Geometric patterns in Persian arts

Geometric patterns are an interesting façade of the Persian arts. What is even more intriguing is the fact that often this aspect of the art does not bring just a visual experience but rather one that takes the viewer beyond it. Many scholars who work on Iran have been fascinated by the way Persian geometric shapes are not only aesthetically captivating but that they are much more than what brings pleasure to the eyes. R. Henri, for example, writes about how these inspiring patterns bring a sense of “sublime tranquility” (R.Henri 2007). In the work of Henri Corbin, the geometry of Persian arts is a vehicle for an inner experience related to Persian literature and more specifically to that of mystical Persian poetry famous for its unique beauty, depth and wisdom. It might be an interesting food for thoughts to contemplate on how the Persian arts (in this case specifically those bearing geometry) have been intertwined with Persian poetry books. As an example, on could think about the original handwritten copy of Omar Khayyam the Rubaiyat, the author of whom incidentally was a pioneer mathematician & astronomer as well as a poet. The antique copy of the book landed in the hands of Edward FitzGerald was intricately decorated by arts and designs. This example from poetry book enriched with artistic expressions gives a glimpse of how profoundly the visuals have been tied to other branches of human expressions among the Persians, namely, literature, spirituality/religion, philosophical thoughts as well as the sciences and in this case geometry.

An Interview with Mr. Edwards: A London Based Career Artist and Teacher

In the first piece of ‘Food for Thought’ series I has a little note on the use of geometry in Persian arts and I wanted to know what were your thoughts on the topic?

Mr. Edwards: “In the Persian Arts we are not just looking at the geometry of the design but a whole cosmology.” “If we look at one of the most famous world carpets, The Ardebil Carpet (in fact there are two of them of similar design, both made in Ardebil, a city in Azerbaijan province of North West Iran, one of them is here in London at the Albert and Victoria Museum and the other is in California). There is a whole cosmology and symbolism embedded in their designs. Persian design is not just a decorated surface, the design work found in not only carpets and textiles but also architecture and surface decoration across the arts and crafts, embeds and represents a traditional understanding of cosmology and spiritual teaching.

What attracted you to them? I asked

Mr. Edwards:“ When I was a student at The Slade School of Art, London University, I was fortunate to have Keith Critchlow as one of my professors, who really opened a whole new horizon to me, that of the Islamic art. During my university years I left for southern Spain to visit Granada and Cordoba and thus my artistic voyage started,  which then took me first to Iran. My trip to Iran was fascinating and led me to further travels in  North Africa Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt and Indonesia to name a few Muslim countries inside and outside the Middle East &North Africa region.”

What did you find unique in the Persian arts as opposed to Islamic art?

Mr. Edwards: “I would say that for me what is unique to Persian arts is the use of color, to put it into one simple word, really the essence of color!  Because you see, you can find similar use of geometry and design in arts in other cultures,  but for me Persian design offers the refinement exhibited in the exquisite coloring and spectacular design found especially in the culmination of Saffavid tradition, for example the Shiek Lufallah masjed and the Royal Mosque, both built in Isfahan in the 17th century, but also found in the mosques of Samarkand and Bokhara. Although I have been appreciative of the arts in Pakistan, Indonesia and also North Africa but it is the coloring with the purity and refinement of the design that has held my deep appreciation of Persian design for over forty years. I am always grateful to Keith for having opened that gate to me. And I often think his teaching arrived at the right moment in time, it happened at the time that I had just started Transcendental Meditation and as an art student a taste for spirituality was evoked and I was at the time drawn to Hinduism and then to Buddhism. Then once Keith appeared in my artistic quest I became inspired me to explore Islamic art. A short while later, it was Persian mystical poetry, specifically that of Rumi that got my attention. Then it was Persian music and Sufism, and before I realise I was on my way to Iran in the late 1970s.”

You have travelled and worked on different types of arts inspired by spiritualism and what is interesting for you about Persian spirituality?

Mr. Edwards: “ I think in the case of Persian spirituality, I would locate it within a broader Islamic spirituality perhaps and say that while in other religions you have a portrayal of the deity, in Islam there is none. Now, I am an artist and for me it is absolutely fascinating that in Persian (Islamic) art the interpretation of the Divine could be thought of as a vibrating stillness that is all pervading, manifesting itself through geometric design, which, for me, symbolises the Pure Consciousness that underpins our own very individual essence and that of our universe. In Persian (as it is the case with Islamic) design God is formless, whereas in other religious traditions you have people worshiping deities in form and shapes. I would doubt that Jesus or Buddha wished to have statues and representations of themselves to be worshipped as a god. Yet in other spiritual and religious expressions one sees God in physical, visual shape and form while in Persian (Islamic) spirituality and religion, the Divine is has no formal or realistic representation and thus left to the individual’s abstract sensibility and direct experience of the formless.

Author: Roksana Behramitash, Ph. D

References:

An Introduction to Islamic Cosmological Doctrines: Conceptions of Nature and Methods Used for Its Study by the Ikhwan al-Safa, al-Biruni, and Ibn Sina (Seyyed Hossein Nasr 1964)

Islamic Patterns, an analytical and cosmological approach. Keith Critchlow. 1976

The Sense of Unity. Nadar Ardalan and Leleh Bakhtiar. 1973

Cliff Edwards Art: www.cliffedwardsart.com

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