as the pastel
above, a still life:
Here in New York, still painting from life, yet becoming
more abstract (these images are not examples of my best works from the time,
rather these are all that I have today, very few):
Here is a landscape, after New York. Expressive colors,
“loose form”, concerned more with the abstract composition, feeling of space,
light, “spirit” and not so much with any literal representation:
But here is where things became really more difficult; where
I made the decision to enter into my own personal inner world altogether and to
leave the external references to the outside world for others. I think this
might be similar to the bridge at which you are now standing. Because I knew
that if I wanted to paint the real truth of what was going on inside of me,
this would involve a socio-psychological crisis in my life which I wasn’t sure
that I wanted to tackle, or that I had the means to successfully tackle. On the
one hand my art was stuck. I could continue to paint pictures that are pleasing
to most people, but I myself feeling completely unfulfilled inside, knowing
that I had much deeper feelings that I wanted to express, much deeper
realities, realms of truth that I wanted to reach. The whole reason I had entered
art in the beginning was to search out the truth, and here I was, standing at
the bridge that I knew led to where the truth lay, and I was afraid to cross,
because I knew also that it would cut me off from the world and make it very
hard for me.
In short, I decided to “go inward” towards the goal and
began painting completely abstractly. And I was correct about both sides of the
coin: I did find the truth I was searching for and I did cut myself off from
the world and bring my life into crisis.
It was a very difficult process and I will not even try to
explain the kinds of depths that my life entered, but you can imagine something
of it I am sure, as every artist goes through these kinds of things, at least
to some degree, and I know that you have much familiarity with these kinds of
But from those years of true turmoil I eventually came to
Emunah and eventually Hashem brought me to Eretz Yisrael and eventually to
Yeshiva, etc. etc. In short, only this “jump of faith” allowed me to become
free of the prison of the secular world in which I had been raised, and to
eventually become a “free man.”
Here are some examples of works before I came to Eretz
Okay. I’m not here to give a whole history. In short, when I
took on the Yoke of Torah and Mitzvoth I stopped painting. I had been one who
paints and draws all the time, 10-15 hours a day. My whole life was art-making.
Now my life had to become Torah. There was no place for the two together.
After 20 years of not even taking a pencil to draw,
Haschgachah brought me back to painting, to paint what I love: Torah, the holy
letters. Again I cannot go into the whole subject. I have written much about it
and there is much more to write and if you are interested I can show you my
writings. In short, I also stopped painting because there was nowhere to go
further with it. Painting in itself is ultimately empty, paganism.
Self-expression is not enough of a goal. Life is not about self-expression.
Painting helped me a great deal to understand myself, my inner processes;but
without Torah one hasn’t the faintest idea of how to live correctly. Art
without Torah is dangerous. Exploring one’s inner world without a firm
connection to Torah is like going into the middle of a great ocean without a
boat. Painting is an extremely powerful tool. Without Torah one will certainly
go wrong with it.
But with a strong foundation in Torah, slowly I began to see
that now I could paint and not lose my way. It is a big subject…
The main thing is that one hold his mind onto holy subjects
when he paints. I bring myself to think in Torah when I paint and my whole
purpose is to attach myself to Kedushah and that the paintings should be works
of Kedushah and that any and everyone who looks and ponders them can only be
led by them to Kedushah. That it be impossible to find another path in them,
As this new path developed (I have returned to painting now
about 12 years) so now specifically my mind is involved with Names of Hashem,
in various permutations. It is a very holy practice to picture, to “draw” the
Four-letter Name of Hashem in one’s mind and have it before him always (see
Shulchan Aruch , Orach Chaim, Siman 1, Seif 1, in the Biur Halacha.)
I am involved in this process. When I paint, when I pray,
and also other times. In painting, my mind is focused on holy Names and I
“clothe” the ideas in abstract from and colors. I had already learned much and
developed my own personal abstract language for expressing my thoughts and
emotions in painting before I came to Torah, and now I found this language
suitable and very fit for expressing Torah thoughts. All abstract paintings
clothe the artist’s thoughts and feelings. So now I seek to produce holy works,
where the inner content is pure and the outer form protects and reveals what is
inside. Abstraction allows one the freedom to express any and everything, the
greatest depths, and if one chains himself to the Torah he is safe and free to
travel the depths of his being.
My painting helps my prayer and my prayer helps my painting,
for it is one process– of teaching the mind to focus. To focus on the holy,
the Names of Hashem. Again this is a huge subject and needs much understanding,
but that is basically, in tremendous brevity, what I am involved in, Baruch
So after all this I can say to you that you needn’t go
through a socio-psychological crisis if you decide to “go inward” and free
yourself from tying yourself to the external world in your artwork. You need to
find the way to enter your inner world while holding onto Hashem, and let Him
take you where you need to go.
I hope this was of help and feel free to ask me more, if I
can offer you more.