In the Jewish tradition “hiddur mitzvah”, it is a mitzvah, a good act, to make religious objects as beautiful as possible. Beautifying these ceremonial objects heightens their spiritual quality, and reflects their importance and value. I believe that it also encourages people to make those objects an integral part of their lives. Here’s an example: we used to have a plain-looking menorah that my wife picked up in college. It was functional, but not that attractive, so it stayed in the closet most of the year. But after our son was born, we wanted to “upgrade” and find a new menorah for our new family, something that could become an heirloom. We found one made by a metalsmith from Vermont that was (to put it simply) gorgeous. Simple, pure, strong — a real work of art. Because of that beauty, an object that was once hidden now stays on our mantle all year long.
It’s a wonderful concept, and one that I find very compelling as an artist. It reinforces what many of us artists already feel at a gut level — that our work can serve a greater purpose than simply making “pretty things”. That making beautiful things can itself be a spiritual act. I think of this a lot as I make ketubot. My goal is to make this cermonial object as beautiful as possible, so that the couple who receives it will think of it not only as a wedding document, but a work of art that they will treasure.