Francesca's Reviews > My Name Is Asher Lev

My Name Is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok
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May 13, 12

bookshelves: read-for-school
Read in January, 2011

One of my favorites of the books I have read for school. Here is the facebook note, titled "Musings on My Name is Asher Lev", I wrote while part way through it, as a way to process all that the book was making me think about:

I am part way through the novel I am reading for school, a book called "My Name is Asher Lev". This book is making me think and question, and I work out my thoughts best by writing them down. I thought I would do it here so I can share my musings and questions with you all, and you may, if you wish, share your thoughts on the subjects with me.

Asher Lev is a Jewish boy growing up in a Hasidic community in Brooklyn. He is a gifted artist, but his gift conflicts with his religion which teaches that art is from the Sitra Archa (literally 'the other side', a word for the evil in the world). They believe that painting nudes and non-Jewish religious images is wrong. I understand their belief and respect it, but at the same time I don't see how painting anything can be flat out wrong.

You see in the book Asher's art teacher, Jacob Kahn, talks about how painting is about portraying and immortalizing your truths. I interpret what he tells Asher as the idea that you must learn all the ways to paint, and paint everything so that you can know the world in it's entirety. Then when you know the world, you can also know your truths.

I agree with Kahn about the fact that art can be about showing your truths, how you see the world. But it seems to me that he doesn't believe that art makes the artist happy; that there is enjoyment in art. I suppose that perhaps he feels an artist paints there truths because he or she simply has to, like they have to breathe or eat.

I feel like there should be emotion connected to art. You should feel the joy of the beautiful truths and the sadness of the evil truths that you portray. But you should also enjoy the fact that you are creating, regardless of what it is. You should be happy that you are showing the world your truths. (I wonder how many times I've typed the word truths at this point).

I also believe that in art you should be able to portray your emotions and hopes as well; create things not as you see them, but as you wish they were.

You should also be able to create just for the process, for the sake of creating. I know that when I am creating it brings me happiness and peace. It always has. It is a way of feeling proud of myself and my accomplishments.

In conclusion, this is what I believe about art:

Art should be whatever a person wants it to be. I can be a way to portray the truths of the world that you see, to express your hopes about what you wish the world will become, to cope with and express emotions, or a way to experience joy because arts lets allows you to do any of the above things, as well countless others.

Another thing that Kahn says is that all artists are selfish. I see what he means in the sense that artists do what they do because they love to do it, or even have to do it. But does that mean that someone who does something because they love to do it means they can't do things for others or care about others?

I suppose he means full time artists, who dedicate all their time and resources to the art. But still, I don't want to believe that doing what you love means you're selfish. There are so many artists, visual artists, performance artists, and artist of all other kinds who who give back; be it by teaching, or donating money, or hosting benefits or shows. I suppose the question is, if they didn't have the money and time to do both, would they pick to help others or do what they love to do? But then, is it selfish if art is what the have to do? I know it sounds silly, but some people truly have callings, things they simply must do.

I know that was very rambling, but that's how I process my thoughts, and if you got here (to the bottom) then it was because you wanted to hear what I had to say. Now I would love to hear any thoughts or questions any of you have, both in response to the literature and in response to my response of the literature.
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