Sanam Tiffany: The Power and Spirituality of Islamic Art

Islamic artwork reflects many elements of the Muslim reverence of God; portraying the intricate, vast beauty of religion and spirituality through stunning calligraphy and magical fractal-esque mosaics (often referred to in the Muslim art world as arabesques). Every element of Islamic art is created with God in mind, and most artwork reflects many important elements of the Quran, a book of incredible spirituality and poetry. Completely uninfluenced by Western artwork, Islamic art deviates from a focus on human form and anthropocentrism and instead focuses on the reflection of God’s presence and power within the natural world. The hues illustrate bold, powerful, royal colors that represent the cosmos and nature that God has created and the strength He carries through all forms of life. Every aspect exudes the humbling power of God in ways that captivate every sense.

Arabic calligraphy serves as the utmost foundation of Islamic artwork. Since the Quran is seen not only as the book of God, but also as a book of poetry, the beginning periods of Islamic artwork featured almost exclusively calligraphy-based pieces. Calligraphy was used to combine the Islamic passions of poetry, worship, and beauty to create a form that spread God’s word while also pleasing the eye. Writing was considered the original form of art in the Islamic world and it is no wonder that the region is so famous famous for the poetry produced across centuries. Because of the powerful foundation and historical nature of the art, it is featured throughout nearly every form of Islamic artwork. The beautiful script is used both with other features common in Muslim artwork as well as alone, swirling in intriguing patterns to create an aesthetically-pleasing masterpiece of poetry. The calligraphy present in much of Islamic artwork and is persistently featured throughout a great majority of the pieces in the Allen as well as in the Religion department. Plates, walls, tiles, fabric, books, and paintings are decorated with quotes from the Quran and famous Muslim poets, creating many strong elements of moral and spiritual quandary through the use of shape and form. Even a simple handwriting book in display in the Religion department portrays intense and thoughtful aesthetic expression through the form of writing. Calligraphy was even used to create borders and backdrops for other artworks that were so artful in the writing that, from a distance, the pieces don’t even look like they include any form of script at all. Calligraphy is one of the most important facets of Islamic artwork, persisting through every stylistic change in the aesthetic of Islamic artwork throughout centuries, forever remaining an element of communication of the power of spirituality.

The domed ceilings of mosques that radiate the spirit of the cosmos also include complex geometrical themes in both the architecture and the painted or mosaic artwork of the ceilings. The role of geometry is important and multifaceted within Islamic artworks: it serves to both honor the scientific accomplishments of the Muslim people while also portraying the intricacy and incredible perfection of God. The use of this intricate geometry in Islamic artwork was also developed as a way to distract humans from earthly pleasures and guide them to the focus of God through the submergence of spirituality through art. The fractals that seem to stretch endlessly into the sky with vibrant colors that follow precise lines to create their magnificent sprawl; these lines follow precise math that embodies and honors the purity of God. The arabesques of mosque ceilings are also very important in both an artistic and architectural sense: not only do these domed ceilings follow presence symmetry and geometry, but they are also meant to represent the cosmos above, the cosmos that God is responsible and the cosmos that holds all forms of life in this realm. These principles of geometry which inspire all Islamic artwork holds many important forms of communicating faith through art.

Images of flowers and floral motifs were also an important element of Islamic artworks. These fabulous floral designs pay tribute to the beauty of nature and the power of God for creating such beauty. In the Allen’s collection, they feature a Persian rug rife with floral patterns gilding the red and blue knots of the rug. The piece, which was made in 19th century Tabriz, features an incredible array of botanical flora that follow incredibly straight, geometric patterns to create a complicated web of flowers. The colors, now faded, were obviously once vivid and astonishing in their hues, resembling a large and intricate painting when staring from afar. These floral patterns not only adhere to the magnificent geometry of most Muslim artwork, but also represents the power of spirituality and God within nature, reminding humans to appreciate their natural world more thoroughly outside of the museum.

It is also interesting to note that artwork did not stray far from commonplace items. Instead of purely reserving beauty to be relished at a mosque or museum, Islamic artists incorporated beauty and reference to God in many everyday items, from plates and ceramics to spoons and hammers. Several tools on display in both the Religion department and the Allen feature motifs of calligraphy or even flowers decorating the handles of metal objects or the face of plates. What is even more incredible is that these pieces that are so plain in Western cultures are not only bountiful with artwork and spirituality in the Islamic world, but also continue to rely on the element of geometry, featuring clean, straight lines and perfect circles on even the most miniscule objects.

Islamic artwork is some of the most spiritual and complex of the world. The motifs portray powerful theories and admirations for God and the Quran through forms of art that are easy to be engaged with. The breathtaking nature of the geometric arabesques truly does draw the viewer away from corporeal obsession, allowing a person to completely deviate from the human world if only for a moment. The work of Islamic artists is truly powerful and even if you are not religious, you are bound to have an emotional reaction upon viewing such incredible pieces.

 

Allen Memorial Art Museum. Oberlin, OH.

Religion Department art display. Oberlin, OH.

 

Chapman, Caroline (2012). Encyclopedia of Islamic Art and Architecture.

Mahallati, Jafar. Lecture, Oberlin College, OH. November 14, 2016.

Saoud, Rabah. “Introduction to Islamic Art.” Muslim Heritage. 2010. Accessed November 28, 2016. <http://www.muslimheritage.com/article/introduction-islamic-art>