TWO VIEWS OF ISLAM Ceramic Tile Design and Miniatures

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Students will ...

* understand the role the visual arts play in communicating historical and cultural beliefs and ideals.

* discover how the elements of art and the principles of design are used differently in another culture.

* develop an understanding of the ways artists acquire and transform ideas into visual form.

* try a new way of working.

* expand their understanding of the elements of art and the principles of design and increase the variety of ways they use these in their artworks.

* make connections between the visual arts and other disciplines (i.e. the study of Islam in history, geometry, etc.).

In the year 613, in the city of Mecca, a man named Muhammad began preaching a faith centering on one god called Allah who had revealed himself to Muhammad during meditation. People who share Muhammad's beliefs recognize him as the holy messenger of Allah and are called Muslims.(1) Muhammad preached against the worship of idols.

This statement is the basis for the development of Islamic art. To express their artistic ideas, while forbidden by early Islamic law to represent human or animal forms in art, Muslim artists became great pattern makers and developed the Islamic decorative style we know today.

To compensate for the lack of visual stimulation in the deserts of the Middle East, objects and buildings were covered with complex patterns. Patterns consist of Arabic language patterns, or designs based on the Arabic alphabet which convey the word of Allah, arabesques, or swirling geometric designs from plant life, and repeating geometric shapes.

Islamic geometric patterns consist of a small number of repeating geometric shapes. The design radiates symmetrically from a central point and is constructed from a pattern of circles, equilateral triangles, squares, hexagons and/or six-pointed stars. The patterns are often interlacing, or certain elements will weave over and under. They have a foreground and a background. The pattern is generally not designed to fit within a frame, because each tile is just one small part of an overall pattern that would cover a wall, floor or roof.


The creation of Islamic tiles began about 800 years ago when the people of the Middle East learned from Chinese ceramics that many colors could be used in one tile. Tile design is a craft that has evolved over the centuries. The craft is studied and learned by one generation after another and passed on by masters to their apprentices. Some of the most beautiful tiles come from Kutahya and Isnik in Turkey.

Students can re-create the work of the masters or develop their own original designs in the classroom by designing a tile based on the principles of Islamic art using color, natural forms, linear designs, patterns and geometric shapes. Geometry is a part of life. Spider webs and beehives are examples of geometry in nature.

In the 14th century B.C., Egyptian rulers used geometry to divide land equally among their subjects, with each person receiving a rectangle. The study of geometry was a part of education in ancient Greece. Today, geometry is used to solve problems, but it can also be used to create beautiful designs. Working with geometric shapes gives artists an unending variety of combinations limited only by the artist's imagination.(2)


The arts of the book (calligraphy, marbling, illustration, papermaking, papercuts, painted decoration and binding) were extremely important in the Islamic world because of the importance given to the written word, and book illustration is one of the most appreciated forms of Islamic art. Books were elaborately written in calligraphy and decorated with ornaments and illustrations designed to increase the pleasure of reading the text. Manuscripts were beautifully bound in leather and often stamped, cut, painted and gilded. …