Arts in Israel
The art scene in Israel had its beginnings in the early part of the 20th century when the rebirth of a Jewish state in the Land of Israel was beginning to take shape.
The first half of the 20th century was dominated by the desire for authentic home-grown art, art that would convey the experience of the Jewish people’s rebirth in its own land. Zionism strove to repair the physical and mental infirmity of the Diaspora Jew, transforming him into the New Hebrew. The artists did their part, depicting the “new and improved” Jew as a mighty pioneer-warrior. This Jew was highly physical: virile and uninhibited, dynamic and masterful, with a natural connection to the local landscape. Zionism held that such a hero could only emerge in the Land of Israel, and the setting portrayed by artists was fresh, unspoiled, and clearly Middle Eastern – the antithesis of alien Europe with its long and often hostile history.
Over time this attitude changed, as artists began to deal critically with other aspects of the body and its relationship to the Land. The earlier idealistic images became ambiguous; they were replaced by damaged figures with far less control over their destiny, and landscapes that questioned the national narrative. The idealized emblematic Jew, reborn in the Promised Land, became an individual haunted by questions of personal and national identity, as well as by the difficulties of realizing the Zionist vision.
Israel’s leading school of the visual arts – Jerusalem’s Bezalel Academy of Art and Design – was established in 1906 by sculptor Boris Schatz. Named for Bezalel Ben Uri – the first artist mentioned in the Bible – its establishment is considered the first major milestone in the development of art in modern Israel.
The first works of art to emerge from Bezalel were of a traditional Jewish and Biblical nature. Gradually, however, a modern secular ideology emerged and art disassociated from religious, Diaspora-oriented traditions began to develop. This movement, known as the “Rebels of Bezalel”, sought to pay homage to the Middle East and the “New Jew” by depicting the landscape and local people of the country, and its members sought to express their newfound identity as “Hebrew” rather than “Jewish” artists. This movement was established by Avraham Melnikov Yosef Zaritzky, and Reuven Rubin, and is considered to have had a major influence upon many aspects of Israeli life to this day.
Today, Israel art is displayed in museums and galleries throughout the country. Indeed, there are more museums per capita in Israel than in any country on earth.