Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Lift Up Your Heads, O Gates

by Susan Weinberg

At our recent Artists' Lab gathering we continued our exploration of door images. All brought a thoughtful approach, considering the significance both visually and symbolically.  After sharing an image  from Santa Fe which was thoroughly covered with artwork surrounding the door, Toni cautioned that we need to consider what surrounds us before being enticed by what lies behind the door. 

For Sylvia, the door to a tango club in Argentina had significance as the place where she met her husband. Tango represented not only her relationship, but the ability to be in the moment.

A strong design sense was central to Jon's door which he altered by adding door nails from Lisbon and changing the shape of the portals to better integrate inside and outside. An important part of his door was the view within.

Several viewed a door as the entry to the next chapter in their life, a new beginning as they embarked on their life with a partner or a change in which they took control of their life in response to the limitations of aging. 

A mezuzah gracing a San Miguel door felt welcoming to Sandra while Judy was drawn to contradictions between formal signage and graffiti. She was especially captivated by a sign that said “stop behind the white line” while the graffiti reports “crossing the threshold.”

David offered a rather unorthodox door, a ladder. It took on special significance when surgery affected his balance. He took the picture of the ladder the day he recovered sufficient balance to climb it.

Aaron reminded us of the whimsy of the Wild Rumpus bookstore which has a child door within the full-sized door, a special invitation to children.  In addition to his door which was set into a wall in Morocco, Noam introduced us to the writings of Marie Howe in her poem My Dead Friends. Marie consults her dead friends for advice which is always "yes." She pays close heed as they have already gone through "the frightening door." 

Of David, a psalm
Our exploration of doors continued with Rabbi Davis taking us into Psalm 24 with its "everlasting doors" and the concept of parallelism (see handout- Standing at the Gates). Parallelism involves two passages in which the second part is parallel, but not exactly. A new concept is introduced that amplifies or alters what was laid out in the initial passage. The technique allows an artist to realize new possibilities within a formal structure.  The rabbi posited that Psalm 24 may actually be a combination of two separate psalms. Our tip off is the use of selah in the middle of the passage as well as the end. Selah has no translation so is used as is and is often found at the end of a verse.

The earth is the Lord and the fullness there of
So what is the significance of Psalm 24?  The psalm is
associated with the high holidays and the concept of blessings is derived from this passage for "the earth is the Lord's." It is a psalm for Sunday, the first day of the week, the first day of creation.  The psalm begins with a procession of pilgrims ascending the steps of the temple. It notes that anyone can come into the temple, but blessings are only received by those with "clean hands and a pure heart."  There is a dialogue between the rather anthropomorphic gates that lift up their heads and Solomon who is only allowed entrance after calling out three times, ultimately humbling himself, reminding them of his father David, their servant.  

Clean hands, pure heart
Also introduced was the concept of etnachta which is a symmetrical Hebrew comma that separates two parts of a verse that make it parallel. This rounded form of the notation resembles the arch of a doorway with a protrusion atop and appears in work by David Moss in his artistic creation of Psalm 24.  His work is laid out in parallel form with the gutter separating the two parallel sections that address each line of the psalm. We studied each side examining the differences between the two. The slight variations focused our attention on the meaning of those changes.  This richly colored and patterned creation raised many questions within our group as we sought to relate it back to the original passage.

And then it was time for an artist-led session led by me. Originally I intended just to speak of my newly released book,  We Spoke Jewish: A Legacy in Stories, a book that combines oral history and artwork on the three groups of Jewish immigrants of the 20th century.  While immigration is a clear example of threshold crossing, I realized there was yet another threshold crossing to address, my own. I deconstructed the steps that led to the book, finding that there were many thresholds to cross long before the creation of the book.  Becoming a public person through exhibiting artwork, writing publicly and speaking publicly about my work was a necessary step in this progression.  This is a challenge that faces every artist and many find it far more challenging than creating artwork. For me  the process of threshold crossing began with an assessment of my talents and my passions as I left my career to pursue the arts. I started by  stating an intention and then finding a like-minded community through volunteering or taking classes.  The lab has also offered that like-minded community. Then came the hard part, at least for me, setting the table for beshert.  Beshert, fate, happens when we least expect it, but we can set the table and invite it in.  That entails embracing the unknown, saying yes and then figuring out how to do what we've agreed to, starting where we are and abandoning perfectionism. Then we act and interact, moving forward to new thresholds. For me, beshert was more challenging because it called on me to let go of the skills that aided me in my career and let things unfold in their own time and place. It also was quite magical. When we bring our energies to what we are passionate about and open ourselves to the unknown, surprising things can happen. More information on the book and how it came about can be found at