of Digital Art: From Hellenistic to Hebraic
by Mel Alexenberg
Intellect, Bristol, UK, 2006
224 pp., illus. Trade, $59.95
Reviewed by Rob Harle
This book is as much about religion, specifically
Judaism, and spirituality as it is about
art, and in a covert way, it is also highly
political. Like the Torah itself that
Alexenberg refers to regularly, the book
is complex. He writes in a lively, engaging
style, and whilst the book is heavily
biased, I found it informative, optimistic,
and spiritually refreshing.
To Alexenbergs credit, his bias
is fully and proudly declared. He is a
practicing and devout Jew, and this, of
course, tempers his entire philosophical
outlook. He finds many profound similarities
between Hebraic consciousness and postmodern
art, which are amazingly insightful and
clearly explained. The postmodern art
that he chooses to discuss is the positive,
optimistic minority. Much of postmodern
art engages the viewer in a hermeneutic
vicious circle of depression, hopelessness,
and nihilism. If you doubt this, see The
Aesthetics of Disengagement: Contemporary
Art and Depression (reviewed Leonardo
Reviews June 2006).
As the subtitle, From Hellenistic To
Hebraic Consciousness, suggests
the book covers a lot of history, specifically
religious and art history. Alexenberg
looks at the "End of Art" concept in which
he argues that we are not witnessing the
end of art, "but the end of art derived
from a Hellenistic structure of consciousness.
The contemporary redefinition of art is
emerging from a Hebraic consciousness
as expressed through the Oral Torah" (p.
33). Shame nobody told the rest of the
non-Jewish world! The first part of this
statement seems quite true, but the latter
is either nonsense or very poorly expressed.
If Alexenberg means postmodern art has
many similarities to the dynamic, conceptual
attributes of the Torah all right; however,
if he means that it has come about directly
from the Torah, this is naive in the extreme.
This view highlights my main criticism
of this book, which is the Judaeo-Christian
insularism that accompanies many American
authors cultural/philosophical studies.
Leaving the art of minority indigenous
cultures aside for a moment, the postmodernist
art of Asian societies (underpinned by
Buddhism), of Chinese society (informed
by Taoism) and the huge atheist populations
of Western societies has no basis in the
Torah at all; in fact, most of these people
have never heard of the Torah!
This insularism does nothing to diminish
Alexenbergs intellectual rigour,
insightful approaches to Jewish culture
and art and positive approach to the future.
It is just that we need to realise
in reading this book exactly where
he is coming from. Having said this, it
is interesting to note Alexenbergs
acute awareness of the Islamic-Arabic
culture, so much so that one of his own
major artworks deals with the Middle East
"situation" specifically. Cyberangels:
Aesthetic Peace Plan for the Middle East
is detailed in Leonardo (p. 185)
vol. 39, no. 3, 2006 and also in this
book (p. 54-57), together with many other
of Alexenbergs artworks. This work
compares Israel, a tiny land within the
huge Arab world, with the "fault" deliberately
woven into traditional Muslim kilims.
Israel needs to exist and be respected
in accordance with the Islamic concept
that only Allah is perfect. This artwork
is brilliantly conceived, the concept
of helping achieve Middle East peace through
a visual artwork, laden with deep and
complex philosophical and political information,
is surely unique and perhaps the only
possible way this may be achieved.
The book has a substantial Introduction
together with an excellent Index and four
well annotated chapters with the following
titles: 1 Semiotic Perspectives
Redefining Art in a Digital Age,
2 Morphological Perspectives
Space-Time Structures of Visual
Culture, 3 Kabbalistic Perspectives
Creative Process in Art and Science,
4 Hatakhic Perspectives
Creating a Beautiful Life.
This book as the back cover states is,
"A revolutionary investigation into the
aesthetic form that imaginatively envisages
the vast potential of art in a cyber future."
It is worth mentioning that the book is
not specifically about digital art but
art generally in our digital age. Lets
hope that such a future embodies spiritual,
not necessarily religious values, which
will enable us to realise our full potential.
Spiritual is not used here as synonymous
with religion. The wisdom expressed throughout
The Future of Art In A Digital Age
will help in its own small way to help
us realise this potential.