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What Is Islamic Art?

Jennifer Voight
Jennifer Voight

Islamic art describes different art forms such as architecture, textiles, and book illumination that arose from geographical areas that were primarily Islamic in culture and politics. The Islamic religion developed in 622 AD and spread as Islamic warriors claimed territory in their god, Allah’s, name. With aggressive conquest came Islamic art and architectural forms with their characteristic natural and floral motif patterns, horror vacui, and sumptuous furnishings. Islamic art, while dominated by architecture and lacking in pictorial tradition, was influenced by many of the surrounding artistic traditions, including Christian, Byzantine, and central Asian traditions.

As political and cultural domination spread from its epicenter in Palestine, Syria, and Iraq, mosques and palaces were built reflecting the Islamic art traditions of the era. Exteriors were decorated in intricate, curvilinear, stylized patterns that covered every available surface. These designs served a decorative, but not necessarily religious, purpose. Islamic art and architecture employed the use of stone carving and stucco reliefs on the exterior. Interiors were decorated in luxurious, patterned textiles, rugs, and ceramics.

The Koran does not allow graven images.
The Koran does not allow graven images.

The use of mosaic tiled floors was very popular as rulers employed every means possible to reflect their wealth and love of luxury. Like the exteriors of mosques and palaces, designs were crowded, repetitive patterns based on organic shapes and geometric patterns. No surface was left without decoration. The Oriental rug was popular not only for practical reasons, but as a decorative object, status symbol, and gift showing favor. Royal courts employed weavers to create beautifully decorative rugs that became famous worldwide by the 10th century and remain popular examples of Islamic art in modern times.

Islamic art is found across the Middle East.
Islamic art is found across the Middle East.

Practical items for use in mosques and palaces reflected the Islamic love of luxury. Highly skilled artisans crafted metal, wood, and ivory into richly decorated art objects and were decorated with characteristic Islamic arabesque designs. Designs were characterized by flattened reliefs, and colors are limited to those of the structural, metallic materials.

Islamic art traditionally has no pictorial representations, as the holy book of Islam, the Koran, does not allow graven images. Yet by 1,200 AD Iran and Iraq were producing illuminated books with rich illustrations of secular scenes of hunting, feasting, and battle. Rulers frequently commissioned calligraphers and artists to illustrate books of poetry. Human figures, such as those in the 16th century Khamsa of Nizami, are flattened and lack shading. Perspective is minimal to non-existent, and the figures appear to float against the background. The focus is not on realism but on rich color and patterned shapes.

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Discussion Comments


@Animalz – I’m an art major in college, and I remember my professor saying that if you look at Islamic art history, it’s obvious that religion plays a major role in their art. I don’t have a deep understanding of Islam, but my professor said that Muslims believe their God (Allah) is the center of all reality. They believe that everything is part of Allah’s divine plan, and that comes through in their art.

If you look at Islamic geometric art with that in mind, you can see the Muslim artist’s beliefs in the colors, shapes, and the way that everything comes together as a cohesive whole. I think that’s why the art is so calming to you. It has the same effect on me as well.

I’m not a follower of Islam, but I can definitely see the beauty that a religious artist’s mindset can create when I look at Islamic geometric works.


@ginSoul – In my opinion, Islamic geometric art is very beautiful. It usually consists of repeating shapes with repeating color patterns. The shapes may be set inside other shapes, or may come together to create an all new shape, like pentagons and triangles coming together to make a circle, for example.

I think the colors used in Islamic art are very relaxing. There are a lot of blacks, blues, and browns of varying shades. The combinations of the shapes and colors are very pleasing to me.

I don’t know why this geometric art has such a calming effect on me, but it does. I recommend that you view some online if you’re interested.


What do the geometric patterns in Islamic art look like? I’m fascinated by fractals and tiles and all other art forms that are created by using mathematical principles. I would like to know more about the geometric art, please.

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    • The Koran does not allow graven images.
      By: Egypix
      The Koran does not allow graven images.
    • Islamic art is found across the Middle East.
      By: bogdanserban
      Islamic art is found across the Middle East.