“My name is Asher Lev… I am a traitor, an apostate, a self-hater, an inflicter of shame upon my family, my friends, my people; also, I am a mocker of ideas sacred to Christians, a blasphemous manipulator of modes and forms revered by Gentiles for two thousand years.”
It is difficult to describe the feeling I had when I first read “My Name is Asher Lev” by Chaim Potok. Sometimes a work of art lays a claim on you, as if it knows you better than you know yourself. This wondrous work of fiction did that to me. I have returned to this book again and again. There are only a handful of books I’ve read repeatedly over the years:”To Kill a Mockingbird”, “The Lord of the Rings”, “Heart of Darkness”, “Godric”, “A Christmas Carol” and “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”. I suppose the ones you return to are the ones that mean the most to you and have helped make you the person that you are. But “Asher Lev”, because it is a story of an artist existing in the tension between creativity and faith, has always seemed the most intimate for me.
For this post I am going to let Chaim Potok do the rest of the talking, through the quotes of the book. If you are a creative person who also happens to be a person of faith, and you have never read this book, please – for your own sake – pick up a copy and read. Artists inspire artists, art begets art.
Quotes from “My Name is Asher Lev”, by Chaim Potok
“I looked at my right hand, the hand with which I painted. There was power in that hand. Power to create and destroy. Power to bring pleasure and pain. Power to amuse and horrify. There was in that hand the demonic and the divine at one and the same time. The demonic and the divine were two aspects of the same force. Creation was demonic and divine. Creativity was demonic and divine. I was demonic and divine.”
“Seeds must be sown everywhere. Only some will bear fruit. But there would not be the fruit from the few had the many not been sown”
“I do not have many things that are meaningful to me. Except my doubts and my fears. And my art.”
“A life is measured by how it is lived for the sake of heaven.”
“Asher Lev, an artist is a person first. He is an individual. If there is no person, there is no artist.”
“Art is a person’s private vision expressed in aesthetic forms.”
“I do not know what evil is when it comes to art. I only know what is good art and what is bad art.”
“You can do anything you want to do. What is rare is this actual wanting to do a specific thing: wanting it so much that you are practically blind to all other things, that nothing else will satisfy you,.”
“An artist has got to get acquainted with himself just as much as he can. It is no easy job, for it is not a present-day habit of humanity.”
“Millions of people can draw. Art is whether there is a scream in you wanting to get out in a special way.”
“Every artist is a man who has freed himself from his family, his nation, his race. Every man who has shown the world the way to beauty, to true culture, has been a rebel, a ‘universal’ without patriotism, without home, who has found his people everywhere.”