• Nurit Shany

Who is the Israeli painter?

A comment on the painters in the Israeli Art world Sometimes young painters come into the studio at the beginning of their journey, asking me how to move forward. After I see their works and before I go ahead drawing for them a general map of the art world in Israel.


Twenty years ago, in an internet survey I did in order to estimate the number of artists in the country, I discovered to my surprise that 25% of the population in the country is engaged in visual arts. How many of them are painters?The Israeli reality is confusing and between the artist and the different agents that bring artworks to the audience attention stands the question what is a painter?


In Israeli culture, deciding whether one is a painter has some aspects that are the result of those looking at painting and their artistic culture in the very rich and variable art forms created in the country.


Israeli culture is not uniform and there is almost no social consensus on any issue, not least about visual art and painting in particular. Painting as a profession has not been taught in elementary schools for many decades, forcing people to question their own meaning according to their experience and tendencies. Art high schools teach painting and in the last forty years under the influence of Russian immigration, figurative painting occupies a leading position while abstract painting, which leads in Europe and the United States finds itself pushed aside except in the most leading gallery. The young painters who come to the studio move on the stylistic axis between figurative and abstract and usually do not notice any technical defects related to brushstrokes, finishes nor do they ask conceptual questions, composition questions or depth of creativity processes in work. They settle for the common saying: "It comes out of my stomach."


I describe the Israeli art surrounding as a systemic pyramid in which, at the head are the art institutions that create artistic criteria, deviate and divide art according to academic categories that are influenced by the men and women in position, and their artistic and political point of view. More money driven than arrays, like the rest of the Israeli society as a whole, the representatives of the institutions wrap the financial motives with artistic values ​​that are worded in high words.In the economic space that measures values ​​in money, ratings and political relevance, several approaches to art have evolved and several groups each have different values.The most widely-monitored and budgeted group are the opinion-makers close to the institutions and funds. They lead and create a communicated, art-based space that shares common principles and values, backing up the works they display, the prices and the political and economic social appreciation they receive. Selected artists can be found in this group, a minority of painters, whose art forms some time search the limits of special forms, composition, material and conceptual fields, but the works are often alienated and some artists are selected because their works serve as social and political statements that interest the representatives of the institutions, or are selected by one of the founding elements that has influence on the second institute thus retaining a close circle of artists that are mainly young people under the age of 40. https://www.freshpaint.co.il/  Painting as a media in visual art, created in the present in the country does not necessarily get a central stage in the institutional artistic arena.


Another leading group are individual painters who are not affiliated with the establishment, who have studied in professionally oriented schools, whose main occupation is painting and they run an independent studio and run an internet marketing system to promote themselves as a brand. The leading ones are adults and parents. They are aware of historical artistic values, but do not always embed these values ​​in their creation. This group contains excellent, program-leading, conceptual and technical painters whose art values ​​are embedded in their paintings and they tell a human story to an art-loving audience. Painting is their exclusive occupation. They hold a studio and are engaged in the sale of paintings to collectors and art lovers. Some are true to the artistic tradition and some are not. Some are form-breaking in terms of material, composition and conceptual and some are not. They do not have common term values ​​like the elected by art organization officials.​​​​​​​​​​


Another group that leaves an important historical imprint in Israeli painting is the graduates of Aram Gershuni HaTAHANA school http://www.hatahana-studio.com/ in Tel Aviv and the Israel Jerusalem Studio School, https://jerusalemstudioschool.com/ whose style is similar to the level of color of the pallet and they seem to assimilate and imitate a raw model that is constantly in front of their eyes. They usually focus on portraits, still-life and landscapes and do not innovate in the conceptual or composition fields. They create a trend in the Israeli painting and they contribute to the colorist and the human message mainly in women model painting, and contribute aesthetically mainly in the still life and new angles of landscapes of Israel.Among them, excellent painters, selected by the Shiff Foundation  http://dubishiffartcollection.com/  for Realistic Art are accepted by the artistic, economic establishment of the leading museums. Others are represented by galleries that support the above-mentioned schools and their graduates and others who do not get enough representation because oil painting does not gain a prominent cultural place in Israeli society.​​​​​​​​​​​​


The next group is of painters who started painting as a hobby, they do not necessarily run an independent studio, do not define themselves as only painters being from other professions, but are interested in finding a stage for their paintings and automatically follow the habit of innovating exhibitions as a mean of exposure. Some of them are good painters, but mostly are amateur painters paying for their exhibit to curatorial graduates who promote exhibitions in public buildings such as theaters, mall lobbies, supermarkets and youth centers. these exhibitions do not leave a mark of high quality. However, this group produces the visibility and impression of art in many public spaces where the general public passes and is connected to a trend of selling for low prices under the pretense of providing art for the masses.There for the general public sees paintings as a confusing and uneven phenomenon since most of the audience is not educated in the field, does not seek quality in art, does not understand the institutional choice and is exposed to the available finds around it.


In Tel Aviv there are few leading galleries that cannot give an answer to the abundance of artists, there artistic values are decided by the gallery owners who choose contemporary artist for different reasons.


There are peripheral galleries, some of which exhibit interesting art exhibitions and receive support from the Ministry of Culture. Since the cultural budgets for exhibitions is only given to original exhibitions, it happens that the exhibitions, such as of the leading establishment, are exposed to a limited audience and then close down. If a cultural budget would had been given according to artistic values, it would have been possible to turn them into to traveling exhibitions there by reaching a wide audience in schools and community centers to promote high quality artistic values ​​for a larger audience, thereby reducing confusion, since quality speaks for itself and the audience would slowly become selective.


Art lovers make up about 2% of the population. And only 2% out of the art lover group actually buy art. Most of the population, even those who build large-scale houses, do not hang paintings in their homes because of education that does not contain artistic values ​​or education of Jewish or Muslim religious values ​​that do not have a painting tradition. It is worth noting that in architecture schools there is no intention of incorporating paintings into designed spaces in which painting is usually seen as a decorative addition.


In Israeli society, there is a big gap between the need for art and the amount of works created every day by the many active artists. The confusion in the face of multiplicity produces a new value: "It is impossible to determine what good art is". Which joins the liberal principle of equality of opportunity, which does not establish a quality principle.


After recounting what I wrote above, I recommend that a painter beginning his journey might examine himself and define which group he or she currently belongs to, which group he or she wants to belong to in the future. What he or she has to do politically and whether a change in the art work should take place in order to reach the destination.And I recommend to international art lovers and collectors to search and look into the Israeli contemporary art because there are many corners that haven’t been visited.

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