Art, in its many forms, is a medium for self-expression. While art can be deeply personal, it often draws on elements of history, culture, language, and religious traditions. As part of our Arab American Heritage Month, we are exploring some of the elements of Arab art, including calligraphy, geometric patterns, Islamic motifs, and bright colors.
Since Arab peoples are connected through a common language, Arabic, it is no surprise that the written word is an important part of Arab art. Intricate and beautiful calligraphy is an art form on its own. It is also often incorporated into other art forms, such as ceramics, embroidery, and architecture.
Throughout history, mathematics has played an important role across Arab cultures. You can learn more its role in the study of space in our post about Arab contributions to astronomy. Given its importance, it makes sense that mathematics would have a place in Arab art. Mathematics often makes an appearance through intricate geometric patterns.
In Arab culture, color is often used to symbolize thoughts, feelings, elements, and ideals. In this way, color can become an expression of these elements in works of art. Bold colors, such as red, green, and blue are commonly found in Arab art, both for their symbolism and the sense of energy and vibrancy they bring to the artwork.
While Arab culture is incredibly diverse and crosses many nationalities and faiths, many Arab art forms and styles have their origins in Muslim traditions. Because of this, Islamic motifs and symbolism often find their way into Arab art. The crescent moon, stars, and the unique curves of mosque architecture are some of the most common forms found in both religious and non-religious art pieces.
Diversity in Arab art
While there are many common elements across Arab artworks, it is important to remember that Arab people hail from numerous countries across Asia and Africa. Additionally, people of Arab descent live all across the globe. The art produced by Arab artists is often heavily influenced by cultural and historical context. If you explore pieces from different places and time periods, you will see how time and place play a role in diversifying Arab works of art.
Want to learn more about Arab art? Check out the Seattle Art Museum’s Islamic Art Collection.