Posted tagged ‘abstract’

Abstract writing and essay discussion

June 30, 2009

The deadline for handing in the Abstract for the essay was on Monday (22/06).

I have to say I haven’t procrastinated as much since needing to do revision for my final yr at uni. Choosing a title for the essay was very difficult so I decided to stick to something simple and to the point for now and then refine it later to make it more relevant to how my essay shapes out.

So the Title (for now) is Contemporary Islamic and Middle Eastern Art – can it be defined?

I have to admit I struggled to do this as I kept wanting to include so much information without as many words. I ended up with about 3 drafts and still was not very happy with what I had. Some of it didn’t even make sense:

Islamic art encompasses many artworks that were produced within Islamic dynasties of centuries old and stems right the way through these to today’s work produced by artists currently living and working across the globe. One may assume that the link that binds these works is the faith of Islam. Is this a correct assumption? The definition of Islamic Art has been disputed by many as it is believed by some to be broad and with significant historical background to take in to consideration.

It also takes into account the emigration of people from one land to another (sometimes to and other times away from Muslim lands). Have they been restricted by their own society? If they are not practising the religion of Islam, are they Muslims that can be relied on to paint a picture of the cultural scene at that moment?

The evolution of design and aesthetics, tastes, technology and materials are also an important aspect that shaped the current Middle Eastern and Islamic Art scene not to mention historical events such as September 11th. Are we trying to understand the East? Do we get a realistic picture?

A very recent exhibition held at the Saatchi Gallery, London (2009) ‘Unveiled: New art from the Middle East’ brings together such examples of varied artworks. Similar collections for public view have been gathered in New York’s Modern Art Museum and in the Louvre, France. By comparing the array of subject matters addressed in the artworks we can gauge that certain topics such as political divisions, social unrest, religious conflicts and freedom of speech are prominent and therefore of high importance.

These are, however, negative aspects that have been highlighted for almost a decade now as the media has increased the reporting on the various ‘wars on terror’. Is this a means of communicating and informing the West of Middle Eastern ideology? Is it succeeding? Which artworks are of a positive and more inclusive nature?

Following the rule that art is a representation of public sentiment, is it fair to say that the art work on show in current exhibitions of Contemporary Middle Eastern Art is within the correct context to be termed as Islamic or Middle Eastern? If it is not accepted within the boundaries of the social rules from which it derives, is it feasible to draw a true picture of the culture and themes they are said to represent?

I then sent an email to a friend/peer with the following to explain what I was trying to say in my abstract and I think it came out better than the actual thing:

In layman’s terms I guess I’m trying to say that people living outside of Islamic borders (physical or not) are producing the artwork that is termed ‘Islamic’ yet their only link to Islam is sometimes their origins. This could then be argued from various p.o.v’s – it’ just that I need it to be presented as more of a question than a statement so that I can argue the different views.

I also want to bring in the idea that their rebellion against their homelands restrictions is the reason they left those places and that those restrictions are what their work may sometimes centre on. This is certainly the impression given through the exhibitions that are around at the moment – negative stuff seems to pull in the crowds?

In some cases they may be going against the acceptable social behaviour/beliefs and perhaps can’t be termed as ‘Islamic or Middle Eastern’ because it’s not a majority view? As in not truly representing the cultures and lives of the Muslims but only a snapshot of certain aspects. Once again if I make this more of a question I can give different views.

The angle I was going to take was one of the West trying to understand the East. In the essay itself I’d like to mention very briefly the events since Sep 11th and how they’ve shaped the Islamic art and Middle East art movement to become more globalised but still centred on topics such as politics and war.

I knew I’d get some useful feedback from Andy and the other part-timers (Esmeralda, Rupert and Isaac) who were also discussing their essays. So even though I wasn’t happy with what they’d be reading (as in my hand-in) I knew it was a necessary step in order to make progress.

In regards to the title – this was said to be fine. I could make it more specific to the content I was writing by adding an additional line in the style of a slogan of some sort.

The first paragraph was ok too but could do with a definition of Islamic Art – perhaps as a quote.

Actual notes I took:

Look on wiki for tips on ‘how to write a research question’
Can the work be defined by curatorial agenda?

Near the start of the essay mention certain practitioners that are challenging or engaging with the assumption (mentioned in current draft). Some may say their work is more than ‘belief’ or other angles to their creative process – this is a key element and could prove to be very interesting. There is a distinction between reflecting the faith or the creative process (?)


Stay away from media as a subject area – e.g. much has already been said about Sep 11th and it could veer off into other directions so best to stay clear of it.


Alhambra is a very good example of where Eastern and Western creative processes merged (various reasons) but techniques of both styles were adopted and embraced by both the locals and foreigners. Focus on the sparks between the East and West.


Using the examples given in the 4th paragraph – specify artists/practitioners who are expressing these things

war and victimisation – is this just a current theme?

Maybe discuss the art scene in the context of culture being embedded in religion and that it cannot be separated.

Can still mention Saatchi’s intentions – knowing that the public is aware of what is going on in the Middle East, they will be more inclined to come to an exhibition that gives an insight to that culture.

So now I know to concentrate on a few particular artists who seem to be making a name for themselves in contemporary Islamic and Middle Eastern Art. I guess I should look into what their motivations are and the subject matters they like to express the most and more importantly their choice of medium.

Once again my to-do list is piling up. I have a feeling I won’t get round to doing the bulk of my tasks till the summer break by which time I’ll probably start panicking about the 2nd year! The pressure will probably do me some good though and hopefully snap me out of the procrastinary stage I seem to be stuck in.

Don Relyea – Q&A

October 18, 2008

Well I emailed Don Relyea as I said I would ( and very kindly he responded in detail with some very interesting answers and observations:

I really like your work involving the generation of geometric shapes with programming in interactive applets. What would you say triggered your desire to use these types of shapes in your designs?

Since most of my work is created in some kind of programming language, it is natural to describe shapes and forms with math and both 2d and 3d geometry. I have always enjoyed math. From about 1999-2003 I developed severe sleep apnea, this deprived my brain of oxygen and meaningful sleep. Over that time I began to lose the ability to do math, solve complex problems, and even routine programming exercises became extremely difficult.

I thought I was losing my mind. When I figured out what was wrong and started treatment, it was as though I had just emerged from a thick fog into daylight. I immersed myself in math and exploratory programming with a new found zeal. The recovery and subsequent rediscovery of my love for math was the catalyst for the burst of abstract geometric and space-filling curve works.

Considering how much emphasis has been placed on geometry in the past and the desire to create artwork based on exact measurements of shapes (e.g the use of golden ratio), where do you see geometry fitting in contemporary art?

Geometry will always have a place in the world of contemporary art. Successful artists are successful manipulators. Geometry is a great foil for manipulation. Why is it that people are drawn to compositions with certain proportions? When something is out of proportion, why is it so jarring?

I think that a lot of the answers to these questions lie in neuroscience and the way our brains are wired to recognize patterns and forms. There have been a lot of recent studies that show that we have at a minimum 2 brain functions going on at the same time, the executive mind and the habitual mind. The executive mind is what we engage when we encounter something new or need to solve a problem, the habitual mind is our autopilot. This is not a new concept, ancient Zen masters were aware of this. The habitual mind is programmed through repetition to detect patterns and shapes and it keys in on certain proportions like golden ratios, facial symmetry, etc. As an artist you can play with this feature in your viewers brains to evoke a response.

Mark Mothersbaugh’s current exhibit at LACDA titled “Beautiful Mutants” is great example this manipulative technique in action.
In “Bottom Heavy Pug” Mothersbaugh is challenging both the executive and habitual mind simultaneously, the picture looks enough like the original that your habitual mind immediately identifies it as a dog. Your executive mind also immediately recognizes that there is something proportionally awry with the picture. The internal conflict makes the picture memorable and engaging.

Bottom heavy pug by Mark Mothersbaugh

Along the same line of reasoning, works that are geometrically exact are equally engaging. Geometric perfection is actually quite rare in nature and we can recognize when a form is artificially perfect. In “Bottom Heavy Pug” the vertical symmetry is exact, we recognize that this is uncommon and take note.

I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Don Relyea for taking the time to answer these questions, and with such detail 🙂

There are loads more interesting projects he is working on, so once again I recommend a look at his site. In particular I’ve just noticed this project based on html layouts and table based html structures which actually form interesting imagery when viewed in a browser: the reductionizer.