The Hidden Art of Islam is devoted to the history of aniconism in Muslim culture and its influence on Arabic calligraphy, geometry, design, and contemporary art inspired by Islam. As the movie emphasizes, artists should not depict God, the Prophet Muhammad, human figures, and other living creatures alike, especially if the artwork concerns a religious context. The film states that Islamic visual art focused on geometry and harmony of abstract forms due to that prohibition. The present paper explores the evidence and information provided by the documentary in support of this conclusion and provides a critical analysis of it.
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Evidence and Conclusions of the Film
Aniconism itself comes from the thesis that only God is the creator of all living things, and a man should not be equated to him. The documentary constates that the two principal prerequisites for the development of Arabic calligraphy are aniconism in religious painting and the Qur’an. The latter, thereby, has a particular significance as the letters of the flowing Arabian language in the sacred text have a unique shape and proportion. There are even mysterious letters in the Qur’an, the meaning of which is still unknown. According to the logical narrative of the film, these factors have caused artists to concentrate on design, calligraphy, and geometry.
The Hidden Art of Islam discusses complex and repetitive geometric patterns in Arabic architecture and painting, the ability of Arabic masters to operate with proportions, different shapes, horizontal and vertical contours. It should be noted, however, that images of people are not uncommon for Muslim culture in general. There is a multitude of such drawings that appeared after the establishment of aniconism. The documentary discusses this fact and makes the following arguments. Foremost, even when artists were forced to paint people, they were portraying them one-dimensioned and nonrealistic, without atmospheric effects.
Furthermore, this prohibition was not as inherent to Shiite Islam and the tradition of Hajj’s representation after the pilgrimage of Mansa Musa to Mecca. It stands to mention that the film uses predominantly historical and cultural data related to the development of the Arab religion and art. The documentary mainly consists of interviews with experts in these fields who express their opinions on the issue.
Critical Analysis of the Film’s Arguments
It is complicated to definitively identify the reasons that determined the development of the spheres of Muslim art mentioned earlier. There is always an element of uncertainty in the historical science of religion and art. Nevertheless, the documentary demonstrates convincingly the contribution made by the Qur’an and Islamic aniconism. Historical data concerning the emergence of the prohibition and its transformation throughout the Muslim civilization development are publicly available and are arranged in a certain logical chain. Viewpoints of Muslim art representatives, as well as researchers of Islamic culture, also confirm the thesis expressed in the film.
There is no provision in The Hidden Art of Islam that images of people and living beings did not appear in Islamic paintings at all. The emphasis is placed on the contribution that aniconism and the Muslim basic sacred text have made to the development of Arabic calligraphy, geometry, and design. Thus, the film does not seek to refute or challenge a particular point, but instead puts forward a hypothesis and provides evidence in support of it.
Arguments in favor of the given hypothesis have no absolute force due to an element of uncertainty peculiar to history, and also a considerable quantity of subjective opinions. However, due to the non-fiction nature of the film, support for this hypothesis can be considered convincing. Moreover, the effect of Muslim aniconism is also shown in the living example of modern art. Contemporary artists, inspired by Islamic religious culture, avoid depicting people in their works, paying tribute to Muslim traditions.
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The Hidden Art of Islam discusses the development of aniconism and its impact on Arabic art. The movie argues for this influence by providing expert opinions and historical data. Therefore, it should be concluded that the prohibition on figuring living creatures has undoubtedly contributed to the development of Arab visual arts, as is convincingly stated in the documentary.