Westerners describe calligraphy as letters and words used to create elegant pen work. Calligraphy has a much deeper meaning in the Islamic world. In the Arabic language, the word “khatt” is used to describe it. Khatt’s meaning stems from the words, line, design and construction of words and letters. In our contemporary time, the majority of people do not notice the form and construction of type since most of it is now done automatically on a digital device. However, computer type and drawn typographic forms (khatt) speak their own language of beauty and elegance. Even something that appears as insignificant as type to the untrained eye can be a reflection of a larger cultural ideal.
Arabic calligraphy is one of the few modern examples of the combined expression of spirituality and aesthetic beauty. On the one hand it is a decorative composition of forms with an elegant appearance. On the other, the spirituality of khatt stems from its religious connection. The Islamic religion has had a deep impact on this art form, creating a variation of calligraphy that speaks a cultural language.
Figurative representation of shapes is not used in Islam. This aniconism is evident in the Qur’an, Islam’s holy book. The text of the Qur’an does not explicitly prohibit the depiction of the human figure, but does condemn idolatry. Most artistic works created by Muslims therefore contain no images of sentient living beings. With these subjects off limits, most works seen in the Islamic world focus on geometric shapes and textile work. What these works lack in the ability to draw from realistic images they gain in the fluidity of the script employed to create motifs. These motifs are an expression of calligraphic designs taken from the standard vertical or horizontal writing and used in compositions. Below is a video explaining the use of faces in artwork.
In the Islamic culture, the art of khatt is known as the art of pen and an expression of the sacred. It is inspired and taken from religious contemplation. The shapes, curves and counter forms of the lettering are an expression of Islam. Since its inception, Arabic script has gone through different reforms and has experienced different influences from region to region. Khatt has now become a blend of Islamic religious and cultural influences, and has been absorbed into the modern markets of the globalized world. This form of writing is the main preservation of the Qur’an and is a representation of devotion to it.