Friday, January 1, 2010

Bringing Redemption through Artistic Expression

Most of us are familiar with the concept of tikkun olam, literally fixing the world, as a major precept of the Jewish tradition. But how exactly does one do tikkun olam? How can we help Hashem bring the world towards completion?

Repentance, charity, and acts of kindness are all good assumptions with plenty of textual support. Building a home founded on Jewish values is another. There is much to say about simply serving God joyfully through Torah.

But what about art? Is it possible that artistic expression is a key component in tikkun olam?

Rav Avraham Yitzhak Kook in his Introduction to Shir HaShirim (Song of Songs) makes the following bold assertion:

Art, in all its variations, serves to express every concept, every emotion, and every thought found in the human soul. As long as even one trait remains concealed in the soul, it is the artist’s obligation to reveal it.

Art, according to Rav Kook, is the necessary expression of the hidden human experience. The artist is obligated to reveal his or her unique perspective of the world, whether through writing, or though visual art. The entire range of the human experience must be brought before the eyes of the world. Hashem’s creation is literally incomplete without it.

Rav Kook clearly notes that this expression must fit a certain ethical framework. And it is within that framework that the poem and the prose once hidden in the heart of the writer tell the tale of God’s ever-present kindness. The painter and the photographer help to fix the world by revealing Hashem’s presence in every brushstroke and every beam of light.

Art, as the ultimate reflection of life, allows us to see the beauty and truth contained within each moment, and within all creation. Tikkun olam is achieved through this greater awareness of Hashem.

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