Exploring Islamic Art


During a trip over the weekend, I had the pleasure of exploring the Art Institute of Chicago. As I wandered through the extensive collection and viewed masterpiece after masterpiece, many of which define moments and reflect attitudes about Western culture, I began to think about the history of art in the Middle East. I discovered a few artistic relics from the Middle East at the Art Institute, such as carpets, medallions, and tiles, but I didn’t have time to see everything. So, I’ve since done some research and discovered some interesting information about Islamic and Middle Eastern art throughout history.

What is Islamic Art?

As evidenced by its name, the category of Islamic art includes work that was created with the specific purpose of honoring the religion of Islam. However, according to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, secular art that was created “in lands under Islamic rule and influence” can also fall into this category. That is true even if the artist or piece itself has no direct connection with the religion of Islam.

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Characteristics

Since the category spans across an immense period of time and geographic area, Islamic art varies between regions and eras. It has also been influenced to an extent by external forces from other cultures. Despite all of this, there are several unifying qualities that set Islamic art apart:

  • Calligraphy– Long perceived as an honorable art form by Muslims, calligraphy appears in engravings on architectural structures, pottery, glass, stone, wood, and cloth works.  Although the script is associated with the Qur’an, the Muslim holy book, it is prevalent in both religious and secular works.

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  • Patterns– Elaborate designs made up of geometric and vegetal (relating to plants) patterns are very common in Islamic art. These repetitive techniques may represent the boundless and everlasting nature of God.

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  • Figural Representation– Images of figures, both human and animal, show up in many forms of art, including as decoration on architectural structures, textiles and paintings, and occasionally sculptures. However, figural representation in Islamic art is almost exclusive to secular works, as the Qur’an forbids idolatry. According to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, “The Islamic resistance to the representation of living beings ultimately stems from the belief that the creation of living forms is unique to God.” For this reason, portrayals of living beings almost never appear in religious art.

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Other Facts

  • Islamic art generally attempts to portray not only physical forms, but also the nature and metaphysical significance of the images.
  • Most Islamic art was created by unknown artists, with the exception of well-known calligraphers, as signatures on pottery, carvings, and textiles are rare. This provides a stark contrast to Western society, which places a high emphasis on artists and their techniques and style.
  • Islamic art is predominantly expressed in craft arts, such as pottery, cloth works, and ceramics. This also contrasts Western tradition, in which paintings and sculptures are the most common art forms.

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Sources

BBC

Encyclopaedia Britannica

Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Metropolitan Museum of Art

Salaam

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4 thoughts on “Exploring Islamic Art

  1. I grew up in a home with a great appreciation for art. My dad was an artist and out of all the years I watched him work on projects and speak about it, I never knew much about Islamic art. It’s phenomenal to see how religion plays such a significant role among this type of art. A

  2. Another very interesting aspect is that the artists are generally unknown. My dad always left his signature or initials on his art because it helped him create a life for himself and it shows that this is not the case for Islamic art because of the intrinsic value it holds.

  3. I’ve always enjoyed Middle Eastern art and architecture. There is something very unique about them compared to the art of the rest of the world. I especially like the passion that almost all of their ancient artwork has for the glory and greatness of god. I’m not very religious myself but I’ve always admired religious art and the message that usually comes with it.

  4. I like to look at this art in comparison to the art from the United States and other parts of the world. I like the intricate designs that are used and I like the religious feel to the art. Along with the design I like to see what kind of art a region typically produces. In your facts you talk about how Islamic art uses a lot of craft art such as pottery.

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