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Question of the Day: Art 14 March 2007

Posted by SA'ILA in Arts, Culture, SA'ILA.

Good art is generally that which stimulates its beholder – with the artist taking the ordinary, or in some cases, the extra-ordinary, and shedding some new perspectives through the piece of art.

How should Muslim artists, when writing scripts – for books, for movies – balance portraying what would be considered appropriate to share, according to Islam, and the reality of what exists in Muslim communities? In wanting to reflect the culture of Muslims in the world today, how do we balance showing the positive and negative aspects of our communities?



1. ibn Fulan - 14 March 2007

I agree to some degree as to your definition of “good art” being a stimulus – positive and negative I might add – however, would suggest that there is no such thing as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ art. This is essential to understand before a response to you question is made. As described, “…art is generally that which stimulates its beholder”, we see here that the pivotal role in this sentence is of the beholder. Since for if there is no beholder, then that which precedes it, is inexistent. The landscape of the beholders’ mind and soul provides the response to the art which his or her eyes see. Hence, experiences that the individual has previously undergone determine what that response is. A response to an art piece being ‘good’ or ‘bad’ will not be done in a vacuum of sensory experience, rather it will be based upon previous responses.

To put it simply, a response to art is based upon an individuals experiences. However, this is not isolated to the individual. Social response to art is swayed by many a bias and if art is intended for any society then the psychology of that social group must first be understood. So the emphasis is still on the beholder, which is the audience for who the art is intended. This I believe is the backdrop to the entire question. Forgive me if I’ve totally missed the mark.

I think we should create art which is sympathetic to the social thought for which it is intended, whether this is UK, USA, or France. Certain cultural things separate the Muslims and the social challenges they face of these regions, thus the art must be made individually for each cultural region. If the art is made for all viewers, then one should attempt to tap into that social thought which is established and consistently through all these regions.

However, the purpose of ones art must be first examined. Do we as artist want the beholder to view Islam in all its purity and palpability? Or do we hope for an understanding from non-Muslims as to our desperate situations? Or do we seek to show that we as Muslims are comfortably Muslim AND strong members of society?

If you were to ask which of these things we should concentrate on, then I would say all. If you were to push me further and ask which should be given priority, then I would say that Islam is our goal, we do not own it, nor do we have a right over it more than any other human being, so this I think should be our primary ambition in the west.

What we must not do as Muslims and artists however, is fall into the trap of providing simplistic responses to complex issues. Or even without the historical backdrop as to how we as humanity have arrived at where we are today.

2. ruh - 14 March 2007

Maybe it is good to be critical about some of the un-Islamic habits and customs of Muslims on screen but at the same time, there must be a fair balance and representation of the good elements also.

With every portrayal or depiction there is some skewed vision. As photography lies, so can film and written scripts. Sincerity, honesty and truthfulness are key to achieving the closest and most accurate portrayals.

A very broad and open question it seems.

3. Mohammed Husain - 14 March 2007

This is an important question since many people accuse artists and novelists of doing bad ‘da’wah’ for portraying the Muslim community or even life in general as it is, with all its contradictions and flaws. The artist would defend him/herself by saying that he/she is depicting reality, and that the public needs to accept reality for what it is, and also see themselves reflected in art. Artists often define themselves as people who deals with those aspects of society that are shunned; that are taboo; that are essentially unpleasant to deal with. While I acknowledge the value of artist’s function in society, Islam imposes itself here, as it does everywhere. An artist, from my understanding of Islam, is not to create art that fosters despair in society. This would be contrary to the aims of Islam. However, art that reflects transcendence, even amidst the chaos and struggles that characterize our earthly existence, that would serve the function of Islam. Art need not reference or represent Islam in any explicit way, so long as it does implicitly; transcendence must always be preserved.

4. Quill Chick - 14 March 2007

Art should, quite simply, depict the truth. And since Islam is truth, i see no conflict. The truth resonates across all borders, physical, religious, psychic. I have problems with recent movies by Clint Eastwood since his overall theme is that there is no transcending purpose to life, life is just painful and pointless. That’s not art, it’s crap. It’s his unfortunate misguided point of view, but it’s not art.

There’s no problem in depicting Muslims as imperfect. It’s true. But striving for perfection is something everyone can relate to.

5. Seeker - 14 March 2007

“My Lord, don’t grant me knowledge that will not be useful to humanity.

Don’t make me addicted to the barbaric ignorance of the fine arts, so that while under intoxication of elated feelings and of the heights of lofty understanding, I will fail to see the depth of hunger in the eyes of the hungry or the black bruises of an abused human.”

-Ali Shariati, “The Philosophy of Supplication”

6. . - 14 March 2007

Different people look at the same situation, the same scene, yet see different things.

For me, as a photographer, art is about presenting a personal / alternative / unusual way of seeing things. When I think about this in the context of Islam, I am reminded of the famous prayer of the Prophet recorded among the hadith:

“O my God, cause us to see things as they really are!”.

Photography is to me a means of reflecting on reality; “good” photography is that which also inspires others to reflect.

7. Muslim Artists « ibn FULAN - 15 March 2007

[…] Mar 14th, 2007 by ابن فلان 1 https://othermatters.wordpress.com/2007/03/14/question-of-the-day-art/ […]

8. The Turk - 15 March 2007

I think Art is not relevant to most muslim societies today. A huge percentage 1.5 billion muslims have a hard time getting some decent food for the day and have poor education if any. Art is a luxury & is for the rich.

Also I remember an article in Washington Post back when the taliban blew up those buhudda statues. The writer said modern day socicety which he belonged to deplored the actions but he suspected Jesus(pbuh) or Moses(pbuh) would have agreed with the taliban. Idoltry was not appreciated as Art by older christian & jewish societies he said.

But basically my point is Art if for the rich and bored.

9. Quill Chick - 15 March 2007

Are you saying all artists are rich? That starving artists do not exist? And what of all the great artistic contributions of the Islamic civilization? Were those only of the rich? You mean those tile makers were rich? Or that they only did a ‘job’ to do but had no interest in the actual artistic expression for which they were making a lasting contribution?

And since when did Islam espouse intolerance of other religions? The destruction of icons of other religions is at complete odds with Islam’s message of peace and harmony. The taliban’s behavior is indefensible.

10. The Turk - 15 March 2007

To quick chill

Who buys art? Think about it? Rich people. Poor people don’t. Art is after you’ve been fed, clothed and relaxed. And then your bored. The customer is rich. The artist may be poor; but the customer is always rich.

I wasn’t saying taliban was right. I was expressing the washington post writer opnion that Jesus(pbuh) & moses (pbuh) would have destroyed them too. Remember monethists prophets’ did not like idolaters. Esp. Moses(pbuh). Moses(pbuh) went up to mountain and come back to find his people worshiping a golden calf. Moses(pbuh) was not happy as I remember. Moses(pbuh) didn’t say I accept your cultral diffrences etc. Remember Taliban ruled and controled that land and as far as I know; no buhhadists were there.

Personally, I wouldn’t have. but I am richer than 90% of the world and get bored.

Remember also who did these artisan work for; always some rich dude.

I think for the comman guy on the street in muslim world(in fact non-muslims as well) who is trying to feed, clothe, himself & family; Art is the last thing in his mind if at all.

11. AT HOME - 15 March 2007

I don’t understand your point, Turk. Art is one of the greatest blessings of Allah, and art appreciation is honoring that blessing. It’s gratitude. Never has the world been without art. The origin of art is sacred, and it was meant (and still is) to be a public service. Moral judgments on certain kinds of art notwithstanding, to deprecate art through an economic argument is nonsense. It is so OFF target, no one knows where to begin. Also what the Taliban did was foolish and ignorant. It went against centuries of Muslim scholars who knew very well of those statues but who did not order their destruction. I think that the writer you quote is a fool. He neither knows nor appreciates the message of Jesus or Moses. To cite him boggles the mind. Clearly this is not an argument for you to pursue. It’s out of your league. You have not thought about this. You’re simply regurgitating the lazy thoughts of those who have no retort, but only angst.

12. ABD - 16 March 2007

AT HOME’s bit of poetry aside, i think this is a very useful discussion. it’s not at all clear to me where the islamic tradition falls on the question of art. in fact, it’s one of the focuses of my graduate study.

here’s a related question for some of you to help me work out: what’s the rationale behind the different prescriptions on and against the arts (poetry, music, visual and performing arts) in the islamic texts and tradition? is there a connected thread behind these prescriptions?

i think it would be equally simple minded to presume that islam has nothing bad to say about art as it would be to presume that islam has nothing good to say about art.

13. Ruh - 18 March 2007

Allah is beautfiull and he loves beauty – art has always reflected the stater of a community, people, country or civilisation and the Muslim world pioneered in art on many levels. Art loses its real purpose when the artist only concerns him/herself in the work – so it becomes a reflection of the artist ego. When art only seeks to impress the beholder with the artists self-image or thought, we lose the very essense of art as a tool of communication. Islamic art has always tried to go beyond this self-indulgement approach to art and elevated art by glorifying the message of Islam and broken the shackles of the artists nafs.

14. Iconia» Blog Archive » Arts Roundup: Church Design and Potted Plants Replacing Statues - 19 March 2007

[…] Other|matters wonders: How should Muslim artists, when writing scripts – for books, for movies – balance portraying what would be considered appropriate to share, according to Islam, and the reality of what exists in Muslim communities? In wanting to reflect the culture of Muslims in the world today, how do we balance showing the positive and negative aspects of our communities? […]

15. zahra - 22 March 2007

Sa’ila, i, with a friend, am putting together a book of essays by muslim american women. we would love for you to contribute; is there an email address to which i can send you the Call for Essays?

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