When I found that calligraphy is the highest form of visual art in Islamic cultures, I was completely intrigued. Calligraphy isn’t present in Western art (or even culture) and I ended up scrolling through countless Google images of beautiful Islamic calligraphy. Calligraphy script is clearly revered because of the lettering in the Quran. I, and countless others, have used this basis as an association with the culture. It can be both decorative and symbolic of knowledge, resulting in its wide range of uses.
One of the reasons calligraphy is regarding so highly in Islamic culture is because there are no images of people or animals allowed in their art. It was written that “those who paint pictures would be punished on the Day of Resurrection and it would be said to them: Breathe soul into what you have created.” (Sahih Muslim vol.3, no.5268). This is especially important when it comes to depictions of God (Allah) and the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon Him). Beautiful writing became imperative for transcribing the word of God and for creating sacred Qur’ans. The text remains the focus of art pieces and usually comprises of Quran quotations, other religious texts, poems, and/or praise for rulers. I found this extremely special considering how much American culture promotes free speech and there are very few, if any, admired pieces of work dedicated to our President or other government figures.
As parchment was replaced with paper and the reed pen was replaced with an angled nib, the calligraphy styles evolved but never lost their grace. They are simply gorgeous on their own and stand out even more so with a little extra decoration. Calligraphy can be scribed onto anything from parchment to wood to metalwork to stained glass and are usually vibrant in color. However, there will never be an artistic interference with the work itself; the extra details should never distract from the content of the text. Islamic societies regard calligraphers as highly prestigious citizens. They train for many years before they can be considered calligraphers in order to create exact replicas of certain models and texts.
This traditional process paid off! I’m sure that anyone visiting the the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul, the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem or the Taj Mahal in Agra, India, can’t help but stand in awe of the writings and decorative architecture. The images speak for themselves (if the pictures below aren’t proof enough – check out this Pinterest page!) Even though I cannot read Arabic, it is still truly amazing and I can see why it would quickly be incorporated into so many other artistic forms. The simple elegance of plain black script is enough for me to want the artwork everywhere around me. After looking at multiple museum web sites, it seems that these striking words appear on almost every precious object, as I would expect! Seeing images of all these magnificent buildings made me put the destinations on my bucket list instantly. Breathtaking!
I’m definitely enthralled with Islamic art now, but I still do not know as much about calligraphy and its importance in Islamic culture as I’d like to. Is calligraphy still used in Islamic art today even with the ease of computers and printing? Is calligraphy still used involving religious texts or has it been involved with propaganda-type materials? Do you think calligraphy styles will continue to evolve, or will they continue to be preserved within the ancient text styles?