Visual arts in Israel

Visual arts in Israel refers to plastic art created in the Land of Israel/Palestine region, from the later part of the 19th century until today, or art created by Israeli artists. Visual art in Israel encompasses a wide spectrum of techniques, styles and themes reflecting a dialogue with Jewish art throughout the ages and attempts to formulate a national identity.[1]

Early art in the Land of Israel was mainly decorative art of a religious nature (primarily Jewish or Christian), produced for religious pilgrims, but also for export and local consumption. These objects included decorated tablets, embossed soaps, rubber stamps, etc., most of which were decorated with motifs from graphic arts.[2] In the Jewish settlements artists worked at gold smithing, silver smithing, and embroidery, producing their works in small crafts workshops. A portion of these works were intended to be amulets. One of the best known of these artists, Moshe Ben Yitzhak Mizrachi of Jerusalem made Shiviti (or Shivisi, in the Ashkenazic pronunciation, meditative plaques used in some Jewish communities for contemplation over God's name) on glass and amulets on parchments, with motifs such as the Sacrifice of Isaac, the Book of Esther, and views of the Temple Mount and the Western Wall.[3] Objects of applied art were produced also at the "Torah ve-Melakhah" ("Torah and Work") school founded in 1882 by the Alliance Israélite Universelle.[4] This school opened departments for the production of art objects in Neo-Classical and Baroque styles, produced by combining manual labor with modern machines.

A large body of artistic work was produced by European artists, primarily Christian painters, who came to document the sites and landscapes of the "Holy Land". The motive behind these works was orientalist and religious and focused on documentation – first of the painting and later of the photography – of the holy sites and the way of life in the Orient, and on the presentation of exotic people.[5] Photographs of the Holy Land, which also served as the basis for paintings, focused on documenting structures and people in full daylight, due to the limitations of photography at that time.[6] Therefore an ethnographic approach is in evidence in the photographs, which present a static and stereotypical image of the figures they depict. In the photographs of the French photographer Felix Bonfils such as, for example in his prominent photographs of the Holy Land in the last decades of the 19th century, we even see an artificial desert background, in front of which his figures are posed At the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, local photographers began to appear, the most important of whom is Khalil Raad, who focused on an ethnographic description of the reality of the Holy Land, in large part colonialistic. In addition there were other photographers, many of them Armenian, who worked as commercial photographers in the Land of Israel and neighboring countries.

In the 1920s, many Jewish painters fleeing pogroms in Europe settled in Tel Aviv.[7]