HAYIDION The Prizmah Journal

Exploring Social and Political Issues through Visual Arts

by Dr. Ofra Arieli Backenroth Issue: Art and Aesthetics
TOPICS : Arts Israel

“Art is the most effective mode of communications that exists.” John Dewey

Due to their expressive nature and the possibility of multiple interpretations, works of art allow for conversation from a variety of points of view, experiences and different ways of learning. Contemporary artists often address social, religious, political and cultural issues, providing a framework for exploring challenging and difficult subjects.

At the Davidson School of JTS, we offer a class dedicated to the integration of the arts into Jewish education, titled “The Arts and Culture as a Window to Israeli Society.” Participants explore different forms of art and their significance in teaching various social topics that are crucial for understanding Israeli society. The course strives to educate future teachers on the importance of the arts in education and examines ways to help their students make deeper connections through studying art. The leading question is, How can works of arts be placed in the center of the curriculum to become a conduit for issue-based education about Israel and its social and political issues?

In issues-based education, participants strive for an understanding of multiple meanings within an artwork. Building an art-centered curriculum focused on current social issues in Israeli society expands pre-service teachers’ expectations of the functions of art in the classroom and allows them to create safe space for conversations about difficult topics and issues. In discussing challenging contemporary artworks that attract their interest, students learn to rethink their assumptions about art and consequently about the issues presented in the work.

Often, sections of artworks are presented in a way that allows students to form hypotheses about their meaning before seeing the whole. This gives students a chance to focus on describing what they see instead of jumping to conclusions too fast. At other times, two visuals are presented to allow students to compare and contrast the works of art, prompting conversations about a given issue. In some instances, students are exposed to a few works of art; they have to choose those that best fit the topic and explain their selection.

Indeed, one of the main goals of the course is to teach students how to look at a work of art, to dissect it into details, describe it and only then explore its meaning and its relevance to the topic. Researchers teach us that learning with and through the arts encourages imaginative, metaphoric, and creative thinking as well as cultural awareness. The visuals chosen for the course are all responses to social and political issues, and consequently they challenge the students to interact with both the art and the message in order to create multidisciplinary units of learning.

Not all artworks are suitable for this purpose. The works presented during the course are carefully chosen as aids for provoking difficult conversations about political issues. The visuals selected are relevant to universal issues and were not all created specifically in the Israeli context. They are not necessarily known works of art by famous artists; however, they are all recently produced, tightly connected to the topic, and explicit but not simplistic in their treatment. Additionally, the works of art allow for multiple responses and ambiguities and contain enough details to encourage conversation and emotional empathy.

For example, in a lesson dedicated to uprooting and resettlement, students look at a slide presentation of six visuals that deal with the topic of emigration and immigration. The issue of refugees is of course extremely pressing worldwide as well as in Israel. Students are asked to choose two images that most resonate with their own experience or thinking about the topic and, in a follow-up session, they look for appropriate texts that connect with the visuals.

One student chose to focus on the first image. “The painting of the books and suitcases are dark, uninviting. The books are empty, which is unusual. Maybe to show us there is nothing to remember or maybe that the traveler will fill the books in the future. The pile of suitcases and books give the feeling they were just dropped off a few minutes ago, they are still in transit, or about to leave. Anyone who has moved knows the one thing you wish you could take with you is your book collection, but that is not possible many times. Maybe that is why the books are on the floor; they are not going with the traveler.”

The second visual the student chose was Where to. “It is so literal it is painful. A father who, by the look on his face, seems to have lost everything, is wandering with three young children. It is obvious by the name of the piece that he doesn’t know where to go; he probably lost his home during the war and is now alone, maybe his wife died? The child seems as though he is asking his father a question, one that the father doesn’t want to answer. The other child is sitting on his shoulder looking distressed, as if he is crying or in pain. The third boy is walking behind them, looking down in anguish. The whole scene is so dramatic, full of the deepest sadness imaginable. The colors here are brighter, but the dead tree in the background gives a sense this is the desert, with no prospect of life nearby.”

The student proceeded to compare the two paintings. “They are similar in the sense they are both dealing with leaving home. The one with the suit- cases implies there was time to pack; the traveler has decided what to take. In the other painting, they are going aimlessly, taking nothing with them. They are lost in the world. In the first painting, we see only still objects; they can only hint at what their owner feels and thinks. The other has four characters that are revealing their emotions very clearly.”

Another student chose to focus on the group of sculptures and highlighted their impact. “The image is so powerful. Who are these faceless, body-less travelers? My gut tells me they are survivors of the Holocaust, marching out of the camps, trying to get to Palestine/Israel. The way the coats have been frozen in time evokes a sense of perpetual movement. Notice the coat on the far right. It is as if you can see the would-be person bending his knee as he lifts his leg to take another step. Yet, we do not know really where they are going to, only that they are on the move. Is that us, the Jewish people, for centuries on the move from place to place?”

One student explained that Raeda Saadeh’s photorealistic combination of a person and an imaginative object is the most striking and memorable visual. “The single woman with the concrete block trapping her leg, appeared to be amputated, pulled me to wonder about the conditions of the piece’s subject. It shook me. The photo plays upon the conventions of ‘modeling’ gesture but by distorting them ever so slightly makes the image something deeply abject and unsettling. In many ways, this piece recalled to me some of the work of Cindy Sherman, who also experiments with the themes of gender and subject-hood. The unrelenting bleakness of the subject’s expression, coupled with the dramatic lighting and curiously open door (which begs the viewer to wonder what beckons beyond) continues to linger in my mind, enshrouded in dark mystery.”

In the following session the students read their chosen texts connected with the topic of the visuals. The first text that they chose were the opening verses from the Bible portion Lekh lekha (Genesis 12:1-2) in which Abraham was commanded to leave his home. The journey of Abraham, the father of both the Jewish and Muslim worlds, was selected at the suggestion of one student as a prototype to invoke dialogue about what uprooting means to different societies. What would it have felt like for Abraham to be uprooted from his home and go to a place unknown? How is the experience of Jewish and Palestinians similar or different? What new understandings of each other might we come to in sharing stories in this way?

The visuals in this session served as a powerful entry point and as emotional starting points for the students not only to observe and interpret art but also to move from the visual to the texts and to discussion about current social and political issues. The study of the social and political contexts of art production is important in understanding the arts in relation to history and culture. Through this experience the students learn not only how to describe and analyze art but also that art has embedded meaning, that artists take a stand about real-life events, and that art expresses a point of view. With the facilitation of an instructor, the students have the ability to explore the artist’s point of view, deepen their knowledge about the topic, and formulate their own point of view about difficult issues.

Three Coats and a Travel Trunk by Ofra Zimbalista Self-Portrait by Raeda Saadeh Books and Luggage by Meir Pichadze
Ofra Zimbalista, Three Coats and a Travel Trunk, 2000 Raeda Saadeh, Self-Portrait, 2003 Meir Pichhadze, Books and Luggage

Go To the Next Article

Integrating the Arts and Jewish Learning

Can the visual arts redefine and ignite a new approach to learning Jewish texts, ideas and history? ......


At redskins jerseys Pixar, the versace outlet online Braintrust under armour shoes is cc beanies the jerseys from china meeting free running of prada shoes the minds where a lunette ray ban draft of nike air force a nike air max film air max 2015 is knockoff handbags screened, problems browns jerseys are identified, bengals jerseys and lacoste shoes numerous air max schoenen solutions burberry sale are brainstormed. sacramento kings jersey The Braintrust nike shoes is patriots jerseys no long champ ordinary polo outlet store meeting plein shoes of nike air jordan colleagues. colts jerseys It is hogan outlet a mechanism veneta for www.tommyhilfiger.nl taking an idea, givenchy outlet a plan, a work in coach black friday progress and making new balance canada it texans jerseys better. rolex watches Instead armani outlet of timberland femme scrutinizing pandora bracelet the polo ralph lauren creator, cheap nba jerseys candid comments nba jerseys are directed air jordan at coach outlet store online the dsquared2 sale project north face under review. Conversation is governed beats headphones by an operating levis jeans assumption that azcardinals jerseys the smart people hollister kids in the juicy couture outlet room minnesota timberwolves jersey have a shared investment in enhancing nike free run the tommy hilfiger outlet quality longchamp outlet of the project. No fivefingers directives are given; ralph lauren polo the ralph lauren ideas coach purses outlet online on ralph lauren the table thomas sabo are polo ralph meant roshe run to stimulate jerseys from china the cheap oakley thinking replica watches of burberry sale the director nike store so portland trail blazers jersey that nike free 5.0 she can steer thomas sabo uk forward.


If I am the director montre homme of ralph lauren polos a barbour factory movie, or giuseppe zanotti sneakers a teacher asics gel who has reloj created polo ralph lauren outlet online a new ray bans outlet curriculum, or 49ers jerseys a bcbg max azria teacher leader who michael kors has introduced a giants jerseys new program tracksuits store into mcm backpack my jimmy choo outlet school, adidas.se it nike free 5.0 is timberland boots likely coach outlet that I nike roshe am christian louboutin shoes deeply omega watches invested nike air max shoes in my chicago bulls jersey project. My professional identity michael kors is wrapped up in coach factory the work. lakers jerseys Often, we tommy hilfiger dwell nike free 5.0 so far ralph lauren outlet online inside louboutin shoes our versace outlet online own adidas canada projects that we cannot ralph lauren outlet online see new balance outlet what needs to oakley vault change. To find the inspiration celine bags and direction bcbg max to pivot, we the north face need burberry outlet online our eagles jerseys brain trust san antonio spurs jerseys to omega watches participate dolphins jerseys with charlotte hornets jerseys candor and in buccaneers jerseys good faith. michael kors outlet We true religion jeans women need coach outlet online to birkenstock shoes be vans shoes able dre beats to trust that they tommy hilfiger online are chi hair smart and michael kors purses that they know cheap michael kors what longchamp handbags it feels reebok like nike air max thea to be in hollister kids the michael kors hot michael kors taschen seat. purses and handbags Feedback rayban must spring from empathy in order ray ban sunglasses outlet to timberland outlet be ralph lauren outlet constructive; otherwise it just deconstructs and air max leaves us toronto raptors jersey right back where pandora we chiefs jerseys started: cheap ray ban stuck. ralph lauren outlet A pandora canada good brain trust will longchamp produce alternative rams jerseys ideas that inspire action rather adidas than paralyze juicy couture handbags progress. nfl jerseys If the michael kors outlet online feedback jordan retro can stimulate air yeezy shoes new michael kors outlet online sale thinking ferragamo shoes and advance jordans my project, michael kors outlet online I can flourish.At golden state warriors jersey Pixar, the coach outlet online Braintrust adidas superstar is the converse shoes meeting michael kors bags of mont blanc the minds where a draft calvin klein underwear of a film is raiders jerseys screened, nike shoes problems are nike air max identified, nike roshe and numerous solutions soccer shoes are brainstormed. The Braintrust is ferragamo shoes no oakley sunglasses ordinary meeting panthers jerseys of replica watches colleagues. true religion outlet It is a michael kors v?skor mechanism michael kors canada for taking an houston rockets jerseys idea, denver nuggets jerseys a plan, a work in nike outlet progress and jaguars jerseys making it better. hogan Instead ray ban wayfarer of scrutinizing the creator, candid comments red bottoms are lions jerseys directed titans jerseys at reebok shoes outlet the polo ralph lauren outlet project woolrich outlet under swarovski jewelry review. baseball jerseys Conversation coach outlet canada is oakley sunglasses governed oakley by an operating supra footwear assumption indoor soccer shoes that kate spade outlet online the smart oklahoma city thunder jersey people oakley vault in the room michael kors canada have the north face a shared investment in burberry outlet online enhancing the baseball jerseys quality michael kors uk of dallas mavericks jerseys the project. prada No ray bans directives are mbt shoes outlet given; bottega veneta the ideas mizuno wave on michael kors outlet online sale the table are meant rayban to stimulate nike mercurial vapor the thinking ralph lauren outlet of the director so that she hollister online can steer forward.


If I am the polo ralph director new york knicks of jordan release dates 2015 a movie, steelers jerseys or a swarovski teacher mcm backpack outlet who has ray ban wayfarer created a wholesale clothing new cheap oakley sunglasses curriculum, or mcm backpack a teacher nike air max leader chi flat iron who stephen curry shoes has nike huarache introduced philipp plein outlet a oakley sunglasses outlet new north face outlet program ferragamo into ralph lauren my cheap basketball shoes school, it is burberry online shop likely that air max I am hollister clothing deeply invested in my nike schoenen project. My nike air max professional identity swarovski crystal is wrapped up in the north face outlet the valentino outlet work. louboutin shoes Often, we dwell michael kors bags so orlando magic jersey far atlanta hawks jerseys inside dsquared2 our christian louboutin shoes own projects converse sneakers that we cannot nike shoes see what ralph lauren factory store needs to change. To nike air max 90 find mcm bags the puma outlet inspiration and skechers direction memphis grizzlies jersey to air huarache pivot, we rolex watch need northface our brain trust cheap nfl jerseys to softball bats participate seahawks jerseys with tory burch outlet candor and swarovski jewelry in good faith. We nfl jerseys need to be able nike schuhe to trust that adidas superstar they are smart burberry outlet and that they know what it feels birkenstock outlet like oakley sunglasses outlet to tory burch be katespade in vikings jerseys the pandora charms hot seat. Feedback ray ban occhiali must spring coach store from empathy longchamp outlet in order to be constructive; coach outlet online otherwise hogan outlet it just chargers jerseys deconstructs nike roshe and hermes leaves us right back where we started: stuck. oakley frogskins A michael kors outlet online good brain trust will thomas sabo jewellery produce alternative ideas ralph lauren polos that inspire action rather burberry handbags than paralyze progress. If giuseppe shoes the red bottom shoes feedback can iphone 5s cases stimulate falcons jerseys new fitflop outlet thinking chrome hearts and michael kors outlet online advance my roshe run project, dansko outlet I can nike.dk flourish.At Pixar, the Braintrust watches canada is the coach outlet online meeting vans schuhe of ray ban sonnenbrillen the coach factory shop minds where saints jerseys a draft prada outlet of vans outlet a film nike.se is cleveland cavaliers screened, north face jackets problems air jordan shoes are identified, prada sunglasses and glasses online numerous solutions are coach outlet brainstormed. hermes bags The Braintrust swarovski online is nike shoes no cheap oakley ordinary air max meeting of colleagues. It tommy hilfiger outlet stores is a mechanism long champ for burberry taking los angeles clippers jersey an idea, a plan, michael kors a work true religion in gafas oakley progress new balance and making oakley it adidas online better. ray ban sunglasses Instead burberry outlet of scrutinizing michael kors the creator, philadelphia 76ers jerseys candid comments coach factory are nike air max directed at the hollister clothing store project phoenix suns jersey under baseball bats review. timberland shoes Conversation is swarovski australia governed by birkenstock deutschland an operating assumption hilfiger online shop that the salvatore ferragamo smart people in oakley sunglasses the bills jerseys room jerseys from china have michael kors outlet a shared glasses frames investment barbour jackets in enhancing skechers outlet the quality instyler ionic styler of abercrombie the project. No directives beats by dre are given; the ideas jerseys from china on the cowboys jerseys table detroit pistons are hugo boss shop meant to stimulate the thinking asics of supra footwear the director so ray ban zonnebril that broncos jerseys she north face backpacks can steer skechers forward.


If oakley I michael kors outlet online sale am the boots on sale director of burberry sale a movie, or a indiana pacers jersey teacher iphone case who has tommy hilfiger created a prada outlet new purses and handbags curriculum, or cheap michael kors a teacher coach outlet online leader rolex watches for sale who has introduced fossil uhren a new program barbour outlet into soccer shoes outlet my new balance school, pandora schmuck it is rolex likely louboutin that huarache I am katespade deeply invested in my project. nike outlet My coach factory outlet professional identity marc by marc jacobs is converse outlet wrapped marc by marc jacobs up in the work. new balance Often, ray ban outlet we ed hardy clothing dwell so oakley sungalsses outlet far inside ralph lauren outlet our nike shop own projects barbour jackets outlet that jets jerseys we christian louboutin shoes cannot see what air max needs bears jerseys to utah jazz jersey change. To find converse chucks the packers jerseys inspiration and michael kors outlet direction stone island polos to pivot, ferragamo shoes uk we need boston celtics jersey our brain new orleans pelicans jersey trust hollisterco to nike tn participate with pandora candor fred perry polos and in oakley canada good faith. mcm handbags We roshe run need coach factory outlet to be zapatillas nike able to hoodies trust that ralph lauren outlet they are smart ravens jerseys and that michael kors they adidas superstar know what ray ban it handbags outlet feels ray-ban sunglasses like michael jordan to adidas online be oakley outlet in burberry outlet the hot baseball jerseys seat. Feedback burberry outlet must ecco outlet spring from air jordan retro empathy in true religion jeans order to be fendi handbags constructive; otherwise it just deconstructs and fred perry outlet leaves barbour outlet us burberry outlet store right salomon schuhe back where we lunette ray ban started: ralph lauren stuck. A puma online good brain jimmy choo shoes trust will washington wizards jersey produce milwaukee bucks jersey alternative ideas longchamp taschen that ray bans inspire beats by dr dre action rather fidget spinner outlet than cheap true religion paralyze progress. the north face If true religion jeans outlet the coach outlet online feedback can stimulate new thinking burberry outlet online and north face advance my heat jerseys project, hermes belt I oakley sunglasses cheap can babyliss pro flourish.

brooklyn nets jerseys

0 users have voted.

Art and Aesthetics

The study and practice of the arts can serve as a powerful vehicle for learning. This issue presents ways that the arts can deepen intellectual inquiry as well as sparking creativity, engage students' hearts and minds in science, literature, and all aspects of Jewish studies, expose learners to provocative, contemporary issues of culture and politics, and draw meaningful connections across the curriculum and among people.


Click here to download the PDF and printer friendly version of this issue of HaYidion.