Marc Chagall with Solitude, 1933. Private collection. ©Archives Marc et Ida Chagall, Paris. Courtesy: The Jewish Museum. Via RNS
Novelist Chaim Potok captured the strain of transition from religious traditionalism to artistic expression in the fictional character Asher Lev. Asher, a young painter prodigy and son of a Hasidic luminary, is drawn to a Brooklyn museum where he surreptitiously views crucifixions and nudes. He then goes on to paint such scenes.
Asher’s mother tries to understand her son’s artistic longings, yet says in exasperation, “Your painting. It’s taken us to Jesus. And to the way they paint women. Painting is for goyim, Asher. Jews don’t draw and paint.”
Asher responds, “Chagall is a Jew,” but his mother cuts him off.
“Religious Jews, Asher. Torah Jews. Such Jews don’t draw and paint.”
Returning from a trip to Europe, Asher’s father sees the crucifixion drawings. In a rage, he asks his son if he knows “how much Jewish blood had been spilled because of that man?”