The following Artist’s Statement was composed by Ariel Burger to illuminate his work and process in creating the piece of art commissioned by Lippman Kanfer Foundation for Living Torah to be presented as tangible commemoration of the 2016 Lippman Kanfer Prize for Applied Jewish Wisdom.
Many choices go into any work of art, especially when it is commissioned for a specific purpose. This is even more true when those who commission the work are themselves creative thinkers. One of the pleasures of this project was the opportunity to learn and discuss concepts and content choices with the Lippman Kanfer professional team.
Because of the Foundation’s focus on “Living Torah”, and the subject of this Prize, I wanted to portray that concept, while exploring new territory and a new visual lexicon.
After developing several concept sketches, we narrowed them down to three, and then the artistic process guided me to the final image.
In this piece, I am exploring our perception of two- vs. three-dimensions, suggesting the notion of Jewish wisdom coming alive in real time, in real life situations and relationships. In this image we have a portrayal of two layers: the text, and the ways we engage with and apply the text.
The background text chosen is from Pirkei Avot 6:7, which refers to Torah as a Tree of Life, and contains the great rabbinic teaching: “Great is Torah for it gives life to its doers“. Here the rabbis do not teach that Torah gives life to its learners, but to those who implement its wisdom. The text is surrounded by a frame of India ink marks inspired by impressions of varieties of tree bark.
In front of this traditional teaching, we have a hand (made with a controlled ink-drip technique) reaching for a fruit of the Tree of Life, while also framing the section of text I want to emphasize. In Hasidic teaching, the Tree of Life represents an alternative to Eden’s Tree of Knowledge, which embodies an orientation focusing on technical distinctions. The Tree of Life, by contrast, focuses on unity, intuitive insight, and applying Torah in creative ways. According to one Hasidic teaching, there is actually only one tree in the Garden – how we eat from it determines whether it is the Tree of Knowledge or of Life.
The hand is reaching for, but not yet arriving at, the fruit. We aspire to a Torah of unity, of connection, of universal relevance. But arriving at that goal is a continuing process filled with yearning. The fruit extends beyond the frame, because the Tree of Life is beyond our intellectual frameworks and rubrics – there’s always more to reach and strive for as we apply Jewish wisdom to new unfolding realities.
To learn more about Rabbi Ariel Burger and his art, please visit www.arielburger.com