A World Art History and its Objects, David Carrier

It’s no doubt that humans are afraid of the unknown.  Most of our worries are carried in the form of anxiety by worrying about the future, which is unpredictable.  We are afraid of the dark not for the darkness itself, but for what could be within it–unseeable unknowns.  This innate human fear of the unknown is can be seen clearly throughout history and is illustrated massively in the Self and Other perspective carried by opposing or different cultures.  Carrier says that “when something seems really strange, we say that it comes from another world” (pg 1).  The idea of difference carries a nuance of hierarchy, the underlying idea that difference holds a superiority complex, and that because something is different, either it or the opposition is “better.”  At first glance, and even at a second, third, and infinite glances, we can fail to acknowledge similarities within differences in the fight for power and global influence.

This idea of superiority within difference is not new and can be seen in the ongoing tension between Christianity and Muslim culture.  Despite tensions, these cultures borrowed aesthetics from each other within their artwork, as Renaissance artists painted decorative Muslim prayer rugs into their work, likely ignorant to their purposes.  This act begs the question of whether or not the Renaissance artists were committing an act of disrespect towards Muslims or a neutralized, outstretched hand to the Other.  These depictions also leave the Contemporary art historian questioning whether Renaissance artists were carelessly establishing their superiority over Muslim culture by adding their rugs in as meaningless decoration or establishing an appreciation for the Other within their art.

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Norman Daniel states in The Arabs and Medieval Europe that “the self-absorption of Europe was at once a source of strength which enabled it to shut out everything extraneous to its immediate needs, and at the same time a grave moral imperfection.”  Europe’s depiction of Muslim art very well could be another intentional act of ignorance, establishing a superiority in the difference of cultures and in the ongoing global fight for power.

Michaela Stock, Hope College 2020.

Feature Image: Merelize, preview16.jpg

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