Infinity and Beauty

Infinity and Beauty


This image is from the project Infinite Beauty     click on image to enlarge

Excerpts from: Lois Ibsen Al Faruqui  "An Islamic Perspective on Symbolism in the Arts: New Thoughts on Figural Representation" from Art Creativity, and the Sacred, edited 
by Diane Apostolos-Cappadona
Islamic art is based in the theory of transcendence, that is, reality is not conceived as based in human existence or in nature.  Instead, transcendence theories regard finite motifs and subject matter as subtly disclosing a view of a reality that reaches beyond the natural world. 

According to Muslims, every aspect of culture must be seen as somehow determined by the uniquely Qur'anic and Islamic monotheistic doctrine of tawhid.  This doctrine regards Allah, or God, as a being of utterly transcendent nature, as the Creator Who has a hand in nature but Who is completely distinguishable from His creation.

It would seem likely then that a similar influence of tawhid is to be found in the Islamic arts.  For the Muslim, the aesthetic realm, the beautiful, is that which directs attention to Alla.  

If the Muslim artist could not convey an intuition of tawhid through naturalistic representations [of man and nature], what would be a suitable aesthetic vehicle for his ideology?  He found this vehicle in the creation of patterns that suggest infiniteness as a quality of transcendence.  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.  These internal units may be identically repeated to make up the total composition, or they may reappear in varied form. . .  In both cases, the internal divisions of the work are essential to the sense of continuing and never-ending pattern.  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".

Both types of Arabesque - intertwined stylized vine imagery and abstract geometrical interlacement - are an extremely direct expression of the idea of the Divine Unity underlying the inexhaustible variety of the world.  True, Divine Unity as such is beyond all representation because its nature, which is total, lets nothing remain outside itself.  Nevertheless, it is through harmony that it is reflected in the world, harmony being nothing other than "unity in multiplicity."  But it is in yet another respect that arabesque recalls the unity underlying things, namely that it is generally constituted from a single element, a single rope or a single line, which comes endlessly back upon itself.
Titus Burckhardt:   Sacred Art in East and West
The arabesque is not merely a possibility of producing art without making images; it is a direct means for dissolving images or what corresponds to them in the mental order, in the same way as the rhythmical repetition of certain Koranic formulae dissolves the fixation of the mind on an object of desire.  In the arabesque all suggestion of an individual form is eliminated by the indefinity of a continuous weave . .  Thus at the sight of glittering waves or of leafage trembling in the breeze, the soul detaches itself from its internal objects, from the "idols" of passion, and plunges, vibrant within itself, into a pure state of being.

Emma Clark: The Art of the Islamic Garden
Geometry and arabesque are two of the three principle elements of Islamic art, the third being calligraphy.  The abstraction of Islamic art has little in common with modern abstract art: the former is objective and is about the remembrance of Divine Unity, while the latter, generally speaking, is subjective, usually reflecting the psyche of the individual artist.

Frithjof Schuon: Art from the Sacred to the Profane-East and West
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.  

Frithjof Schuon: Language of the Self
Esoterism is  concerned with the nature of things and not merely with our human eschatology; it views the Universe not from the human standpoint but from the "standpoint" of God.  As a doctrine it communicates the very essence of our universal position, our situation between nothingness and Infinity.  The truth for the esoterist is that only the divine manifestation is the Self.  

Seyyed Hossein Nasr: Knowledge and the Sacred
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 of 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.  

Samer Akkach:  Cosmology and Architecture in Premodern Islam
The Sufi viewed imagination as the creative cause of our existence and the powerful agency that enables us to remain in contact with the Infinite and the Absolute.  

Martin Lings: Symbol and Archetype
The Qur'an uses the symbol of the tree to point a way for the illuminator, telling him how to set free from the finite it's Infinite Presence.  

Tom Cheetham:  All the World an Icon: Henry Corbin and the Angelic Function of Beings
Henry Corbin writes:  "Idolatry consists in immobilizing oneself before an idol because one sees it as opaque, because one is incapable of discerning in it the hidden invitation that it offers to go beyond it.  Hence, the opposite of Idolatry would not consist in breaking idols, in practicing a fierce iconoclasm aimed against every inner or external Image; it would rather consist in rendering the idol transparent to the light invested in ti.  In short, it means transmuting the idol into an icon."

It is Sophia, the Beauty of things, that makes possible the vision of the transparency of the world.  She is the figure that the ancient Zoroastrians called the Angel out ahead.  She manifests beauty and so reveals the infinite as the heart of reality, so that everything is "bulging and blazing and big in itself."  In this cosmology, all earthly being have a heavenly Twin, an archetypal figure who completes them and makes them hole.  But it is a dynamic wholeness.  And not only earthly beings have a heavenly twin.  All the celestial archetypes themselves have an Angel.  Even God has an Angel.  these are the Angels "who go out ahead" and eternally create new horizons, opening up distances within Eternity.  In this vision of the cosmos there are no fixed Beings, and every being of Light always has another Angel out ahead of itself.

I use the word poet in the broadest possible sense, to include everyone who taps into the Creative Imagination that lies at the heart of reality.  [Poetry] happens anywhere love erupts and beauty shines.  A primary characteristic of the visionary and Creative Imagination is that it is fluid, flashing, and ever-changing. . .  If we imagine that the world was produced by a cosmic Imagination, and if Imagination is the central faculty of human beings, and if imaginal reality is fluid and changeable, then no literal interpretation we can ever give the world will do it justice.  There is no complete Truth that is viable to everyone.  The cosmos cries out for interpretation because it is infinite everywhere and always, from the tiniest grain of sand to the greatest cluster of galaxies, from the tiniest living cell to the infant sleeping in its mother's arms. . .  There can be no master narrative.    We want instead a Theory of Nothing, a poetics of the dark.  Only that releases us and the world toward an infinite series of meanings. . . Henry Corbin writes of the Darkness at the approach to the pole that threatens the mystical journey with catastrophe.  the Unknown God is the fountain of all being--His Light so overpowering it seems like the Blackest Night.  I imagine that these ranks of Angels rise toward that Night, surrendering more and more of their knowledge and their substance until they abandon everything at the threshold of the Throne.  I envy the ignorance of those tremendous, final Angels.


For quotes regarding Beauty  click here

Also visit:

Infinite Beauty, 

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. 


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