Islamic Art

Interior Ibn Battuta Mall – Dubai, UAE

To generalize Islamic art without a firm grasp of Islam is a daunting task. In some sense, it seems incredibly ignorant of me to attempt to do so when the region called the middle east is comprised of several cultures, races, religions, and distinct histories. Furthermore, the artistic traditions of Islam are as varied as anything else and are hard to categorize in any specific social framework. Despite this, such artistic work seems the most appropriate choice for expanding a appreciative view of humanity that can be defined as non-western. To best secure at least something correct, I will limit this glance to Islamic geometric art.  I found it difficult to find artist names behind many of the works I discovered but many are worth seeing.  I suggest  independent research to discover many of the anonymous patterns in pottery, textiles, and mosques. Richard Henry – Unmayyad Pattern (2006)

Most everyone is familiar with geometry and patterns.  The above image by Richard Henry is included here to give some mathematical frame of reference.  The artistic emphasis of these ideas gained prominence due to certain religious rules in Islamic religious texts forbidding the portrayal of human forms in worship.  Additionally, the advanced mathematical discoveries in the middle east brought about some wonder toward the patterns of these ideas. The underlying message in such geometries, within the Islamic context, is the infinite and natural power of God. It is important to note that ideas like zero, our decimal counting system, and algebra originated from India and the middle east. Arabic calligraphy is also similarly celebrated and made the subject of many past and current Islamic art.  A shocking break from this tradition can be found in the photography of Shirin Neshat.  While other more current but traditional forms are in the following:

Mohammand Ehsai – He is Merciful (2007)

Mohammand Ehsai – Ghermez (1985)

These paintings by Mohammand Ehsai are breathtaking.  I’ve always been fascinated with graffiti art as one of the four pillars of American hip-hop culture.  While Islamic culture is quite different from Hip-Hop, these images strike me in a similar way.  The meaning of the words is dwarfed by the visual presentation.  My peripheral understanding of this art form is one where religious worship is manifest in the words of Islamic teachings.  In this context, such art can be seen as sacred as the paintings from Christian traditions during the Renaissance.  There is a tremendous amount more to say about this art form but would require a greater understanding of Arabic, Islam, the middle east, and geometry.  I hope this has been an interesting but brief introduction into what I think is some of the most beautiful art ever crafted.

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12 Comments

  1. Wow, I hadn’t even looked at Islam as a source of art for this assignment. That is beautiful! I did know that our numbering system is Arabic but I had no idea of the religious connection. Very nicely put together post. Do you think that certian numbers might be holy (or considered sacred) to the Islamic faith, like 3 and 7 are supposed to be holy numbers in Judaism and Christianity? Maybe numbers that express mathematical perfection like the number e or the number pi, for example. Over all, very good job.

  2. Wow! I have always loved the Islamic art. I like the way they can make such simplistic designs into such complicated art. The patterns are there but you have to really look sometimes to find them, since they are so colorful and ornate. The picture from inside the mall in Dubai is in the Persian section, so you might be able to find more like it in Persian Art. If you look at full pictures of this section of the mall there is a Starbucks under this ceiling, a very ornate ceiling for a coffee spot! You can view another very ornate Islamic ceiling: http://www.omniplan.hu/3830M-Islamic-art.jpg
    Mohammand Ehsai’s calligraphy designs are exquisite. He has been featured in many exhibits and shows. I think it fascinating that he can create such images using calligraphy.

    You might find this site interesting, it allows you to see how the geometric patterns are made, step-by-step: http://www.metmuseum.org/explore/publications/pdfs/islamic_geometric/islamic_art_and_geometric_design.pdf

    Thank you for sharing this beautiful post.

  3. Very interesting idea to study Islamic art for this post. I had not though of it, but in the American way of thinking it does represent the farthest end of the spectrum from western art. I was pleased to get an insight into the culture of the Islamic world and enjoyed the pieces that you shared as well as the background and history of the works. Well done 🙂

  4. Though I am not a fan of this art, it is obvious that a lot of work and dedication went into this. All the pieces of Islamic art posted here are very intricate, nicely proportioned, and pull the viewers eyes in. The color schemes are somewhat monotonous, but with the detail you might not even notice if your admiring the work for what it is.

  5. I haven’t every considered Islamic art before looking at this post. I have been looking at Chinese calligraphy and the detail, complexity and depth of the Islamic “calligraphy” shown here is just as stunning. I also like the geometric art that you show. The relation of math and art here is very interesting.

  6. You did a great job including all the information about the art work and why you liked it. I can see how trying to write in depth about these works could be daunting and I am impressed by what you did know. you claims about the works were substantiated by the photos and the information you presented. you even mentioned the Renaissance period and how it related to that time. What you shared about the roots of math was interesting to me. I enjoyed the pictures and the intricacy of them.

  7. Just to mention that these calligraphy masterpieces have no relevance to Islam! These are pure PERSIAN art. Risen from the land of IRAN (Persia) centuries before a religion called Islam.

    And I’m very glad you liked them, indeed.

  8. The meaning behind Islamic art is to, rather than present a mere reflection of worldly realities, to present a look beyond them. The world is veil to the believer, and so the purpose of Islamic art is to glimpse beyond that veil, and present something that in simple terms reflects the beauty of God. This most of takes the form of symmetry and geometry, the most ordered forms of beauty.

    As to the question above, there are not really any numbers considered ‘sacred’ in the Islamic cosmology. As to the user who claims that Islamic art is the product of Persians, some geometric art may have begun in Persia, but the far greatest input into Muslim art that came from Persia was in terms of Miniature painting, that continued into the Mughal and Safavid traditions. Geometric art was generally Arab in source, though the Persian input should not be ignored.

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