Islam and Art
The Islamic style of art draws on the creativity of conquered countries, incorporates local cultures, and embraces diverse artistic traditions. It has taken three main forms: 1) architecture, 2) the art of the book, including illumination, calligraphy, and illustration, and 3) decorative arts, including ceramics, metalwork, glass, woodwork, and textiles.
Despite the diversity of origins, functions, and materials, Islamic art is unified by an emphasis on surface decoration resulting from the law of iconoclasm, or the rejection of a figural image. Mohammed believed in communicating directly with the divine and needing no intermediary images. The Koran states, "O believers, wine and arrow-shuffling, idols and divining-arrows are an abomination, some of Satan's work; then avoid it.”
Because of the general opposition to representational art, artists were challenged to find other means of expression and adornment. Although these constraints may seem hindering, they actually allow for much freedom. Instead of having to abide by predictable iconic subject matter, artists used creativity and imagination in the subject matters they chose. Much artistic expression was focused on beautifying the Koran, from calligraphy to stylistic surface decorations for its pages. Surface decoration was also popular on architecture and sculpture and eventually became a leading motif in the artistic Islamic tradition.
Not all Islamic art is image-free. While Muslims following the Sunni tradition are strict followers of iconoclasm, the Shi’ite sect (who do not adhere solely to the Hadith) are less opposed to representational art, showing figural art even in religious works. Unlike Christian or Buddhist representational art, Islamic art is not intended to stimulate devotion or propagate faith, but serves instead as a decorative reminder of Allah.