Symbolism In Islamic Art

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Renard discusses two general, but different approaches to understanding Islamic art: minimalist approach and maximalist approach. These two approaches can be thought to range on a spectrum such as a 0-100 numbered scale, with the minimalist perspective on the left and the maximalist on the right end. Renard states that these two opinions can range from denying the symbolic content of art to evaluating every symbol as some sort of organic cosmos (Renard, 128). Before delving into their notable differences it is important to note that theorists agree that the primary principle that Islamic art is based off of is “tawhid”, which is meant to represent the oneness and unity that God is the only divine being. Writers, Jonathan Bloom and Shelia Blair…show more content…
This poses, as the first limitation to the minimalist approach as it exemplifies that there is only one kind of symbolism in which we can use to evaluate Islamic art. Implicit symbolism refers to that the symbols in Islamic art are meant to only be indirect or subtle suggestions, which means that the symbols provide no literal meaning or objective of any outside factors. An example of implicit symbolism that Renard uses in her work, is her evaluation of John the Baptist and a lamb, in which she says through implicit symbolism one can say that the painting conveys, “a sense of mystery through its nonrational colors” (Renard, 128). Louis Ibsen…show more content…
Overall the biggest limitation of this perspective is that it focuses heavily on theological principles, which as a result makes Islamic art ahistorical and does not account for external factors. On the other hand, the maximalist approach relies heavily on explicit symbolism as means of interpretation. Each symbol Is taken and analyzed in a way that it becomes part of an organic cosmic system. Renard provides an example in his book, stating that in terms of geometric shapes, the maximalist approach would categorize a square as a representation of the Earth (Renard, 130). The issue with the maximalist approach is that it does not provide any insight about the experience of Muslim artists as religiously committed. A third approach, and in my opinion the most favorable, is Oleg Graber’s perspective, “ornament”. He describes “ornament” as an “aspect of decoration which appears not to have another purpose but to enhance its carrier” (Renard, 130). What differentiates this perspective from the minimalist and maximalist perspective is that Grabar does not see symbolism in every image, rather “significance”. Renard describes Grabar’s perspective as an in between approach of the minimalist and maximalist, and agrees that this is the more accurate way to view and describe

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