Do You Speak My Language?

Have you ever been in a room where the majority of people are speaking a language you don’t understand? Most of us have encountered situations where we can’t follow the conversation, whether it is being held in a foreign language or because the topic is unfamiliar to us. Either way, I think you’ll agree that it’s not much fun.

Isn’t it a relief, then, when someone comes up to you and makes an effort to include you or speak your mother tongue?

I recently had a (very civilized) argument with a coworker on the subject of how much material we offer translated into English. She felt that having the class schedule available in two languages was overdoing it. Why should we go out of our way to speak English, she asks? “People who live in Israel should learn to speak Hebrew.”

The last sentence of the above paragraph is definitely in the top three phrases which piss me off the most. To me, instead of saying “We’ll help you integrate into society!” that sentence says, “Go back where you came from.”

My coworker certainly has a point, but her statement fails to acknowledge that a) learning another language is not easy for everyone, b) the most spoken language in Israel is Arabic, and c) having English material available is very little effort for us, while reading Hebrew may demand a humungous effort from the client and may actually discourage them from taking our services. In my humble opinion it is more important to make the client feel at home than to force them to stumble over foreign characters just because they live here.

And speaking of Arabic, two days ago I learned a lesson about human communication – it doesn’t always happen through words. I was playing the cello in Liberty Bell Park and accompanying my boyfriend who was practicing some Contact Juggling. A little while in, a group of Israeli Arab children gathered around to watch us. My Arabic vocabulary is limited to about 5 words (not including curses or food products), but we were able to communicate through art and body language. They were an excellent audience – enthusiastic, paying close attention, retrieving fallen juggling balls, clapping for an encore. I wondered how often these children get to see a free juggling/cello show. Probably not very often. It was so gratifying, walking back to the car feeling like we did something good, like we broke a cultural barrier even without talking. It’s not necessarily the fact of sharing a language that makes connection possible, it’s the act of wanting to connect that makes people feel you care enough to make it happen.

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What’s Up With Modern Art?

We’ve all had those teachers who drone on about the deep messages hidden in poetry, literature, and various types of art. As an artist, this has always bothered me, because I don’t like to think of how people might misinterpret my artwork. I’ve realized over the years that this is not something I can control, that when you release art, interpretation is in the hands of the audience. Still, I can try to be nice to my fellow artists and try not to over analyze their work.

Yesterday I walked around an art museum for the first time since I visited the Louvre in 2007. I won’t deny that the Israel museum is quite a step down from the Louvre. But there are some thought-provoking pieces in there. My date and I strolled around, gawking at the various sand tables and dried brooms which were not very impressive, finally stopping in front of a giant canvas, covered entirely in black paint.

“And the thing is, he used a small brush,” said my date.

I nodded. “Of course.” For the contrast. The painting is flawless; the strokes are invisible, only the rough surface of the canvas can be identified beneath the smooth layer of black.

“I wonder if there’s something underneath it,” I mused. I was reminded of a story I heard from my grandmother about a kindergarten age girl who used to paint beautiful pictures and then cover them all in black. Where I was unimpressed with the giant black painting a moment before, I began to wonder what its earlier incarnations looked like. A painting doesn’t usually appear out of thin air. It’s a process.

A work of art which speaks for itself

When I think about my literature teachers who felt the need to make everything a sex symbol, I can’t help feeling a little misunderstood as an artist. Yeah, a lot of things probably are sex symbols, but not everything. If a painting has a message to give, it will deliver without somebody else explaining it to you. Art shouldn’t be analyzed down to the last green dot in the corner. Art should speak for itself without the use of words. Art speaks with silence. A work of art which is truly remarkable should fill a silent museum with echoes of emotion. People don’t wait hours on line to see the Mona Lisa because it’s big, or pretty (which it is neither) but because it shakes you up. So modern art may be a little less visually appealing, but if you can hear it shout, then it has succeeded in doing its job.