I was born in the Brooklyn Jewish Hospital in 1937 (now Interfaith Hospital), celebrated my becoming a bar mitzvah in Congregation Beth Abraham, my Uncle Morris’ storefront synagogue on Coney Island Avenue named for my father (now a Pakistani mosque), and in 1959 married my amazingly wonderful Miriam who grew up in Suriname and Israel at the Park Manor, a Jewish wedding hall on Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn (now an African-American church). I have often had the feeling that I was really born in the Land of Israel and that some mischievous angels flew my crib to Brooklyn.
My creative soul suffered the cold gray winters of my childhood in Queens in anticipation of the bright light of summers when my parents set me free among the sowbugs, salamanders, and swallows of the Catskill Mountains. My summer days were filled exploring the behavior of the creatures of the forests and ponds and making drawings and paintings of them interacting in their natural habitats as well as in imaginary worlds of my creation. I had no clue that art and science were separate activities. What my winter school in the city forced into distinctly different disciplines limited to verbal learning was integrally one in my summer learning.
As a respite from elementary school boredom at Yeshiva of Central Queens, I studied painting in the evenings with the artist Paula Eliasoph in her studio as the only child in a class for adults. During my high school years, I frequented New York art galleries, the Whitney Museum of American Art when it was on Eighth Street in the Village, the Museum of Modern Art, and the American Museum of Natural History. In college, I majored in biology since it gave me opportunities to discern patterns of interrelationships that I formalized in my thesis on the ecology of terrestrial isopods. As a student at Queens College, I began my life-long quest for understanding the confluence between art, science, and the deep structure of my Jewish consciousness.
After earning my B.S. and M.S., I began doctoral studies in cognitive psychology at the Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology of Yeshiva University, which I soon left to study painting at the Art Students League of New York. I returned to my doctoral studies at New York University where the art department facilitated my earning an interdisciplinary degree. The three members of my doctoral committee were professors of art, physics, and psychology. My 1969 doctoral dissertation, A Unitary Model of Aesthetic Experience in Art and Science, was based on the analysis of my interviews of scientists (Nobel laureates and members of the National Academy of Sciences) and prominent artists who described their creative processes to me.
In the ten years (1959-69) between earning my masters and doctoral degrees, I worked on Long Island as science teacher at Louis Pasteur Junior High School in Little Neck, science supervisor of the Manhasset Public Schools, and assistant professor of science education at Adelphi University. I directed one of ten test centers for American Association for the Advancement of Science/National Science Foundation curriculum project, Science: A Process Approach. I developed educational materials for the American Iron and Steel Institute, American Chemical Society, and the Leukemia Society of America. At the 1967 American Film Festival, I won the award for art direction for my film on leukemia. My papers were published in The American Biology Teacher and School Science and Mathematics. My paper, “The Binary System and Computers,” appeared in the National Science Teachers Association journal, Science and Children (1964). Prentice-Hall published my best-selling children’s books of experiments for exploring the senses, Sound Science (1969) and Light and Sight (1970) inspired by my children.
When the first computer plotter became available in 1965, I began creating vector drawings at NYU’s Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences that I transformed into sensuous encaustic paintings in the manner of ancient Egypt. One of these early high tech/high touch artworks exploring the physics of noise control was reproduced as the cover of International Science and Technology (April 1966). Working with nuclear physicists at Brookhaven National Laboratories, I created a series of paintings showing the paths of subatomic particles moving in a bubble chamber. My representation of motion of subatomic particles developed into presentation of motion in real space-time through my kinetic participatory “Multiform” artworks. Spectators became active collaborators in creating the artwork by manipulating knobs to reveal different colored surfaces of multifaceted prisms. In 1967, I had a solo exhibition, “Multiform of 531,441 Paintings,” at the Art Gallery of Adelphi Suffolk College on Long Island
After completing my doctorate at NYU, Tel Aviv University invited me to join its faculty and work on a science curriculum development project to bridge the gap between immigrant youth from European and Islamic lands. I created a junior high school curriculum, “From Science to Art,” to develop an integral structure of consciousness through transforming science experiences into art. The theoretical basis is described in my papers, “Toward an Integral Structure through Science and Art” in Main Currents in Modern Thought (1974) and “From Science to Art: Integral Structure and Ecological Perspective in a Digital Age” in the book Interdisciplinary Art Education (2005). I taught courses on psychology of creativity, curriculum development, and form and pattern in art and science at Tel Aviv University and the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem. I founded and directed the Experimental School of Haifa University where children learned all subjects through art experiences. In my last year in Israel before returning to the States, I lived at Kibbutz Tirat Tsvi where my work as a farmer offered me opportunities to create artworks exploring ecosystems and stochastic processes and teach art students at the Oranim Kibbutz College.
Columbia University offered me a position as Associate Professor of Art and Education in 1973. I introduced and taught an interdisciplinary graduate course, “Morphodynamics: Design of Natural Systems,” team taught the doctoral research seminar with anthropologist Margaret Mead, and supervised doctoral student research on interdisciplinary learning. My research on morphodynamics at the New York Botanical Gardens in the 1970’s lead to a series of encaustic paintings on shaped panels revealing growth patterns resulting from cellular interactions in leaves which were exhibited at the Jerusalem Botanical Gardens in 2008. My research on semiotics is discussed my paper, “A Semiotic Taxonomy of Contemporary Art Forms,” Studies in Art Education (1976) and updated in “Semiotic Redefinition of Art in a Digital Age,” in the book, Semiotics and Visual Culture: Sights, Signs, and Significance (2004).
After four years at Columbia, I returned to Israel as founding president of a regional college in the Negev Desert and as Associate Professor at Bar-Ilan University. I established an art school at the college in which the students joined me in creating conceptual and environmental artworks in the desert environment that addressed ecological, spiritual, and cultural issues. I was invited by the Institute for Desert Research to create an environmental artwork at the lowest spot on Planet Earth, the site of the infamous Sodom on the shore of the Dead Sea. Bar-Ilan University Press published my book on creativity in art and science, Aesthetic Experience in Creative Process, in 1981.
I spent the summer of 1980 in Cambridge as Research Fellow at MIT’s Center for Advanced Visual Studies where I created an interactive biofeedback system in which internal body processes generated digital self-portraits in a feedback loop flowing between real space and cyberspace. I also created “IDEA: International Desert Earth Archives,” a global artwork documenting the collection of earth samples through diplomatic channels from the 44 countries that have deserts. In response to my environmental artwork in the 1983 “Sky Art: Art & Technology” exhibition in Munich being vandalized by a neo-Nazi motorcycle gang, I created artworks at the Dachau death camp and in the Tzin Wilderness where the Israelites entered the Land of Israel on their exodus from Egypt.
In 1984, I returned full-time to MIT after seven years of desert life. I continued my research and artmaking, taught the graduate seminar “Art, Technology and Culture,” and developed a workshop for artists, scientists, and engineers, “Mindleaping: Developing Creativity for the Electronic Age.” I also taught graduate courses on creativity at Massachusetts College of Art and in Lesley College’s art therapy program. In collaboration with MIT’s Center for Advanced Visual Studies director Otto Piene, research fellows, and graduate students, I created a major exhibition in 1988, “LightsOROT: Spiritual Dimensions of the Electronic Age,” which combined technologies of laser animation, holography, fiber optics, biofeedback-generated imagery, computer graphics, interactive electronic media, spectral projections, and digital music. It was introduced at the Museum of Science (Boston) and exhibited for 18 months at Yeshiva University Museum (New York). Harvard University psychologist Rudolf Arnheim wrote the catalog introduction. The ARTnews critic wrote: “Rarely is an exhibition as visually engaging and intellectually challenging.”
While creating the “LightsOROT” exhibition at MIT, I accepted the position as Professor and Chairman of Fine Arts at Pratt Institute and became a frequent flyer on the Boston-New York shuttle. At Pratt in 1985, I introduced and taught the first computer graphics course, “Fine Arts with Computers,” and worked with Isaac Kerlow as co-curator of the international exhibition, “High Tech/High Touch: Computer Graphics in Printmaking” (1987) and in creating degree programs in computer graphics and interactive media. One of my computer-generated lithographs is in the collection of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History as exemplary of the first computer-generated fine art prints. During two residencies at the Burston Graphic Centre in Jerusalem, I created a computer-generated serigraph incorporating NASA satellite images that documented a telecommunications event, “Angels Ascending from the Land of Israel,” and a serigraph, “Parentheses of Asia,” documenting a global systems artwork that I created linking Tel Aviv to Chikura, a fishing village in Japan. Documentation of earth I collected from the base of the Western Wall in Jerusalem placed at the geographic South Pole coupled with computer-generated polar projections formed my artwork for the “Imagining Antarctica” exhibition at the State Museum in Linz, Austria, as part of Ars Electronica 1986.
In 1987, my “Digitized Homage to Rembrandt” computer-generated etching was exhibited in “The Artist and the Computer” exhibition at the Bronx Museum of the Arts and acquired by the Metropolitan Museum of Art for its permanent collection. My artworks exploring digital media and global systems are in the collections of forty museums worldwide, from Baltimore Museum of Art, New York’s Museum of Modern Art, Atlanta’s High Museum of Art, Denver Art Museum, and Portland Museum of Art in Oregon, to museums in London, Glasgow, The Hague, Vienna, Budapest, Prague, Jerusalem, Haifa, Caracas, and Montevideo. I participated in the “Computer Art” exhibition at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, the traveling exhibition “CRASH: ComputeR ASsisted Hardcopy” organized by the University of Wisconsin, and in digital art exhibitions at museums and art galleries throughout U.S.A. and in Germany, Chile, and Israel.
While heading the art department at Pratt, I acted as consultant to the art and engineering departments of the State University of New York at Stony Brook where I developed a new program in computer graphics, taught the first course on digital art, and had a solo exhibition at the university gallery, “Computer Angels” (1987). I served as Art Editor of The Visual Computer: International Journal of Computer Graphics which published my paper, “Art with Computers: The Human Spirit and the Electronic Revolution” (1988). AT&T sponsored my telecommunications art event, “Circumglobal Cyberangels” in cooperation with Rembrandthuis Museum in Amsterdam, Israel Museum in Jerusalem, National University of Fine Arts in Tokyo, and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. It was seen by millions of people worldwide and featured in the 1989 AT&T Annual Report.
In 1990, I was invited to be Dean of Visual Arts of New World School of the Arts in Miami, a new school created by the Florida State Legislature as “A Center for Excellence in the Arts,” a joint venture of University of Florida, Miami-Dade College, and Miami-Dade Public Schools. I developed B.F.A. programs in electronic intermedia and environmental public art. During my ten years in Miami, my artworks were shown in “Electronic Arts,” Reynolds Gallery, University of the Pacific in California, “Artists: On the Edge,” College of Santa Fe, New Mexico, “Art and Technology,” Badischer Kuntsverein, Karlsruhe, Germany, “Lumia: International Light Art,” Charlottenborg Museum, Copenhagen, Denmark, and other venues worldwide. I joined Roy Ascott in the 1990 College Arts Association colloquium, “Towards an Aesthetic for the 21st Century: Networking, Hypermedia and Planetary Creativity.” My talk dealt with the inherently spiritual character of the telematic revolution.
I collaborated with my wife, artist Miriam Benjamin, in creating “Four Corners of America,” the official art project celebrating Miami’s centennial. We created a series of artworks, both high tech and high touch, linking Miami with San Diego, Seattle, and Portland (Maine). In one of the pieces funded by the National Endowment for the Arts, we worked with choreographer Danny Lewis, the heads of contemporary dance companies in each of the four corner cities, and ABC-TV. Using up-link satellite broadcast television, we collaborated in designing an artwork in which dancers dancing in each of the four cities dance with each other in real time interacting on a single screen. My documentation of terrestrial isopod life in the four corners of America recapturing my interest as a biologist four decades earlier was one of our ten artworks for the centennial. My artwork explored the anatomical design, evolutionary survival, ecological niches, and biogeography of these organisms as metaphors for spiritual, cultural, and social dynamics in human populations.
Miami in Ecological Perspective, my 1994 book, relates an ecological structure of consciousness in art and science that forms the theoretical basis for a program for art students that I created in collaboration with biologists of Everglades National Park. I presented a series of lectures on the spiritual in art of the digital age and environmental public art at Harvard University, University of Southern California, University of Florida, University of South Florida, Maine College of Art, and Nova Scotia College of Art. Miriam Benjamin and I collaborated with art students and elders from different ethnic communities to create “Legacy Thrones,” monumental works of environmental art and computer-generated “Legacy Scrolls” that we discuss in our papers, “Creating Public Art Through Intergenerational Collaboration,” Art Education (September 2004) and “Intergenerational Collaboration in Creating Multicultural Public Art” in the book Community Connections: Intergenerational Links in Art Education (2004). I lectured on creativity and the biology of aging at the conventions of the American Society on Aging, National Center for Creative Aging, and National Art Education Association. The National Expressive Therapy Association elected me Distinguished Fellow and published my paper, “A Kabbalistic Model of Creative Process” in its journal.
I returned to Israel in 2000 to accept a professorship at Ariel University where I taught the courses, “Space-Time Systems in Nature and Culture,” to architecture students and “Art in Jewish Thought” and “Judaism and Zionism: Values and Roots” to students in the natural sciences, engineering, and behavioral sciences. I also taught “Art in Jewish Thought” to art education students at Emuna College in Jerusalem and to dance students at Israel Orot College in Elkana. I began work on a responsive artwork, “Cybersight,” linking Internet technology with a digital device that provides haptic opportunities for blind people to “see” computer images through their fingers. At the National Art Education Association convention in 2002, I expanded Kandinsky’s view of modern art into the postmodern digital era in my lecture on the spiritual in art of the electronic age which was summarized in my 2009 paper “Concerning Down-to-Earth Spirituality in Art Education” in NAEA News.
In 2002 I was appointed to Council of the Wolf Foundation by the president of Israel on the recommendation if the minister of education. I continue my work on the Council in 2017 of the foundation the grants the international Wolf Prizes in the Sciences and Arts.
Some of my papers published from 2003 to 2010 are: “Jewish Consciousness and Art of the Digital Age” Journal of Judaism and Civilization, “An Interactive Dialogue: Talmud and the Net” in the “Web of Life” issue of Parabola, “Ancient Schema and Technoetic Art,” Technoetic Arts: Journal of Speculative Research, “Cyberangels: Aesthetic Peace Plan for the Middle East,” Leonardo: Journal of the International Society for the Arts, Sciences and Technology.
I am author of chapters appeared in four books published by the National Art Education Association: “Semiotic Redefinition of Art in a Digital Age” in Semiotics of Visual Culture: Sights, Signs, and Significance, “From Science to Art: Integral Structure and Ecological Perspective in a Digital Age” in Interdisciplinary Art Education, "Legacy Thrones: Intergenrational Collaboration in Creating Multicultural Public Art" with Miriam Benjamin in Community Connections: Intergenerational Links in Art Education, "Space-Time Structures of Digital Visual Culture: Paradigm Shift from Hellenistic to Hebraic Consciousness" in Inter/Actions/Inter/Sections: Art Education in a Digital Visual Culture.
My “Cyberangels: Aesthetic Peace Plan for the Middle East” exhibition was shown in the Robert Guttmann Gallery of the Jewish Museum in Prague in 2004. I presented a poster, “Educating Artists in a Digital Age” at SIGGRAPH 2005 in Los Angeles and my paper “Biblical Fringes: Biomorphic Consciousness through Ancient Ritual” at the 2006 Consciousness Reframed conference at the University of Plymouth, UK. I was Guest Professor at the University of Art and Design/ZKM Center for Art and Media in Karlsruhe in 2007 and 2008. I wrote a chapter for Inter/sections/Inter/actions: Art Education in a Digital Visual Culture (National Art Education Association, 2010).
In 2007, I became the first professor emeritus at Ariel University and in 2009 was appointed Head of the School of the Arts at Emuna College where students creatively redefine the arts at the interdisciplinary interface where traditional values and new media shape cultural values of a Jewish state in a networked world.
My book, The Future of Art in a Digital Age: From Hellenistic to Hebraic Consciousness (Intellect Books, 2006), explores the spiritual dimensions of art in the digital era from semiotic, morphological, kabbalistic, and halakhic perspectives. A Hebrew version, Dialogic Art in a Digital World: Four Essays on Judaism and Contemporary Art, was published in Jerusalem in 2008. A revised and expanded version The Future of Art in a Postdigital Age: From Hellenistic to Hebraic Consciousness was published by Intellect Books/University of Chicago Press in 2011. I am editor of Educating Artists for the Future: Learning at the Intersections of Art, Science, Technology, and Culture (Intellect Books/University of Chicago Press, 2008). My 2015 book Photograph God: Creating a Spiritual Blog of Your Life (CreateSpace) is based upon the Torah Tweets blogart project http://torahtweets.blogspot.com that I created with my wife artist Miriam Benjamin to celebrate our 52nd year of marriage by linking our life to the biblical narrative. I am expanding this instruction manual into an updated academic book Spirituality through a Smartphone Lens: Kabbalah of Creative Process in an Age of Social Media.