Religion Against Art with Asher Lev
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As the author Chaim Potok writes in the book “My Name is Asher Lev,” demonstrating the conflict of the theme religion and art tied into it with Asher Lev. The theme between religion and art has many different sections that all combined into this book with Asher, his parents and the Rebbe have a lot that conjoined into this. Chaim Potok the author wrote these sequels of the books because these books relate to his past. Asher has conflict of love between art and religion is very frustrating to him because of his parents and the community. Asher is gifted and talented artist that wants to have his whole world revolved around art, not religion.
The religion that Asher and his family worship by is the Jewish tradition essentially for anti-iconographic tradition. The Jewish are mosaic monotheism, offers a powerful statement to paganism and pagan worship. Jews do not interact or participate in any western art, no Jewish motifs in western art. Asher Lev enters into western art, which is a different direction that his religion takes him. “Asher grows up in a deeply religious Jewish family.” (My Name is Asher Lev). In the Jewish religion, they believe in the “sitra achra” meaning the “other side.” “This also threatens the tradition, might believe that they must shut their eyes to such a threat.” (Potok and Tradition). As Asher Lev grows older and comes to the conclusion that art is his passion, his parents become very agitated. “Asher’s passion lies in drawing, yet his parents find this a useless talent.” (Novels). Asher faces problems growing up, he didn’t have a hard childhood but it was different than most kids. He didn’t really have a father while he was younger and not really whenever he got older, his father traveled for the Rebbe. When he did get older, his father moved and eventually his mother traveled with him. He stayed in his home town for a while, without his family and a few friends that had helped him get more comfortable with art.
When Asher creates a talent for his drawing, his parents disapprove. “Asher’s father made it quite clear how he felt about Asher’s talent.” (Novels). Aryeh Lev (Asher’s father), is a well devoted Hasidic Jew who thinks that drawing is foolishness and nothing but a waste of time. His father also states that Asher was given this gift from the other side. When Asher’s father found pictures that Asher had drawn, he was not happy. He said to Asher, “What is all this?” Asher said “drawings” Asher’s father proceeded to say, “Don’t be disrespectful to me, Asher. I see they’re drawings. You can’t study Chumash, but this you have time for.” (101).Asher’s father is not to excited about Asher spending all of his time drawing and not studying and putting forth effort to their religion. Aryeh was also raised where his culture does not allow art in his culture. Also, his culture was very dedicated to his religion. “His father does not even consider the fact that this gift which Asher holds could be used for good purposes. In the sheltered world in which Asher lives, he is taught to value only things pertaining to his religion.” (Novels). Other words, Asher’s father is so dedicated to his religion unlike Asher that he travels for the Rebbe.
Moving everywhere and anywhere that the Rebbe tells him to go. On the other hand, unlike Aryeh, Rivkev (Asher’s mother), is kind what supportive of Asher. She has a problem with Asher’s talent but doesn’t have such a huge problem with it like Aryeh. Actually, Potok mentions in the book that Rivkev had asked Asher “why he had stopped drawing. You are really very good at drawing.” (52). that’s when Asher had not given up all of his religion to focus on art and said; “I hate it, it’s a waste. It’s from the sitra achra. Like Stalin.” (52). While Aryeh is traveling for the Rebbe, his mother starts to support Asher with some of his artwork. Revkeh Lev is “able to relate well to her son. She understands what it is like to have a strong desire burning inside and for that desire to conflict with the standards of the community.” (Conflicts between Art and Religion). The only thing that makes Rivkev slide away from Asher’s art work is the displaying of the crucifixion pictures. Actually, whenever Asher was younger, Rivkev bought Asher a gift while her husband was away on business.
“A gift, she said to me; purchased from Reb Yudel Krinsky. For no reason; just a gift because she loved me. The box contained twelve tubes of oil colors, half a dozen bristle bushes of different sizes, a bottle of turpentine, a bottle of linseed oil, a palette knife, and a palette. She had also bought me a small easel and a half a dozen small-sized stretched canvases.” (161). While Rivkev is trying to stay close to her son, Aryeh can’t help but be hurt about what his son is doing. Asher finally gives up and explodes, one night at dinner Asher proceeds to tell his father while discussing about his art that, “foolishness is something that’s stupid. Foolishness is something a person shouldn’t do. Foolishness is a waste of time. Please don’t ever all it foolishness any more, papa.” (129). Revkeh stepped up and told Asher, “You are being disrespectful to your father.” (129). Also, Asher’s family has negative attitudes towards ashes art work is because Asher shows negative artwork to their love, which is religion. Religion is his parent’s passion, just like art is Asher’s passion. Asher’s parents just want Asher to be on the same page as them and to follow in their footsteps to worship Judaism. “When Asher is younger, this conflict was more external. His artistic impulse drives him to do certain things of which others in his community disapprove.”(SparkNotes Editors).
As he grew his conflict became more open, not caring what the community or even his parents thought about it. Asher’s development for art is different from is parents. Asher which is a young painter which is required from his parents and the community to pick between religion and art. It’s very obvious by what Potok talks about with Asher, that Asher’s love for art is very strong. He is also very strong with his decision to make sure he achieves his goal. His love for art is so strong that he knows his potential and can achieve great rewards for this. He is very distraught by not having his parents by him. Asher Lev is a developing artist with a gift that not many people in his culture and generation had. Not many individuals discovered what Asher Lev had to offer. He was such a gifted person with artistic ability. When he was younger he often detached himself from the world around him and taught himself different aspect of the world. He taught himself how to draw and use different outlooks of the world to create a different type of allusion.
When Asher was little his parents had no care in the world that he drew, they never thought he would grow up and throw away his religion to study about art. His earlier years, he learns to channel his feelings towards artwork. He never wanted to rebel against his family, religion, the Rebbe or the community. He followed his heart and went after his passion. He loved his artwork and enjoyed making it. Reb Yudel Krinsky, who his father brought back from Russia. Asher Lev’s father put a stop to that; he said “You will not go to Reb Yudel Krinsky’s store.” (141). He also brings up, “but a genius in drawing is foolishness, and I will not let it interfere with our lives. Do you understand me, Asher?” (141). Eventually, Reb Yudel Krinsky brings it to Asher that, “You are a scandal. The world knows you are not studying Torah.” Then said, “A son should not hurt his father, especially a father like Reb Aryeh Lev.” (165). Being Asher Lev and being told by every single person in his community to completely stop art, and to study his religion. Asher was getting separated by two different ways, either follow your parents and keep up his religion or do what he loved best which was art.
Art to Asher is the world; he knows that his community, his parents and the Rebbe will not support him. Even his own Uncle Yitzchok, didn’t approve. He had told Asher one day while Asher was asking to live with him that; “Asher, grow up. You’re driving your father crazy.” (112). The Rebbe tells Asher, “He wants him to focus on the study of religion and not so much on drawing.” (My Name is Asher Lev). Now not only his father, but the Rebbe is saying this gift that is so bad for Asher, which is art was given to him by the other side. The whole community looks down on Asher. As the community includes the Rebbe, the Rebbe is very disappointed of Asher. When Asher’s parents leave for Vienna and Asher doesn’t want to go. Asher stays in his uncle in his home town, Asher’s parents and teacher become concerned with him. Aryeh starts to worry about his art work and how his school is going. Aryeh begins to think that since Asher never studied and did well with his religion whenever they all lived together; he doubted that he was doing any of it at all. Asher’s father made calls back home to check on Asher. When calling to find out about Asher, Aryeh got very disguised with what he had found out.
Asher’s father had found out he was doing none of his work and had drawn a menacing looking picture of the Rebbe in his Chumash class one day. “Asher Lev has crossed an invisible aesthetic line, as he well knows. His community just simply cannot come to terms with one of its members involved in this kind of activity, and Asher Lev pays the price and is asked by the leader of that community to leave.” (Potok). The only person that truly every understood Asher Lev was Jacob Kahn, an artist from New York City. Jacob Kahn was Asher’s mentor and a famous artist. Jacob drew similar to Asher’s work as a younger child and was a rebel towards his family and community. They understood each other. Jacob also ran away from his religion and wanted to study art just like Asher. Jacob takes Asher and teaches him a lot about art. He mentors him and teaches him what he didn’t know, also helped him come to the realization how to be successful as an artist. “Jacob teaches him to channel his emotions into art. Asher begins to grow up and to gain some control over his gift.” (Conflicts between Art and Religion). Jacob and Asher are a lot alike, Jacob grew up a Jew.
He abandoned his religion and left faith, in order to pursue his artwork like he wanted too. Asher and Jacob form a special bond. When the Rebbe found out they were really good friends the Rebbe called Jacob into his office and told him Asher was leaving. Jacob and Asher were so connected and close that Asher spent the summer with Jacob at his beach house in Provincetown. Asher actually maintained his religiousness while there, while painting on the beach. Asher is stuck between his religion and his art work and has troubles doing some of the artwork he is told to do. He refuses to paint two different types of painting, he refuses to a nude painting and crucifixion paintings. He said that it was too much against his religion. In fact, when Asher started drawing the nude pictures and Asher’s father had seen them, he got really angry. He told Asher at dinner one night that, “They’re offensive to people like me, Asher. I’m asking you why you have to paint that way.” (303). Then he proceeds to tell him that, “There is such a matter of respect for your father.” (304). Also, his parents don’t approve of his artwork anyway but this would destroy his parents even more.
Jacob got him to do nude painting and Asher ended up being very uncomfortable about it. Jacob told Asher that, “he can’t let religion or anyone interfere with his artwork and has to be himself and what he feels with no other influences.” (My Name is Asher Lev). His father is already unhappy about doing artwork, he is so frustrated with Asher when he finds out that he has been utilizing all of his time for his artwork. Finally, when Aryeh realizes that Asher is not going to keep with what his family has done, he backs off and quits being so hard on him. He was still disappointed with him, but in the end his father considers coming to the shows. Asher’s father finally confessed and told Asher what it finally feels like for Asher to be an artist. Aryeh tells Asher that, “Wherever I travel now, there is always someone who knows your name. They always say ‘are you the father of Asher Lev, the painter?’ they ask me. It’s a very strange feeling. Asher Lev, the painter.” He then proceeds to say, “It’s a strange feeling to me to hear my son called Asher Lev, the painter. When I grew up, a painter was someone who painted the walls and floors of our house. People ask me what you are, and I can’t bring myself to them you’re a painter.
I say you’re an important artist.” (352-353). Asher Lev flew away from his religion, focused on art. He became a great artist, with the help of Jacob Kahn. Without Jacob, he wouldn’t have learned a lot of things through art that he didn’t know. Without his mother he wouldn’t of got his first art set and also without Red Yudel Krinsky he wouldn’t of gotten it either. His father never and still never really understood not going towards religion and focusing on art but he got to where he accepted his son being happy. His community never stuck by his side because everybody was a Jew as well, they wanted him to pursue going towards religion. The community wanted him to follow in his father’s footsteps and to travel for the Rebbe. Everybody knew that Aryeh was great at his job for the Rebbe and that’s what they wanted Asher to continue going for. Asher chooses to leave his religion behind and go after his passion for art. His family and friends stayed by him eventually when they knew he wasn’t going to pursue what they wanted. Nobody liked the idea; they learned to accept what was given. Asher turned out to be a great artist, all his dreams came true.
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