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Recovering Yiddish Culture in Los Angeles

Caroline Luce, Author

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Maks Band: On Art and Time

“On Art and Time” by Maks Band [Max Band, painter]
As appears in Kheshbn (Reckoning), vol. 1 (1946): 52-53.
Translated by Mark L. Smith.

To the Editorial Board:

Dear Friends!
These are a few thoughts on time and art. Regarding time, we Jews are long-time experts. Art is a new matter. But a matter that occupies a very distinguished place in Jewish life. Accept these few lines as a greeting for the new cultural building.
Today, in the blackest days of our history, Jewish culture and education are the only bright spots.
Through all the generations of our sad fate, we have felt instinctively that culture is the only thing that has kept us alive — as a people. Therefore, I salute your fine work for our continuity.
Maks Band

. . . for three pieces of sugar we used to take the peasants’ little boy bathing with the horses.
At dawn, when the sun had just risen, we would ride through the narrow little streets to the Šešupė, our tiny little river, which once seemed to me so big and deep, and in which I saw for the first time reflections of trees, skies and clouds, vibrating and strange, like life itself — the world seen through the little river’s personality.
Later in kheyder [traditional religious elementary school], still blue from the chilly early morning, and not yet fully dried off, we listened to the rabbi’s deep velvety voice; he spoke of justice and truth, and our childish voices repeated: “Happy is he who can sit under his own vine and fig tree, have no fear of anyone, and is free to walk in God’s way — my three freedoms from twenty-seven centuries ago.”
After kheyder, sitting on the tall wagon with freshly cut hay, I relived once again the eternity of book and field. It was one life, it was timeless . . .
Just as animals sense the storm in the air much sooner than people, so did art, philosophy and literature sense and express the inner vibration of an epoch at the appropriate time.
They did not prophesy, nor did they foresee; they simply saw, saw the truth in its time, and apart from whether they were recognized in the span of their lifetimes or the ensuing generations, they are the only measure, the only memorial for the culture of a people.
Is it an accident that from Greek history we remember only the thinkers and artists, not the rulers or great men?
That from the Italian Renaissance we know, and revere still today, the names of painters and poets, not of princes and politicians? Is it not true that from our own great past there remains in the memory of the world only those who fought for ethics and justice, only those who laid the moral foundations of our present-day civilization — the prophets?
The accusation is often made of me that, because I seek and paint joy in nature, the people in my artwork seem melancholy.
Art, with the exception of some periods of Rouault, Daumier, Goya, is positive. Art is an expression of love, not hate. The artist paints what is dear to his heart; he seeks the truth and beauty that he sees through the window of his soul.
He paints the world according to the rhythm of his own heartbeat. It is like the differentness of the tree seen through the “personality of the little river,” where form and color depend on the stillness or turbulence of the water.
I love color, light, and shadows of trees, mountains, and rivers.
I love the tones, beauty and sensuality of fruits and flowers.
As for people, the oppressed, sad, and suffering are the nearest to my heart — I paint only what I love.
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