Vulgarity, gross over-elaboration, impurity of line. 18th century crown for Torah scroll in silver and precious stones Vulgarity, gross over-elaboration, impurity of line. 18th century crown for Torah scroll in silver and precious stones   

The corruption of taste



JEWISH ART, like art in Russia after the communist take-over, scarcely exists in its own right and culturally its influence on mankind has been negligible – that is until Jewish ‘art’ during the present century became positively baneful.

In Russia, however, there is a traditional Russian art from pre-communist days – literature, music and the ballet which flourished under the Tsars and upon the significance of which the communist regime traded unblushingly.

The case of Jewish art is different since until modern times the Jews had no nation state and the scope of aspiring artists was limited by the social conditions imposed on the Jews in varying degrees of severity in different countries and over many centuries. They were in fact forbidden to indulge in important artistic activities. Obviously there must have been reasons for this and for the apparently harsh treatment of these people. It is not proposed to explore in depth these reasons or to analyse why nobody loves the Jews. Indeed, with the beady eye of the Board of Deputies of British Jews probing everywhere in efforts to neutralise the world’s growing hostility to the troublesome state of Israel with all its ramifications, it might be dangerous to assert the right of open criticism.

From the earliest times visual art was discouraged among conforming Jews by the Ten Commandments – Thou shall not make unto thee a graven image, nor any manner of likeness of anything that is in the heaven above or that is in the water under the earth. This oppressive injunction was given out in more detail in Deuteronomy IV, 17-18. Admittedly the prohibition was variously interpreted throughout later centuries, but at least in 66 A.D., after the expulsion of the Romans, the ban was emphatically observed by Jewish Government order. Throughout this early period of Jewish history many intolerant iconoclasts emerged and on occasion even the Romans were forced to comply with the wishes of God’s Chosen when it came to the display of human images and statues.

The rise of Islam

Later, not to be outdone on zeal, Jewish iconoclasm was actually reinforced by the rise in the sixth century of Islam with precisely the same prohibition. There was, however, this difference between the two races: the Arabs managed to produce a splendid civilisation and culture in a large area of the known world and which, during a flowering in Spain, even managed to accommodate the Jew. The achievements of this Moslem culture may still be witnessed in Grenada today. One is reminded of the lament of the Spanish poet, Lorca, when he observed, much to the annoyance of the Franco regime, that the fall of Grenada in 1492 was a disaster.

There was never a comparable or even noticeable flowering of Jewish art and literature, let alone a sound Jewish administrative structure that could give economic prosperity and political security to its mixed inhabitants over a period of centuries. Any such basic inspiration and the conception of peace and tranquillity does not seem throughout history ever to have existed in the turbulent Jewish mind. Today the failure of a propped-up Israel only confirms this. So it is seen that over the centuries the outcast Jew is left to specialise in usury and to act as a go-between in trade to Moslems and Christians.

Nevertheless, not all outlets for artistic expression were denied to Jews. Before the 10th century little remains even of minor interest to command the attention of the art historian – the crudely painted wall of a synagogue in Iraq, a glass bottle, a clay or bronze lamp, an amulet and some coins. During the Middle Ages and largely due to ghetto conditions, it was only the synagogue that unimpressively displayed a distinct racial origin. Sometimes the foundations were sunk extra deep into the ground to give internal height, since the height of the exterior of the synagogue was strictly regulated to remind the Jews they were not entitled to special privilege and were under necessary control.

But it was the ritual synagogue objects that could fulfil creative ambition. Often these objects were associated with Torah scrolls and they were heavily proportioned and grossly over-decorated, sharing that squat, almost menacing, quality apparent in some Jewish buildings. The cases, finials, crowns and torah breastplates were sumptuously elaborate and lacked any purity of line. Today one can find this typical Jewish taste for excess carried even further in the plush flats of Golders Green where shine and glitter proclaim the ultimate in vulgar emancipation.

Before the 18th century, artisans, craftsmen, architects and painters were in the lower echelons of society and inevitably Jewish craftsmen gained a monopoly of the jewellers’ trade as well as that of the goldsmith and metal worker. In the Yemen, for example, all metal and silverwork was in the hands of the Jews and it was much the same in North Africa. In the Middle Ages and during the Renaissance the minor arts of bookbinding and manuscript illumination were also captured by the Jews and elaborate Jewish book illumination reached a climax in Italy, greatly influenced as it was by Italian art.

The real poverty of typical Jewish art, in fields wider than the narrow inward-looking minor arts connected with the book, is most apparent in the great art of painting, with its many distinct national schools and where it is always possible for a genius to emerge – a Leonardo, a Velasquez or a Watteau – to proclaim his kinship, however remote, with the Creator. Before the end of the 18th century literally nothing worth mentioning in painting appeared from a Jewish hand – that is unless one includes the dubious case in England of Johann Zoffany or, in Italy, that of Anton Raphael Mengs, who was possibly of mixed birth and was a Christian. There were, however, in that century quite a number of third-rate Jewish artists who for commercial reasons felt capable of extending their work in the minor arts to that of portraiture, particularly in Germany following a general easing of the human likeness prohibition.

Period of emancipation

In the nineteenth century came the great period of emancipation when the Jews surged ahead in every field of profitable endeavour that formerly had been denied to them by countries of the civilised world anxious to survive oppression and exploitation. After 1850 and with the upsurge of liberalism there was a sudden growth of inferior Jewish artists who performed in an uninspired academic style. Many of them changed their Jewish names to more Gentile-sounding ones and in the interests of mammon rejected Judaism for Christianity. Their reputations, some of them considerable, especially in Germany, have not survived and their personalities and work have sunk with hardly a trace except as names bandied about by small-time dealers feeding mainly upon themselves.

Such artists were P. Viet, E. Bendemann, E. Magnus, J. Muhr and numerous lesser lights from Holland, Hungary and Poland. By then, Jews were accepted in society and there was little or nothing to impede their artistic careers, or indeed the careers of the brighter of God’s Chosen in financial elevation.

In England there was the Jewish artist, Solomon A. Hart R.A., the son of a silversmith who produced large canvasses crowded with posturing academic figures. Better known is Simeon Solomon (1834-1905), a minor pre-Raphaelite who is remembered for the dissipated end he achieved rather than for his pictures of anaemic young ladies.

Only in the latter part of the 19th century did Jewish painters begin to get a world-wide reputation. At this point the Jewish art historian finds less difficulty in making out a case for the existence of original Jewish art. The rise of Impressionism, itself a revolt against academic art and authority and therefore bound to appeal to the naturally contentious Jewish temperament, inevitably attracted Jewish artists. It did in fact produce one painter of the first rank – the outstanding French Impressionist, Camille Pisarro. This artist is seized upon as an example of Jewish genius by those ever avid to claim more than their fair share of artistic credit, although in a number of respects he is not typically Jewish at all.

Pisarro was born in the West Indies of a Creole mother and a French Jewish father. He was also a convinced atheist and fell under the spell of typically French artists starting with Corot and Courbet. Later, Cezanne observed that Pisarro was, ‘Of all painters the nearest to nature.’ Furthermore, while hosts of minor artists are mentioned in the current Jewish Encyclopaedia, Pisarro’s name appears not at all. He had escaped into a French art and played a major part in all the eight Impressionist exhibitions between 1874 and 1886. Respected by all his colleagues, both writers and painters, the whole personality of the man was the reverse of Jewish – his humility and gentleness and his restraint in imposing his artistic ideas on others.

At this time two other Jewish painters of stature emerge, Max Liebermann and Josef Israels. Neither of them, apart from subject matter, had anything Jewish to contribute to painting, and Liebermann’s importance to the German School lay in his contribution to it of a knowledge of the European schools, particularly of the French Impressionists. His own art, at times influenced by the French, was still typically German. It is the same story in other European countries.

Even in Russia the fine landscape painter Isaac Levithan, beloved by Chekov, produced works not Jewish in inspiration but inspired by the Russian landscape and the French Impressionists. Another Russian Jew, the ballet designer Leon Bakst (1868-1924), was influenced mainly by Slav and Asian folk-art.

Indeed Jews had nothing to give the world that was original Jewish – that had the unmistakable and legitimate flavour of a functioning nation. Everywhere, the Jewish artistic temperament, when it produced – rarely – anything of quality, had been subdued by the culture and the sentiment of the host nation – that is until the fatal twentieth century when liberalism and the complete freedom from all restraint unleashed the great hotch-potch of Jewish ‘art’ on the almost unresisting world, a veritable deluge of buffoonery and imposture.

No Jewish School

It is quite inappropriate for Jews to prate about the importance of Jewish art before 1900 and to make exaggerated claims about Jewish artists who certainly belonged to no traceable Jewish school. The Jewish art scholar, Berenson, in The Visual Arts, admitted that Jewish artists have never shown originality or expressed anything that could be called Jewish. As the Jewish art critic, Ernest Namenyi, observed in Jewish Art (1961), ‘Up to the middle of the nineteenth century no single Jewish artist and no work of art created by a Jew can be proved to have definitely contributed towards forming the style of any one period.’

It seems appropriate that two published statements from Jews – and in some respects they have never lacked perception – should end this brief survey. In the twentieth century art holocaust, the equivalent of the gas chamber was introduced into the visual arts; when the kingdom of the spirit was invaded by the Jewish boot with a calculated viciousness and with a vengeance springing from the Old Testament. The labours and aspirations of the painter and sculptor were subtly channelled into paths which have led to a cultural annihilation more complete than that which overtook the six million in Jewish fiction.

From New Nation, No. 2, Autumn 1980

Part 1   Part 2

Supplement by Simon Sheppard

It is proposed, as a thesis for consideration, that Jews have little or no high artistic sense as we know it. Consider the eruv, a territory which is designated according to Jewish Orthodoxy as an area in which various functions may be performed on the Sabbath, such as pushing a pram or carrying keys. In practice the scheme serves as a test, ‘Can we get away with this?’ It probes the host nation’s tolerance to the Jewish presence, serving the same purpose as an opinion poll, although dressed up as religious doctrine. Eruvs are in place in London’s Golder’s Green and around a certain prestigious property in Washington, DC.

Similarly, in much of Jewish ‘classical’ music can be detected an element of parody. It appears to progress in chutzpah from the songs of the ‘English’ Finsey to the ‘Americans’ who are almost inviarably Jewish. Thus, in the manner described above, Jewish work is mixed with genuine masterwork. Only a moron could put Gershwin, with compositions like his execrable, cat-wailing ‘Rhapsody in Blue,’ on a par with Bruchner or Beethoven. Copeland’s barnyard noises are delivered in grandiose style, without a hint of awareness of the mockery that is being done.

Besides composers, Jewish conductors and performers may be competent, as with many Orientals, but often what passes for genius is merely flamboyance, affectations of manner and arrogance.

An interesting analogy is with the cameo roles Alfred Hitchcock gave himself in many of his films. At first this was an in-joke. When Hitchcock enthusiasts learnt of it they could not relax until the Director had been identified among the extras. So Hitchcock took to making his cameo appearance early so his knowing audience could sit back and enjoy the rest of the movie. (It is also notable that it was decades before Hollywood gave Hitchcock the Oscar he so obviously deserved.)

Hitchcock’s practice was copied and adapted by Jewish film-makers to serve a different purpose. There are quite a few films which feature a Jewish joke within the first few minutes. It might be a reference to a rabbi, for example. This is usually passed over by Gentile viewers, but Jews in the audience understand fully from thenceforth that they are in the safe hands of their brethren.

Hence it is postulated that Jewish ‘art’ is naught but imitation and adaptation of Gentile art, largely serving as an in-joke among their kindred, reinforcing the conspiracy. Whether the conspiracy is deliberate or merely instinctive, secret or simply unacknowledged, its result is the same. The extent of the parody serves to ‘feel the temperature’ and thus it assists in gauging the increment for the next stage of subtle power accumulation.

Such information-gathering procedures (typically, using one thing to obtain information about another), testing, Conspiracy and the subtle, incremental accumulation of power (Marginal Defection, not advancing enough at any one time to provoke a response) are all female strategies. [2003, updated 2015]

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