Alan Falk, Atonement

The Collection and The Human Journey

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Alan Falk, Atonement
Gift of the Artist
(Academic Building Near the Mahogany Room)

The Artist’s Statement: The painting is based upon the Jewish idea of Atonement. Judaism views the sinner as one spiritually alienated from God, from his fellow-man, or from his ideal self. Atonement, in the religious sense, means a reversal of the alienation caused by sin where the offending party is restored to spiritual "at-one-ment" (i.e., unity) and ultimately forgiven. Atonement, in Jewish teaching, occurs through repentance which involves recognition and admission of the sin, feelings of remorse, restitution to the offended party, and a resolve not to repeat the offense.

The exercise of human freedom is central to atonement. Just as man is free to sin, so he is free to repent, and it is for him to take the initiative in seeking atonement. In the painting, this concept of freedom of choice is represented by the two figures, on the left, the Yetzer Tov, the inclination to do good, and on the right, the Yetzer Hara, the inclination to do evil.
In the center are the scales of justice representing the Jewish holy day of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Yom Kippur services begin in the evening with the Kol Nidre prayer, which casts the congregation as petitioners in a court seeking to have their sins annulled. At the end of services at nightfall, the shofar (ram's horn at top of painting) is blown. As the sound of the blast fills the synagogue, so does the feeling of having been cleansed both by the physical deprivations of the day and by the certainty that a merciful God has granted the longed-for atonement.

Above the scales is a quote from the Jewish theologian and philosopher Martin Buber (1878-1965) in which he describes God as “that which cannot be seen”, summing up the Jewish concept of God's incorporeality, that God has no form, is neither a body nor a bodily force, nor is subject to any bodily characteristics.

At the bottom of the painting appears the Azazel goat. In the Temple era, this goat was to carry "all the sins" of Israel with it (Lev. 16:22) hence the concept of the "scapegoat." Preceding this action, the High Priest drew lots over two he-goats, assigning one goat to be sacrificed and the other to be sent away "to Azazel" in the wilderness to be killed. The derivation of the word is not completely clear; the Talmud suggests that AzazeI was a craggy cliff, over which the goat was thrown to its death.

The ladder in the bottom right hand corner of the painting refers to Jacob’s ladder and symbolizes the notion that we all have the choice to symbolically raise oneself upwards (as towards heaven.) To the left of the ladder and goat, two loosely painted figures are swept up in the vortex that surrounds the scales of justice which is based on a reference from the Book of Amos (line 5:24) - "But let justice well up like water, righteousness like a mighty stream."

Anne Bolin, Ph.D.
Department of Graphic Design & Visual Arts