An Interview with artist Ben Schachter

by Ben Schachter & Jonathan Anderson

Biola art professor Jonathan Anderson interviews artist Ben Schachter about his own artistic practice as well as contemporary art in relation to Jewish practice, tradition, and thought. Schachter also discusses his new book entitled Image, Action, and Idea in Contemporary Jewish Art, due to be published in December 2017.

Ben Schachter is professor of visual art at Saint Vincent College (Latrobe, Pennsylvania). He earned MFA and MS degrees from Pratt Institute. In 2017, he was one of two keynote speakers at the Conney Conference on Jewish Art. In the past, he received the Hadassah Brandeis research award. His artwork has been exhibited at Yale University, YU Museum, the Jewish Museum, the Westmoreland Museum of American Art, the Mattress Factory, and other venues. His writing on art and criticism has appeared in various art journals and books, including Drawing in the 21st Century,edited by Elizabeth Pergam, and It's A Thin Line, edited by Rabbi Adam Mintz. His first book, Image, Action, and Idea in Contemporary Jewish Art, will be published by Pennsylvania State University Press in December 2017. He lives in Pittsburgh with his wife and four children.

Departing from the traditional interpretation of the Second Commandment, Image, Action, and Idea in Contemporary Jewish Art addresses abstraction, conceptual art, performance art, and other styles that do not rely on imagery for meaning. Schachter examines Jewish art through the concept of melachot—work-like “creative activities” as defined by the medieval Jewish philosopher Maimonides. Showing the similarity between art and melachot in the active processes of contemporary Jewish artists such as Ruth Weisberg, Allen Wexler, Archie Rand, and Nechama Golan, he explores the relationship between these artists’ methods and Judaism’s demanding attention to procedure. A compellingly written challenge to traditionalism, Image, Action, and Idea in Contemporary Jewish Art makes a well-argued case for artistic production, interpretation, and criticism that revels in the dual foundation of Judaism and art history.

Jonathan A. Anderson is an artist, art critic, and associate professor of art at Biola University, where he has been teaching since 2006. His research and writing focuses on modern and contemporary art, with a particular interest in exploring its relations to religion and theology. Anderson's writing has been published in books from Baylor University Press, InterVarsity Press, and Eerdmans (including the widely-read essay “The (In)visibility of Theology in Contemporary Art Criticism”), as well as in journals such as Religion and the Arts, Christian Scholar's Review, Themelios, ARTS, The Christian Century, and others. Most recently, he is the coauthor with theologian William Dyrness of the book Modern Art and the Life of a Culture: The Religious Impulses of Modernism (IVP Academic, 2016).

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