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Anna Blume, History of Art and Civilization Faculty

When I teach the history of art, I often have to explain why there are so many iconic Christian images and so few Islamic or Judaic ones. All three religions worship the same god, but have a different interpretation of the Third Commandment, "Thou shalt not make images of anything in heaven, the earth, or the sea." (Students are always amazed that this comes before "Thou shalt not kill.")

The Jewish tradition defined itself as distinctly different from the image-rich polytheistic cultures that came before it; Judaism therefore prohibited all representation, not just of God, but of animals, plants, etc. When Islam developed centuries later, Muslims also opposed images; implicit in the commandment is the idea that creating imagery is hubris—usurping the role of God. For Christians, the idea that God became flesh in Christ led to iconic imagery in art, while the Jewish and Islamic traditions are rich in calligraphy, bookmaking, and beautiful mosaics that were predominantly visualizations of words or stylized abstractions.

The idea of prohibiting images of any kind shocks FIT students, because they see themselves as visual communicators in New York, a radically image-saturated culture. Of all the things I teach, this is the one where students are most on the edge of their seats.

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