The Orthodox Jewish Boy Who Made Art, When Very Few Others Did

Meir Kruter grew up with art in his heart and a Gemara in his hand. He was born in Brooklyn to a tight-knit family and raised as an only child by a single mom. His mother greatly encouraged his passion for what was an unconventional route for religious boys at the time. “She kind of ushered me towards an art path,” Kruter says. Growing up he didn’t do Little League, rather he expressed and expanded on his talents at Zelda Weiss’s art studio. There, she held weekly art lessons, which were mainly attended by girls and non-Orthodox boys. He learned the basics, starting with acrylic paintings and claims that “it wasn’t anything earth-shattering.”

Once reaching his gap year, Kruter took off to Yeshiva in Israel with his camera strapped on his back and relates, “I just started taking a million pictures and I fell in love with photography.” He focused on capturing scenic pictures of Israel. Upon returning to the states, his mom spearheaded the idea of building an art exhibit that would display his photos. It ended up receiving a lot of positive feedback. “I would say that the [work] that stops people is that I capture the right moment and that I’m telling a story.”

Because Kruter is an observant Jew, it narrowed down many of his photography options, which were practically impossible when he was first starting out. His favorite genre was in the National Geographic style and was one ‘s Kruter’s dreams when he was young. That would have demanded him traveling to exotic places which would have infringed on things like Shabbos and keeping kosher. Kruter he never pursued that path due to his religious convictions.

He has positive perspective when speaking about the sacrifice he made. “My talents kind of hit a wall because of my religious beliefs and it really kind of drove who I became as a person because of that.” But it didn’t stop Kruter from pursuing his passion in other ways. Continuing on his journey, Kruter went to get his associates in graphic design and then B.A. in one of the top graphic design schools in the country – the  School of Visual Arts (SVA) in New York City. “I nearly felt like I was in [Harry Potter’s school] Hogwarts and I was just like another wizard with lots of wizards.” Kruter’s magic comes from a Higher Source. His conviction and commitment to his beliefs made him stand out as a unique student. The administration recognized this, and as a result, were incredibly accommodating towards his religious needs regarding his art courses and class schedule.

While Kruter got into event photography to continue his trade and find a steady income to pay the bills, he picked up painting again several years ago and created a series called Portraits of Torah, a project which he is visibly excited about.

Portraits of Torah is compromised of pixellated mosaics with hundreds of different Hebrew letters that occupy boxes. When these tiles come together, they read as a body of text from the subject’s work. “The paintings are not only about what these people look like, but what they embody and the reasons that these people are famous.” When you stand up close, all you see are the colorful letters. But when you step away to view the bigger picture, you see the entire face of the famed Chofetz Chaim, Rav Moshe Feinstein, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, and more. Kruter’s goal is to attach the magnificence of art with the majesty of Torah and its timeless lessons. He illustrates it in this manner to teach people to see beyond the mere surface; “That’s kind of like what drives me… seeing more than meets the eye. I think that’s so, so fantastic.”

While he fashions the faces of great gedolim on canvas with the text of their teachings, he notes that, “as I’m painting them I kind of feel like this kesher; I kind of feel like this kinship to them.” Painting is a therapeutic outlet though Kruter believes the process itself is not considered a religious endeavor. Instead, he actively paves a path for serving Hashem with his passion for art. Kruter believes that displaying art carries a responsibility too and highly recommends that when picking out your living room decor, “it should be more than just a nice picture on your wall that matches your couch.”

For more information and to see more of Kruter’s work, visit here.

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