Maya Howard Watts: Islamic Art

Although Muslims believe that God cannot be represented through art, they do believe that art is a form in which he can be worshiped.  Therefore depictions of living creatures are not seen in religious Islamic art (which is not necessarily true for secular Islamic art).  Because of this religious Islamic art is commonly seen in four forms geometric, arabesque, floral and calligraphic.  For example, calligraphy is a big part of Islamic art because it is the glorification of God’s word.  It is common to see excerpts from the Qur’an beautifully and geometrically designed.  Geometric shapes and designs in Islamic art are said to represent freedom.  The reiteration of complex patterns suggests the possibility of infinite growth within relation to God and the interconnectedness of the cosmos.  Floral patterns are said to represent the order and wholeness of nature.  Biomorphic patterns are a common motif in Islamic art and are said to trace back to a period of agricultural worship, which was based on the idea and appreciation of fertility.  Arabesque, defined as an ornamental design of intertwined flowing lines, is another popular form of Islamic art.  These are often seen on buildings although they can be found in mosaics or simply on tiles.  Similar to the geometric patterns found in Islamic art, there is both an art and a science in its creation.  In Islam, art science, mathematics as well as all natural beings are said to be creations of God, therefore arabesque art acts as a reflection of this idea and worships God.  In simpler terms, it is as though God is being expressed through his own creation.


At the Allen Art Museum I came upon a Turkish tile labeled the “Iznik Ware Tile.”  This tile was said to be from a court bath at the Eyup Sultan Mosque that was built at the site of the tomb of Ayyub al-Ansari, one of the prophet Mohammad’s companions.  The tile is said to represent an apex in ceramic production.  On this tile I see leaves and flowers which makes sense to be because it is built on the site of a tomb, and while honoring Ayyub al-Ansari’s death, it also traces back to the idea of agricultural worship and upholds the idea of fertility and the geometric patterns in which they are painted in represents the possibility of infinite growth.


The idea that animals are not allowed to be depicted in religious Islamic art is interesting to me because it actually reminds me of the whole idea of iconoclasm in the Byzintine Empire in the 8th century and the tensions that portraits or icons created between eastern and western Christians.  So from this subject I also saw connections between Islam and other religions.


I found learning about Islamic art to be amazing.  I loved both looking at and learning the meaning behind such intricate designs.  This has only further shown me how advanced ancient Muslim societies were; expressing science through art and all in the adoration of God.