The Unforbidden Beauty of Islamic Aesthetics

In Islam, you are not allowed to do a lot of things. Showing your hair, drinking alcohol, kissing in public. Most of those will turn a western mind into a reasonant megaphone, expressing the western distress with the general idea of forbidding personal freedom. It is hard to beleive that islamic girls who claim to freely cover their bodies under a 45º, and indeed, there is little reason to suppose that the few who claim that represent the majority view, and a lot of reason to suppose that they fear social reprehension and being unable to marry. Even though I do agree with the general secular point of view regarding random anacronic prohibitions that have persisted through time, there is this one I’d like to defend. The prohibition of depicting creatures.

Muslims don’t draw people. Not only people, but other animals too. Recently back from Syria, Jordan, and Lebannon, my recollection is that the closest relative of ours I’ve seen depicted were flowers. That is a long distance. Take a look.

Só what happens when you create a society that is not allowed to draw that which we are cognitively most likely to want to depict? Patterns emerge, literally, patterns emerge.

I suppose many would agree, as I have shown in another writing, that contemporaneous western society has too much visual information, and that is one of the reasons for the spreading of modernism. It is not pleasant to be in a roccoco scenery like this, because we are already daily overwhelmed by visual and auditory information far surpassing our tailored-to-the-savannah levels of information processing. Even when I stay home all day, I usually see around 30 faces which my brain has to recognize, and some 100 that it just recognizes as a human face, that is what web-based social networks are all about anyway. I suppose americans see Brad Pitt on average once a day, brazilians see Gisele Bündchen almost as frequently. It is tiresome, stressing. Why do we have to be in the company of só many creatures all the time?

Thing is, we are. Yet, the vast majority of our paintings (and of our neocortices) are depictions of people, faces, bodies, gestures, social acts, gatherings, revolutions, reformations, saints, angels, clubs, …….Stop! Too much.

Enters Islam.

Reader: This is way more visual information than anything, how could this be relaxing?

I suggest that there are two main differences between this sort of decoration, and, say, Guernica, by Picasso.

The first one is that, even though there is lots of information within the patterns, it is all based on simple rules, so it probably takes much less effort for the brain to debug what it is. “It is a surface of such and such kind, no partners, no friends, no enemies, no predators, no prey”, no need to throw adrenalin into the system, no need for fight or flight, just a pattern.

The second one has something to do with something eles I wrote about before. The Snickers issue. We like Snikers because it works as superstimulus, it is salty, sweet, fatty, solid, creamy, crunchy, all at the same time, Snikers is like interenet porn to an extent. Like newborn babies who spent more time looking at six-eyed fake moms than at two-eyed fake moms, we like Snikers and intenet porn because we get high, it activates the neurosystem as a whole a lot. Most of the time our conscious processing of information takes place in Broca (language area) the Temporal Gyrus(face-recognition, place-recognition, and Frontal Lobe, which pretty much takes care of thinking about who is who, and checks if some of them want to abuse, some of them want to get used by you.

The patterns depicted in islamic buildings and islamic art, on the other hand, are mostly processed and debugged (made sense of) around the V2 area, one of the earliest parts of visual processing.

Those who apreciatte this kind of art are probably doing so both because it doesn’t overwhelm the social/hunting/mating stressed parts of our minds, and because is grasps and allows the feeling of understanding from a much older and more primitive system, which doesn’t have that much work to do usually.

Sometimes, prohibitions may lead to beauty, let us understand why is the beauty there so it doesn’t get destroyed once the prohibitions are suspended, as they surely will.

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