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Excerpts from: Titus Burckhardt  Perennial Values in Islamic Art   
Source: Studies in Comparative Religion, Vol. 1, No.3. © World Wisdom, Inc.

It is not by chance that the unity and regularity of Islamic art reminds us of the law working in crystals: We shall call it the "intellectual vision" inherent in Islamic art /  taking "intellect" in its original meaning as a faculty  involving the intuition of timeless realities. This is also the meaning of al-`aql in Islamic tradition:  faith is not complete unless it be illuminated by al-'aql which alone grasps the implications of at-tawhīd, the doctrine of divine Unity. In a similar way, Islamic art derives its beauty from wisdom.

Sacred art like that of Islam always contains a timeless element.  A form, though limited and consequently subject to time, may convey something timeless.  From an Islamic point of view, beauty is essentially an expression of universal Truth.  

The beauty of virgin nature is like the imprint of the Creator's hand.  The Prophet said: "God prescribed that every thing should be accomplished to perfection""—we might also translate: "in beauty" (inna-Llaha kataba-l-iḥsana `ala kulli shay). The perfection or the beauty of a thing lies in its praising God; in other words, it is perfect or beautiful in so far as it reflects a divine quality. Now we cannot realise perfection in anything unless we know how that thing can be a mirror of God.


Excerpts from: Titus Burckhardt  Sacred Art in East and West

The nature of all material is beauty since it comes from God; all one has to do is to release that beauty in order to make it apparent.  According to the most general Islamic conception, art is no more than a method of ennobling matter.  The beauty of Islamic art must be impersonal, like that of a starry sky.


Excerpts from:  Frithjof  Schuon  Art from the Sacred to the Profane ~ East and West

Beauty, being perfection, is regularity and mystery.  The cosmic, or more particularly the earthly function of beauty is to actualize in the intelligent creature the Platonic recollection of the archetypes, right up to the  luminous Night of the Infinite. . . it reminds us of what we must love, and consequently be.

Human beings are rarely identified with their beauty, which is lent to them and moves across them like a ray of light.  

Beauty is like a mirror of our transpersonal and eternally blissful essence.  It is essentially an objective factor, and . . . like truth, possesses its own intrinsic quality; thus it exists before man and independently of him.

Every beauty is both a closed door and an open door, or in other words, an obstacle or a vehicle: either beauty separates us from God because it is entirely identified in our mind with its earthly support which then assumes the role of idol, or beauty brings us close to God because we perceive in it the vibrations of Beatitude and Infinity which emanate from divine Beauty.

Beauty, whatever use man may make of it, fundamentally belongs to its Creator, who through it projects into the world of appearances something of His being.  thus, one must live the experience of beauty so as to draw from it a lasting, not ephemeral, element, hence realizing in oneself an opening towards the immutable Beauty, rather than plunging oneself into the current of things; it is a question of viewing the world, and living in it, in a manner that is sacred and not profane.

A thing is true by its symbolism and holy by the depth of its beauty; all beauty is a cosmic mode of holiness.  Sacred art is Heaven descended to earth, rather than earth reaching towards Heaven.

Beauty must have in itself a spiritual function, otherwise there would be no beauty.  This function is interiorization.  This is the mystery of darshan: of union with an archetypical reality through sensory perception. 

In Islam the love of beauty compensates for the tendency to austere simplicity; it lends elegant forms to simplicity and partially cloths it in a profusion of precious and abstract lacework.  "God is Beautiful" said the Profit, "and He loveth Beauty."


Excerpts from: Frithjof Schuon  Language of the Self

To a great extent sacred art ignorers the aesthetic aim; its beauty arises above all  from the exactitude of its symbolism and from its usefulness for purposes of ritual and contemplation, and only secondarily from the imponderables of personal intuition.  Aesthetic quality cannot be a primary consideration; beauty is everywhere, beginning with nature and with man himself.  This must not, however, make one lose sight of the fact that a feeling for beauty, and so also a need for beauty, is natural in normal man and is indeed the very condition behind the detachment of the traditional artist in regard to the aesthetic quality of sacred work.

The supernatural value of sacred art arises from the fact that it conveys and communicates an intelligence which is lacking in the collectivity.  Like virgin nature it has a quality and function of intelligence which it manifests through beauty because in essence it belongs to the formal order;  sacred art is the form of the Supra-formal, it is the image of the Uncreate, the language of Silence.


Excerpts from: Seyyed Hossein Nasr   Knowledge and the Sacred

All sacred art has its Tao, its principle which is related to the principles which dominate the cosmos.  To paint according to the Tao is not emulate the outward but the inner principles of things.  The fruit of such an art is a beauty of celestial origin.

Traditional art is concerned with beauty which is inseparable from reality and is related to the inner dimension of the Real as such . . . Ultimate Reality as being the Absolute, the Infinite, and Perfection or Goodness.  Beauty reflects the Absolute in its regularity and order, infinity in its sense of inwardness and mystery, and demands perfection.  A masterpiece of traditional art is at once perfect, orderly, and mysterious.  It reflects the perfection and goodness of the Source, the harmony and order which are also reflected in the cosmos and which are the imprint of the absoluteness of the Principle in manifestation and the mystery and inwardness which open unto the Divine Infinitude itself.  It is this interiorizing power of beauty that is emphasized and God is seen especially in His inward "dimension" which is beauty.
Intelligence can not be separated from Beauty.  The illuminated human intellect cannot but be intertwined with that beauty which removes from things their opacity and enables them to shine forth as transparent images and reflections which reveal rather than veil the archetypal realities that are the concern of the intellect, the Logos or Divine Intellect which is the source of the human intellect, being itself both order and mystery and in as sense, the beauty of God.  Beauty bestows upon the intelligence that highest gift which is certitude.  It also melts the hardness of the human soul and brings about the taste of that union which is the fruit of gnosis.  

In this sense beauty becomes a divine attraction rather than a seduction and is able to communicate something of the formless Essence in forms.  In this sense beauty not only transmits knowledge but is inseparable from knowledge of the sacred and sacred knowledge.  

Beauty is the Divine maya of the Real and the aura of the Absolute.  All manifestations of the Ultimate Reality are accompanied by this aura which is beauty.  One cannot speak of reality in the metaphysical sense without this splendor and radiance which surround it like a halo and which constitute beauty itself.  That is why creation is overwhelmingly beautiful.  

A work of sacred art melts the hard shell of the human ego and leaves an indelible mark upon the soul.  Seen in the sapiential perspective, beauty, always in rapport with God, is a sacrament that elevates man to the realm of the sacred.  From the gnostic point of view.  the earthly function of beauty is therefore to guide man back to the source of this earthly beauty.  Sacred art is a means of remembrance of what man is and the celestial abode from which he has descended and which he carries still the depth of his being.  

For certain human beings particularly sensitive to beauty, any creation of traditional sacred art can crystallize a state of contemplation and bring about a degree of intuitive knowledge in a single moment that would be impossible for them to even conceive through long periods of study.   

To be sensitive to the beauty of forms, whether natural or in the domain of sacred art, is to be blessed with a contemplative spirit.  To remain aware of the liberating beauty of forms as channels of grace, and to be open to the message of these forms, is to be blessed with the possibility of reception of sacred knowledge.  

Realization of sacred knowledge enables man to become himself a work of art, the supreme work of art of the Supreme Artist.  

Excerpts from: Lois Ibsen Al Faruqui  "An Islamic Perspective on Symbolism in the Arts" from Art Creativity, and the Sacred, edited by D. Apostolos-Cappadona

For the Muslim, the aesthetic realm, the beautiful, is that which directs attention to Alla, to God.

The beautiful, the significant in art is for the Muslim NOT an aesthetic portrayal of humanity or human attributes.  It is NOT a symbolic statement of the truths of nature. Instead, this transcendence-obssessed culture sought, through the creation of the beautiful --that is to say, through the explicit symbolism involving abstract or stylized motifs (especially geometric, calligraphic, and denaturalized figures) in intricate patterns and designs-- to stimulate in the viewer or listener an intuition of, or an insight into, the nature of God and of man's relation to Him.

In this pursuit the Muslim artist created structures in the visual arts, music, dance and literature to suggest infinity.  Islamic art has commonly been represented as an art of the "infinite pattern."

The Muslim artist holds a preference for small "building blocks" or "modules" from which to build his beautiful patterns which carry the implication of never-ending continuity.  The implicit symbolic message is realized through repetition and continuing variation of internal units with their intricacy and complication of treatment.  

The viewer, through his visual experience of this aesthetic process, gains an intuition of the infinity which characterizes transcendence.


Titus Burckhardt:  Art of Islam: Language and Meaning

Regarding Art and Contemplation: the object of art is beauty of form, where as the object of contemplation is beauty beyond form, which unfolds the formal order qualitatively whilst infinitely surpassing it.  To the extent that art is akin to contemplation, it is knowledge, since beauty is an aspect of Reality in the absolute meaning of the world.  Nor is it the least of its aspects, for it reveals the unity and infinity that are immanent in things.  It is finally beauty--subtly linked to the very source of things--that will pass judgment on the worth or futility of a world.  As the Prophet said  "God is beautiful and He loves beauty".


Also visit:

Sacred Art, Sacred Knowledge which is a work in progress consisting primarily of a collection of quotes by Islamic Scholars on the traditions of the sacred in art and all aspects of Islamic culture. 


Welcome Page  to The Departing Landscape website which includes the complete hyperlinked listing of my online photography projects dating back to the 1960's, my resume, contact information, and more.