There is something about Islamic art that makes it unique from any other art form. This something makes the viewer become personal and intimately touched on a level that other work would find difficult to achieve.
The best of Islamic art is that which excites its viewer, reader or listener. It nourishes the awakened soul with intense flavours of divine truth reflected through visuals, sounds or text.
But how does Islamic art achieve this?
The Lover of Islamic Art (‘Ashiq al-Fan al-Islamiy)
Islamic Art is possibly rendered useless if it does not have a lover gazing, reading or listening to it. Thus the lover is crucial to the success of an artwork.
The lover of Islamic art is already acquainted with the love of the Message. He or she seeks to attain a glimpse of this divine message in the visuals. When they approach a canvas their eyes seek the details that move their heart, they seek solitude, reassurance and reminders. The viewer is not an inactive soul, but a highly charged and interactive one. Their eyes engage with the message and their hearts read it, taking in every syllable and brush stroke with immense love, that is only ever seen between two lovers, a child and mother or a pet and master.
A lover of Islamic art has an open heart, they feel the ripples of joy permeate through their bodies when their eyes fix upon the glorious celebration of the divine. Be it standing under a thousand arches of a mosque or watching the ink pen glide across the handmade paper, the heart shudders at the magnitude of love of the Divine that is portrayed. Since the lover is pre-acquainted with the divine message and thus comes to the artwork already loaded with perceptions, aspirations and desires. When the work touches the soul, the viewer is excited and awakened, but if the work fails to communicate or relate to the soul it leaves it unmoved and undernourished.
Some abstract art may fail in this regard, as it falls short of communicating a message clearly. But viewers are not all the same, but multi-faceted, everyone is layered with different experiences, thoughts and tastes. So they will naturally seek something in the detail that triggers their souls, be it certain colour or brush stroke. But the most effective works are those that communicate well. The basis of Islamic art is to either:
- Communicate a direct message (i.e. Qura’nic ayat in calligraphy)
- Or simply to heighten the senses, begin a thought process, or be a reminder by reflecting natural beauty or demonstrate great love for Allah and His creation. (i.e. zakhrafa or architecture)
Aspirations and Experiences
The lovers seek to be reassured of their Islamic legacies of the past, the truth of the Message and ultimately test their hearts. They go to far off places to sit in the mosques and courtyards of Islam, inhaling the air and observing every little detail. They desire to taste, smell and touch everything. The lover, is not in the present anymore, they are back in time, sitting amongst the Muslims praying, amongst the occupants of the courtyard. The lovers let themselves dissolve into the fabric of the space they stand in, wanting to become part of the artwork in some way. This is art that triggers the imagination and gets the heart racing, filling the soul with reassurance and tranquillity.
At this point, the lover is not anymore a mere spectator, disconnected, but an intimate lover, whose heart has been crushed by the weight of love for Allah - visualised in the artwork. This feeds the lovers heart with excitement and joy, thus the test is over, as they become reluctant to leave the artwork, place or put the book down.
Islamic art isn’t just reflecting the artist’s love of the Divine, but the Ummah’s, the worshipper’s (‘Abid) or the lover’s (‘Ashiq) love of the Divine. It is a collective appreciation, celebration and reflection of Creation and the Creator. The most effective work seeks to contain these elements and resonate at the same frequency as the lover’s heart.
Ruh al-‘Alam, Cairo 10, June 2007