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Thursday, 31 December 2009

I Love Islamic Art

As you may have guessed, I have serious problems with many aspects of Islamic culture. I have lived in Saudi Arabia, which I found dreary and intolerant. Islam has spawned Islamicism, which is an abomination. Islam has not yet found an accommodation with Democracy. I hope and believe that Islam will have its Renaissance and its Reformation. I know that in many respects I have more in common with Muslims than with mainstream Western culture.

In spite of my problems with Islam, I have, for as long as I can remember, been ravished by examples of Islamic Art and Architecture. What is it about Islamic Art that gives it its strength and grace? Discipline, I think. Discipline (Strength) and Piety (Grace).

The Koran, I believe, forbids representations of humans and animals, a prohibition which if applied to western art would pretty well wipe it out. The prohibition exists to remove the temptation to idolatry. All very worthy but it leaves me with a few questions. Q1: Are Christians tempted to worship The Boy David by Michelangelo? A: Not this Catholic. Q2: How comes it that portraits of humans are ubiquitous in (most) Islamic countries? Saddam Hussein was on every wall in Iraq. This ought to have been anathema to every Sunni and every Shia in the country. More puzzlingly, witness the photos of Ayatollah Khomeini all over Iran. You would have expected the man himself to rend his clothes and pour dust upon his head at the sight of them.

Perhaps photographs do not qualify as art. All the same, paintings of people are not unknown in Islamic art. There are in fact portraits of The Prophet Himself. Nevertheless, the glories of Isfahan and of the Alhambra and of the Taj Mahal make do without portraiture. They are self-denying. They are thrown back on geometry and calligraphy. And they make the most of them!

Obeying rules is fundamental to art. Free verse is like playing tennis with no net. Who said that? Tracey Emin says that what she does is art because she is an artist. I think that Tracey Emin has a fine pair of tits. Sorry, Trace, but that is the best I can do.

The sonnet is one of the sublime forms of English verse. [Actually, there are several set of rules to which a sonneteer can subject him/herself]. Obedience is the trick!

Here's a link to some beautiful stuff. There's loads more.

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