Islamic art is vibrant and distinctive. Muslims throughout history have preserved Islamic art.
Unlike Christian art, Islamic art isn’t restricted to religious work but includes all the artistic traditions in Muslim culture. Its strong aesthetic appeal transcends time and space, as well as differences in language and culture.
This is because of common features in all Islamic art which give it a remarkable coherence, regardless of the country or the time in which it was created.
There are, however, strong regional characteristics, and influences from other cultures are also visible.
What is Islamic art?
The Essentials of Islamic Art
- Includes all Muslim art, not just explicitly religious art
- Islamic art seeks to portray the meaning and essence of things, rather than just their physical form
- Crafts and decorative arts are regarded as having full art status
- Painting and sculpture are not thought of as the noblest forms of art
- Calligraphy has been a major art form in the Islamic world
- Writing has a high status in Islam
- Writing is a significant decoration for objects and buildings
- Books are a major art-form too
- Geometry and patterns are important
- People do not appear in specifically religious art
Meaning and beauty
Art is the mirror of a culture and its worldview
The art of the Islamic world reflects its cultural values and reveals the way Muslims view the spiritual realm and the universe.
For the Muslim, reality begins with and centers on Allah. Allah is at the heart of worship and aspirations for Muslims and is the focus of their lives. So Islamic art focuses on the spiritual representation of objects and beings and not their physical qualities.
The Muslim artist does not attempt to replicate nature as it is but tries to convey what it represents.
This lets the artist, and those who experience the art, get closer to Allah.
For Muslims, beauty has always been and will always be a quality of the divine. There is a hadith of the Prophet Muhammad that says: “Allah is beautiful and he loves beauty.”
A common feature of Islamic art is the covering of surfaces covered with geometric patterns.
This use of geometry is thought to reflect the language of the universe and help the believer to reflect on life and the greatness of creation.
So how is geometry seen to be spiritual?
- Because circles have no end they are infinite – and so they remind Muslims that Allah is infinite.
- Complex geometric designs create the impression of unending repetition, and this also helps a person get an idea of the infinite nature of Allah.
- The repeating patterns also demonstrate that in the small you can find the infinite … a single element of the pattern implies the infinite total.
The use of patterns is part of the way that Islamic art represents nature and objects by their spiritual qualities, not their physical and material qualities.
The repeated geometric patterns often make use of plant motifs, and these are called arabesques. Stylized Arabic lettering is also common.
Islamic Arts and Crafts
The integration of arts and crafts into everyday life was very much the norm in the traditional Islamic world.
The idea is that as Islam is integral to every part of a Muslim’s life and makes it beautiful, so Islamic art should be used to make the things of everyday life beautiful.
The emphasis in Islamic art is on ornamentation rather than on art for art’s sake.
An example is this lajvardine bowl, from 13th century Iran, decorated in gold and cobalt blue (lajvard is Persian for cobalt).