In reading David Carrier’s essay “Overture: Islamic Carpets in European Paintings” from A World Art History and Its Objects, it becomes clear that Carrier has a second, more subtle point he is trying to get across even beyond the interpretation of Islamic weavings in Western (European) paintings. Though his main point is focused on the idea of how Islamic art was appropriated and misrepresented in European paintings, throughout his essay Carrier states multiple times how the “submissive” culture permeated the “dominant” culture. Much of his writing touches on how the rugs were largely used for aesthetic value in European art and did not acknowledge the importance and sacredness of some of these rugs in the Muslim world. Carrier also argues that because the weavers of these carpets likely did not have much liturgical or allegorical knowledge to weave into their carpets and because carpets are traditionally considered a “decoration” more quickly than an art that they were somehow lesser in form to traditional paintings. He asserts this idea on page 17 saying,
“When very different societies suddenly come into contact, the stronger culture’s art replaces or even destroys that of the weaker society. Sometimes, however, the weaker visual cultures influence their conquerors.”
Here Carrier assumes that because Western art has not been readily depicted in Islamic rugs until recently, Western art has somehow been the dominant culture all along and continue to be. As he says on page 19,
“Our [Western art] political paintings and videos show how we, the dominant culture, feel guilty about our aggressive actions. The rugs of war show our culture as seen from the viewpoint of its Muslim victims.”
This essay is a prime example of scholarship but also of reducing another major culture and faith system to simply being “the Other”. If most of our current literature in art history had been written by Islamic scholars from the Middle East instead of white men in Europe, I’m sure our understanding of global art history would look very different.
Ellee Banaszak, Hope College, Class of 2017
Source: Carrier, David. “Overture: Islamic Carpets in European Paintings”: A World Art History and Its Objects (pp.1-19)
Photo: By Anonymous (Turkey) (Walters Art Museum) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons