Kevin Messinger

The collection of Islamic art in Rice was quite visually stunning initially; each piece is seemingly painstakingly crafted and immaculately designed, some of them before more modern artistic techniques had even been developed. Indeed the pieces are beautiful but the most interesting flair of most of these pieces was the Quranic inscriptions written in elegant calligraphy to decorate the pieces. This scriptural calligraphic presence of the divine shows the aspect of the Muslim worldview that the experience of life is instilled with the intensity of the divine, or that the experience of the divine is intense, everywhere, unknowable. It seems fitting that even decorative pots such as the one from Thailand in the collection both display the brilliance of God in its elaborate multi- colored floral design and the words themselves, our human connection to the divine in some ways. This piece to me hints at a sort of advertisement of the divine, at least coming from my Western upbringing in a liberal intentionalist Catholic church. I don’t mean to express that this ‘advertisement’ cheapens the message at all because when I saw these pieces of art and their inscriptions, I was filled with wonder and interest, impressed by the synthesis and art and scripture. However at home, I find this sort of ‘advertisement’ of the divine to be boring; friends houses sometimes sport pictures of picturesque landscapes or complex designs with a verse from the Gospel incorporated in some way. However without this aspect of intensity that informs the Muslim worldview, it seems that the combination of scripture and art lose their strength. The intensity of the divine experience and the words themselves creates a more compelling piece of scriptural art as I saw in these Islamic pieces.