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Kamran Scot Aghaie, Chair CAL 528 | 204 W 21st St F9400 | Austin, TX 78712-1029 • 512-471-3881

Spring 2010


Unique Days Time Location Instructor
42296 T
9:30 AM-12:30 PM
ART 3.342

Course Description

Islamic art is famous for its tradition of ornamented surfaces, while Western art has often used ornament primarily to highlight or enhance the impact of an image. This course is a comparative study of the role of ornament, which takes as its founding premise that both Islamic and European art emerged from the same Late Antique visual milieu: in which abstract, geometric, and vegetal ornament played a key, (though often neglected) role. The study of ornament has a long and important history in art and design, but with the advent of modernism, ornament was deemed ethically suspect and inimical to art¹s higher purposes. Nevertheless, in the past few decades, under the aegis of postmodern theory, ornament has assumed a renewed significance. We will explore multiple scholars¹ perspectives on ornament: its practical function and creation, its ability to transform surfaces and thereby change their reception and meaning, and its role as a semiotic device and broader social function as a marker of class, faith, or exoticism. An important proposal we will explore is the idea that ornament is not mere ³decoration,² but rather has a rich functional and symbolic role to play in the human response to and understanding of art. With this role in mind, a key skill students will acquire in this course is the ability to make a visual analysis of a work of art whose primary feature is its ornament.What is the place of abstraction, and when and how is it employed? To what degree may we say ornament is linked to the natural world, especially vegetal ornament? How, in Islamic art, does writing function as ornament? What is phenomenological promise of ornament, its role in the enhancement of diversion and pleasure, and how does ornament fulfill that promise? We will also explore the way in which ornament has a distinctly transient role, how it is often associated with a conception of the ³exotic² and as such, tends to move fluidly across boundaries of medium, culture, and society. Examples of this transience range from the reception in Islamic lands of medieval Chinese porcelain, to medieval Europe¹s hungry market for elaborately decorated Islamic metalwork and textiles.

Grading Policy

To be provided by the instructor.


To be provided by the instructor.


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