Viewing art in person is not just about seeing the brushstrokes or the way the light reflects off of a sculpture. As an art history student interested in ancient Near Eastern art and contemporary Levantine art, I thought traveling to Israel would primarily be about experiencing all the works of art I have studied in person. But as it goes, the best laid plans ...
After the war started, I checked the news every time I walked past my television, every time I looked at my phone, selfishly hoping it would end. I was walking into a foreign country alone, and now I was doing it in a warzone. It would be an understatement to say that the conflict between Israel and Gaza changed my trip. My travel plans stayed the same, and yet my experience was profoundly different than if I had left just a month before. Many things I hoped to do and see couldn’t happen. For the first time I understood what it felt like to live somewhere where war may actually reach your doorstep. I hesitate to even admit that there were some moments I was truly terrified during my trip, if only because I met so many people who had it worse (and didn’t meet those who were the worst off).
Yet the situation quickly became inseparable from and essential to my experience of the art.
Geographical landscape, cultural history, tradition, and collective experience all effect the art artists choose to create. Too often, these quickly become things only ascertainable secondhand. The information you can reference may be vast, but it is not infinite. Rarely does one experience taking shelter during a missile attack while viewing an exhibition of conflict art. It becomes very clear what prompted the artists to make the work, while acutely reminding you that nearly all art, both representational and abstract, is ultimately a secondhand rendition of experience. Even after being woken by sirens, watching missiles intercepted overhead while laying in the street, learning the difference between the sound of a firework and that of tear gas, being shoved out of violent crowds by armed soldiers, I was still not experiencing what so much of the art I saw reflected on. But it was closer than seeing it in the US. I’d already got my brushstrokes in Venice; Israel gave me the experience.