Sunday, January 9, 2022

Biblical Origins of Crypto Cyberangels

 Rembrandt’s inspiration for my postdigital age artwork began three decades ago when I was sitting in a small synagogue in New York listening to the chanting of the biblical portion about artists Bezalel and Oholiav building the Tabernacle. I was translating the Hebrew words into English in my mind when it struck me that the Bible’s term for “art” is malekhet makhshevet, literally “thoughtful craft.” It is a feminine term. Since I’m a male artist, I transformed it into its masculine form malakh makhshev, literally “computer angel.”

Mel Alexenberg, Brooklyn Angel,  Acrylic painting on panel, 90 x 161 cm.

When the services ended, I immediately told my wife Miriam that I discovered that my role as a male Jewish artist is to create computer angels. “To do what?” was her response. I reminded her of an article that our son Rabbi Ron Alexenberg had sent us a week earlier when he was archivist at Rabbi Kook’s House in Jerusalem. Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook was a down-to-earth mystic who served as the chief rabbi of pre-state Israel during the first half of the 20th century. When he lived in London, he enjoyed seeing the Rembrandt paintings in the National Gallery and described the light in them as the light of the first day of Creation.

Rembrandt van Rijn, Belshazzar's Feast, 1638, National Gallery, London

“Thoughtful Craft” is a More Fitting Postdigital Age Term than “Art” 

The biblical term for art as “thoughtful craft” is more appropriate for our digital era that the English term “art” related to “artifact” and “artificial,” the Hellenistic view that art’s role in mimesis, imitating nature. The contemporary Hebrew word for “computer” is makhshev, “thinker.” “Thinking machine” is a more relevant term today than “computing machine.” 

I explore this divergence in my books: Through a Bible Lens: Biblical Insights for Smartphone Photography and Social Media (HarperCollins) and The Future of Art in a Postdigital Age: From Hellenistic to Hebraic Consciousness (Intellect Books/University of Chicago Press).

I felt well equipped to create computer angels that I like to call cyberangels. I was head of the art department at Pratt Institute, America’s leading art college, where I taught “Fine Art with Computers,” and research fellow at MIT Center for Advanced Visual Studies where I taught a course I called “Mindleaping: Developing Creativity for the Electronic Age.” I was a frequent flier on the New York-Boston route.

From Faxart to the Digital Culture of Smartphones, Social Media, and Crypto Art
Flash forward thirty years from the faxart generation in 1989 to the ubiquitous digital culture of smartphones and social media in 2022. Unlike the era of fax technology when I sent my Rembrandt inspired cyberangel from one city to the next on its circumglobal flight, today I can send cyberangels into the digital cloud. They then simultaneously can come down into thirty museums on five continents that have my artworks in their collections. The cloud describes a vast number of computers interconnected through a real-time communication network such as the Internet. The cloud is a living network of networks blanketing our planet that closely expresses the biblical commentary that the angels in Jacob’s dream ascend into the cloud and can come down anywhere in the world. 

From Rembrandt Inspired Cyberart in MoMA to Cryptoart NFT

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