So many paintings, songs, poems, sculptures, site exhibits, and plays have been made since October 7. But why?
This is a segment from The “Women & Other Living Things” Edition.
And now it is time for our second discussion.
So, Gilad, I have never in my life seen so torrential an outpouring of art as here over the past seven weeks.
Why is that?
Well, there is a famous saying that can maybe be attributed to a high officer in the Soviet Ministry of Culture named Nikolai Savchenko, and perhaps even earlier to Cicero.
Now, Savchenko said in a 1956 toast to the cast of Porgy and Bess after a performance in Moscow that “when the cannons are heard, the muses are silent”.
Savchenko’s idea is that wars are bad for art because they bring death and destruction, they invite jingoism, they put artists in uniforms and send them to the battlegrounds, they use up the money and resources that in other times could be used for more gentle pursuits and they make paintings, sculpture, music and dance seem somehow frivolous when people outside the museums and concert halls are dying and killing.
And while it is easy to find exceptions to what Savchenko proposed as a rule, there seems to be something to it.
War does seem to suppress the making of art.
But not here, not now.
In the 53 days that separate October 7th from the moment I’m speaking these words, there has been a remarkable outpouring of art.
If you listened to the podcast last week, you might have heard Noah say that more new songs have been written since October 7th than in all of Israel’s past wars combined, hundreds of new songs.
If you pay attention to Israeli social media, then you’ve probably seen pictures of dozens and dozens of major new paintings that have been painted capturing the attacks on the 7th and much of what has happened since.
Most likely you have seen the chilling cycle of paintings by Djorak Tcherkasky, including one called October 7th that borrows motives from Guernica, showing a terrified family under Picasso’s overhead lamp.
Another painting shows women fleeing to the Nova music festival site.
Another depicts weeping soldiers.
Another shows families waiting for the kids taken hostage.
Another shows a mournful family heading for a funeral.
Another shows a mother embracing her baby above a pile of murdered children, just chilling stuff.
The artist Shoshka Engelmeyer has been producing daily paintings about the hostages and the return of the first few dozen of them, which are simple, naive, and indeed very moving.
And dozens of other painters and sculptors have already produced art about our lives at the moment.
And a number of galleries have already mounted shows of the most contemporary art I have ever seen.
Beyond that, a great many public site sculptures and art installations have been created.
The square in front of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, now called the Square of the Kidnapped, is filled with art installations by well known artists trying to capture the emotions of the families of the captives and all the rest of our emotions too.
Walls all over the country have filled with graffiti about the war, the dead, the hostages, our grief.
Plays have been written, rehearsed and performed about our moment.
A group of dozens, maybe hundreds of artists have organized something called Tarbut Becherum Emergency Culture, which links artists who want to create with people who seek art as comfort or therapy or diversion.
Which is all rather astonishing, this rush of creativity.
Some of it has a manic aspect to it and those too who criticize some of the art as exploitive or kitsch or even as pornography of war, quote unquote.
Much of it, as you would guess, is very raw and unpolished, but taken together, it is a phenomenon of sorts we have never seen in this country before.
And I don’t know if anything like it has been elsewhere either.
Which raises the question, what is this flood of art?
Why is it happening here and now?
In a fascinating interview she gave the art newspaper, Zoya Tchorkaski said that there is something therapeutic about painting the traumatic events that happened here and that it helps her and maybe others to make sense of what we all experience.
And it is also an obsession.
All that, no doubt, is part of the explanation for all the art.
Miriam, what do you think of this explosion of art?
What do you think explains it?
Well I hate to go into like the more, first of all, I just should say I’m feeling it as well particularly online, partly because I’m stuck very much living online.
And I loved the, anyone who did not hear the podcast last week about the music of this really missed out and should go back and listen to it, about the music that Noah did.
And so I’m seeing it but maybe this, I don’t know if this is cynical or Marxist or what, but I do think part of it is about the economy of art at this particular moment.
And I, you know, so I’ll give you the example, Judah Ari Gross, who the editor, an old colleague of mine from Times of Israel and a listener and an editor now of EJewish Philanthropy has been sharing on his Facebook feed Shoshka’s work, which is, you described it really well, Gilad, it’s just, it’s full of life and pathos somehow at the same time and captures these little big moments that we’re living through.
And he said, “We don’t deserve Shoshka.
” And I thought, and I really like it was just a little line that he put and then he posted the picture and I thought, yeah, yeah, that’s right.
But the realized, part of the reason I think of it is because we’re getting it free of charge.
We’re just able to have access to this art.
As far as I know, Shoshka and Zoya aren’t directly paid for any of this work that they’re doing it.
The graffiti artists who have covered the city and the installation, essentially installation artists who have transformed Kikar Dzingof, the Dzingof Circle into an exhibit that should be in the biennale of any major, you know, we’re, by the way, Israel was supposed to, you know, do I think the biennale that was canceled.
Like that’s it.
That’s the, that is the, that is the work of this generation of this moment and it’s all unpaid.
And that’s sort of, it opens up a lot of things.
It creates a democratization in some ways of, you know, so it’s like anybody just, okay, I’m going to do it.
And, and you can, you have the delivery platforms that you can put it out there.
So it’s, it’s, I think part of it is just part of this crisis moment.
Are you saying it’s because the curators stopped working?
So then suddenly that all this art is pouring out uncurated?
I think this was existing before.
I mean, we, we have now become accustomed to consume a great deal of creativity of writing and, and art and that is, you know, just out there and, you know, there’s a problem.
It’s like a crisis in that it’s become commoditized and we are, you know, we’re all, all of us who are in the, the, even just the writing professions are dealing with this problem, which can also feel like a tremendous advantage.
I would also say that the visual arts are very present in Tel Aviv.
I don’t know if they’re all over the country, all over the country.
There are posters, like we have a visual of, of particularly of faces.
Just the, the, the whole iconography of, of faces now has become a really interesting thing.
All of us open our Facebook feeds and we see paintings and we see pictures and we see families and we don’t know if they’re dead or alive.
So that’s, that’s, that’s just part of it.
I’m just, I, you know, I think it’s important to point out that, that this, this is a result of a certain economy.
It also very much incubated in Corona where people were just desperate to put their work out and didn’t have venues.
And so they very much found the online world as a place to share it.
Now, I think it really goes to the heart of the Israeli experience in the sense that it’s really an expression of what it’s like to live in shigrat herom, in a routine emergency.
I mean, quite obviously what we’ve seen over the last seven weeks is, you know, an extreme expression of, of, of that emergency.
But I think that part of what lies at the heart of this famous squib about the muses and the, the art falling silent is that when war starts, it’s normally such a shock for people that it takes them a long time to arrange the thought and maybe become creative again and start, you know, writing, painting, writing songs.
And in Israel, even though it came, the 7th of October came as a shock to everybody.
It was something that was in a way ingrained in our, in our, in our, in our experience.
And I think that it was just this trigger that set off all this creativity that was just, you know, waiting to be, to be expressed.
And because we are used to, to living like that, it, it was, it, it happened very quickly.
That’s really my, my, my explanation.
So that’s interesting because you’re saying there, there’s a way in which it’s kind of continuous with our experience all the time.
And I don’t, I don’t disagree with that or, or anything that either of you have said so far, but I think that, that something like the opposite is also true at the same time because, well, two things.
One is after October 7th, the feeling that I think most everyone seems to have been feeling more than anything else is, I want to do something.
I need to do something.
I don’t, and that partly explains the people that were, you know, that were driving soldiers up and down the country that were, that were cruising around with their cars in hopes of picking up someone who needed a ride to somewhere, or the people who were making meals for the, for the, the people who were, who were no longer able to live in their houses in the South or the North, or the people who were doing any, who were gathering stuff for soldiers.
Just everyone, everyone wanted to be doing something.
And I think that, that artists also seem to have felt that too.
They wanted to be doing their art and showing their art, hoping that it would be, hoping that it would help someone, but knowing that really one of the reasons they were doing it had to do with just their own need, all of our own need to be doing something.
And then the, the other thing which is related to that is, I think that, I think that, that it’s partly trauma.
I mean, I think that we are freaked the fuck out about, which is to say, I, without disagreeing with you, that there’s some, some way in which this is continuous with our experience, this feeling of being attacked.
There’s a way in which it also feels at the same time as like different in kind, like this being, being attacked, civilians being attacked, not the army being nowhere to be seen, not knowing how to respond.
And I think that if you look at, at, at like who I pronounce Zoya, how do you pronounce her?
It just seems like she is returning to the same things, trying to work through what happened.
And Shoshka in some ways is the same.
I mean, he’s, he’s mostly, he’s painting each day about the hostage crisis, but just, it seems like it’s trying to work it through.
And one of the reasons why I get so much comfort from seeing these things is because it feels like in some way it’s helping me work this through too.
Like those, those teddy bears all over the city, which is this like massive art installation of the, like the bloody teddy bears that, that somehow symbolize the hostages that you can run into on like benches.
That also seems like some way of working this through.
And all of a sudden, like the, the city, which is so familiar is filled with all these unfamiliar images that are like some effort to just absorb and make sense of this.
I think there’s also a question of visibility and it’s almost banal to say that thanks to social media, we are able to see Shoshka’s work.
He posts it on Facebook every day.
I mean, it’s of course a little easier to consume it, but I also think it’s a question of proportion as opposed to other things.
My friends on Facebook are all artifacty intellectuals, historians, academics, et cetera, who have been trying with their own tools to make out what happened on the 7th of October and what it means, you know, analyzing its history, what it means for the future, et cetera.
And many of them were left speechless because these were events really of unprecedented magnitude.
And I mean, yeah, it’s just so, so shocking.
And a historian friend of mine actually said, commented on one of these, of this Facebook post saying, “This is not a time for historians, it’s a time for poets.
” And I think that until we can intellectually come to terms with what happened, I think we have turned to the artistic path.
I don’t know if permanently or just as a temporary alternative, but I think it also accounts for that.
There’s a lot that’s unique about this, but I think for us to say that it’s, you know, the proportions are historic is to ignore the history of the Jewish people and our experience and to really overlook that.
You know, if you want to talk about trauma, which is an important, you know, which plays a very important role in art, you know, artists are gonna art.
That’s what, you know, that’s a human response to the world and they process it that way.
And you, you know, you had artists in concentration camps and you had artists starving to death with nothing to draw on, painting on, you know, breaking up their furnitures that they could paint on panels during the Holocaust.
You had, you know, you had stuff, we don’t know what we had because so much was destroyed and lost and we have, but we have glimpses of it.
We have some of the artists, I just happened to come into possession of, you know, a work by David Ludwig Bloch who survived the Holocaust and continued over and over and over again to do art about his trauma.
But it’s a woodcut that had a limited print.
And so I just, I know, but there is something banal about saying, oh, yeah, it’s the economy of it, but I think it’s like we’re framing this in a way that suggests, you know, that we are sitting here in the comfort and so is Shoshkin, so is in the very comfortable place of our safe homes that, you know, with occasional threats from missiles.
And I just, I feel like I need to stand up for artists who were in far more physically threatening situations who produced over and over again, who came back to their trauma.
Of course, the difference is that there’s so much so fast.
And I mean, look at the date on your painting, you’ll see that like art from the Holocaust really came into its own in 1948, in 1949.
It was being made all along and you have, but- There weren’t really galleries or other platforms to, I mean, it came into its own because people went and collected the stuff that was done.
It was something extraordinary, because if you compare this to, you know, to other moments in Israeli history or after 9/11, there was art that was made for sure, but it took a while and it wasn’t like this.
And it wasn’t like this after the Holocaust when people could be making art.
It took a while, but now this is so immediate and so raw.
And I’m not saying that nothing like it existed in the past.
I’m just saying this is overwhelming.
And the thing with the music is really extraordinary.
Hundreds of new songs written and produced within the span of a couple of months and in Israeli history- People have essentially studios in their homes now on their computers.
They can produce music in a way that they couldn’t produce it before, like even 10 years ago.
I don’t want to diminish this.
It is an explosion of creativity.
I’m just saying, there’s something, the pipelines for delivery were really narrow and have widened.
I just think it’s important.
I think we’re not so different.
What I’m saying is we’re not so different from the people who came before us and went through horror.
I think that there’s something interesting happening here that you’re not recognizing.
That is different than, after 9/11, there were plenty of ways to make music.
And after 2014 here in Israel and that traumatic summer, there were plenty of ways to make music, all the same ways that they have to make now.
And it’s different.
What you’re talking about happens to be my profession about the impact of technology on culture.
You are Marshall McLuhan.
I’m not unaware of these things.
And even still, this is a really, really dramatic change.
It’s a moment that really is different than anything we’ve seen before that is really underdetermined by the change in the regime of technology, as we say in my field.
So I do think there’s something interesting here beyond the fact that we have Facebook now.
And I think that it has to do with trauma.
And I think it has to do with this kind of manic feeling that’s in the air, that’s a way in which we’re reacting to this particular and very unusually awful event, of course in a human history that’s filled with awful events.