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  You are in: Home > Art History > The Art of Time, The Art of Place  

The Art of Time, The Art of Place
Isaac Bashevis Singer and Marc Chagall – A Dialogue

Ruth Dorot

Dr. Ruth Dorot is lecturer in art history at Bar-Ilan University and Ariel University Center in Israel, and is involved in various enrichment programs for the general public. She has served as curator of exhibitions, including “The Psalms in Letters and Colors” and sits on the editorial board of professional journals. She is the author of the well-received Galut Vehitgalut (“Exile and Revelation”), and the recipient of the Israel Efrat Award (2000).


This book draws a comparison between two of the most prominent Jewish artists in the twentieth-century: Polish-born magician story-teller Isaac Bashevis-Singer (1904–1991) and Russian-born creator of visual magic Marc Chagall (1887–1985). In addition to their East European Jewish background both were exposed to Western culture. Chagall absorbed such turn-of-the-century avant-garde styles as Expressionism, Fauvism, Cubism, Abstract Art, Surrealism; from these he created a unique blend, to which he brought the various Russian influences he had absorbed and his own special highly imaginative and inventive personal style. Bashevis-Singer brought to his works philosophical, psychological, scientific, medical and legal knowledge.

While both artists were affected by these Western influences, they remained firmly entrenched within the Jewish culture - the Yiddish language and life in the “shtetl” - from which they drew their inspiration. Their world consisted of a special blend of reality and dream, realism and fantasy. Ruth Dorot demonstrates that they shared, albeit unwittingly, a common “meta-realistic” style combining the earthly with the supernatural and the transcendental. Their works allude to real place names, dates, facts and historical events; but at the same time contain occult forces, angels, demons, mysticism and mystery.

Comparisons range over the Jewish “shtetl”, Jewish artists, Love and Despair, the Holocaust and war, religion and mysticism. In the works of both artists, hope springs eternal; it is a hope emanating from the mystical realm of life as it relates to the magic of creation and the cosmic logic of the Creator. Artist and story-teller sail between hard-core reality and the yearning for redemption, between Judaism and universal values, between exile and revelation.


Chapter One The Jewish Experience
“The Old Man”
The Cattle Dealer
Comparative Analysis: “The Old Man” and The Cattle Dealer
“The Little Shoemakers”
Vitebsk, The Blue House
Vitebsk, The Gray House
Houses Speak
Comparative Analysis: “The Little Shoemakers” and Vitebsk, The Blue House

Chapter Two Jewish Artists and Their Works
The Magician of Lublin
Self-Portrait with Seven Fingers
Comparative Analysis: The Magician of Lublin and Self-Portrait with Seven Fingers

Chapter Three Love and Lovers
“Sam Palka and David Vishkover”
Lovers over the Town
Comparative Analysis: “Sam Palka and David Vishkover” and Lovers over the Town
Between Darkness and Light
Comparative Analysis: Shosha and Between Darkness and Light

Chapter Four The Holocaust (Shoah) and War
Enemies, A Love Story
The Falling Angel
Comparative Analysis: Enemies, A Love Story and The Falling Angel

Chapter Five Religion and Mysticism
The Slave
The Stained-glass Windows at the Hadassah Medical Centre, Jerusalem
Comparative Analysis: The Slave and The Stained-glass Windows


“A comparative study of the work of Isaac Bashevis Singer and Marc Chagall, the book is based on the author’s doctoral dissertation of 2004. It includes nineteen full color plates, in addition to many smaller black and white illustrations. The physical appearance of the book is striking, slightly oversize, with eye-catching photographic cover illustrations; high quality heavy white paper; clear, large type and wide margins. The author considers Singer’s fiction and Chagall’s creations as “poems in prose and painting.” She analyzes and compares individual works of Chagall and Singer, pointing out similarities and differences. Each of the five thematic chapters includes extensive footnotes. In addition there is a useful bibliography of works by and about Singer and Chagall. The author is currently Lecturer in art history at Bar-Ilan University and Ariel University Center in Israel. The book is a fascinating study of the interrelationships and connections between the life and work of these two important Jewish creative artists. Scholarly, rather than popular, in tone, it is a valuable addition to Judaica collections in academic and research libraries, as well as synagogue libraries.” AJL Reviews

“Ruth Dorot's recent monograph, The Art of Time, The Art of Place, is a comparative study of the works of two of the most prominent twentieth-century Jewish artists: the Yiddish writer and Nobel Prize-winner Isaac Bashevis Singer (1904–91), and the popular painter Marc Chagall (1887–1985). The monograph comprises an introduction and five main chapters, a bibliography, and an index. In addition to this, there are several illustrations within the chapters, as well as a middle section with beautiful color reproductions of the most important works by Chagall under discussion here. The book as a whole is handsomely produced in a large format, with all its reproductions of Chagall’s paintings and stained-glass windows, plus additional illustrations and photographs of Chagall and Bashevis Singer on the dust jacket. Dorot's point of comparison of these two very distinct artists, the writer and the painter, is that ‘both artists share a common spiritual source, the Jewish culture and tradition of their birthplace in Eastern Europe of the late nineteenth century (Chagall) and early twentieth century (Bashevis-Singer)’ (p. 1).” Published in H-Judaic, December 2102, reviewed by Khayke Beruriah Wiegand (University of Oxford)


Publication Details

Hardback ISBN:
Page Extent / Format:
144 pp. / 210 x 297 mm
Release Date:
December 2010
  Illustrated:   With 16-page colour plate section
Hardback Price:
£19.95 / $39.95

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