Sunday, August 15, 2010


ar·a·besque /ˌærəˈbɛsk/ [ar-uh-besk] –noun
1. Fine Arts . a sinuous, spiraling, undulating, or serpentine line or linear motif.
2. a pose in ballet in which the dancer stands on one leg with one arm extended in front and the other leg and arm extended behind.
3. a short, fanciful musical piece, typically for piano.
4. any ornament or ornamental object, as a rug or mosaic, in which flowers, foliage, fruits, vases, animals, and figures are represented in a fancifully combined pattern.

A greeting on Twitter from @ozdalt, a fellow from Turkey, led me to an interesting blog entry about Arabesque music. I had not given any thought whatsoever to the Arabesque musical form in decades so I found it interesting to read a short essay about some of the issues raised with regard to a current debate over Arabesque in Turkey. I will return to this blog entry after allowing other Arabesque ideas be briefly explored.

Arabesque in Art
Wikipedia begins with the following information about the most common meaning of Arabesque.
"The arabesque is an artistic motif that is characterized by the application of repeating geometric forms and fancifully combined patterns; these forms often echo those of plants and animals.[1] Arabesques are, as their name indicates, elements of Islamic art often found decorating the walls of mosques. The choice of which geometric forms are to be used and how they are to be formatted is based upon the Islamic view of the world. To Muslims, these forms, taken together, constitute an infinite pattern that extends beyond the visible material world. To many in the Islamic world, they concretely symbolize the infinite, and therefore uncentralized, nature of the creation of the one God (Allah). Furthermore, the Islamic Arabesque artist conveys a definite spirituality without the iconography of Christian art."

It's interesting to see how the Arabesque art form emerges out of a specific culture, that is, the Muslim world and its view that art must be non-representational. I remember seeing some arabesque motifs in Mexico a few times, brought to this hemisphere by the Spanish Conquistadors who had themselves been the vanquished for 700 years by Muslim invaders from North Africa. The art motifs remained long after the conquerors disappeared.

As regards art and culture, I have no time here to elaborate, but an exploration of what the post-modern art scene is telling us about the current culture. H.R Rookmaaker's excellent volume Modern Art & the Death of a Culture makes a good preparatory foundation for that discussion.

Arabesque in Ballet
We've all seen it, but probably (unless we're into ballet) that it's called an arabesque. It's one of the most difficult positions to master. It requires both strength and balance, and flexibility.
This is one of the positions that shows just how seasoned a dancer really is. A highly rotated hip placement, a great turnout, a high backward leg extension joined with perfect form and balance…

Ah, but it may be that you have seen a variation of the arabesque if you watch ice skating competitions. Or women performing on the balance beam in Olympic gymnastics events.

Arabesque in Film
Here's a review of the film, starring Gregory Peck and Sophia Loren.

A Little Hitchcock Style, A Little James Bond Style, A Lot of Fun!, 31 March 2002
Author: Dorian Tenore-Bartilucci (dtb) from Whitehall, PA

ARABESQUE is another fab Universal romantic thriller in the grand CHARADE tradition, including some of the same personnel! If director Stanley Donen's classic 1963 comedy-thriller CHARADE is Hitchcock Lite, then ARABESQUE is Hitchcock Lite after taking a few classes in James Bond 101 (including an opening title sequence by Maurice Binder, who also did the honors for CHARADE as well as for most of the Bond movies). As the hieroglyphics expert embroiled in Middle Eastern intrigue while decoding the cipher everyone's after, the usual slightly wooden note in Gregory Peck's delivery is oddly effective as he tries to loosen up and deliver Cary Grant-like witticisms (from co-scripter "Pierre Marton," a.k.a. CHARADE alumnus Peter Stone). Peck may not be Mr. Glib, but he's so inherently likable and seems so delighted to get an opportunity to deliver bon mots after all his serious roles that he's downright endearing, like a child trying out new words for the first time. And co-star Sophia Loren, at her most alluring as an Arab femme fatale, can make any guy look suave and sexy! Alan Badel, looking like a polished Peter Sellers in cool shades, virtually steals his scenes as the suave-bordering-on-unctuous villain with a foot fetish. Shoe lovers will swoon over the scene with Badel fitting the lovely Loren with a roomful of fancy footwear. Speaking of things of beauty, Christopher Challis's dazzling, inventive cinematography won the BAFTA (the British equivalent of the Oscars), and Christian Dior got a BAFTA nomination for Loren's elegant costumes. Suspenseful and sparkling as this twist-filled adventure is, ARABESQUE's biggest mystery is why it's still only available in VHS format. If this gem ever gets deluxe treatment as a DVD (including letterboxing, please!), I sure hope they get Donen and Loren together to do the kind of entertaining, informative commentary that Donen did with the late, great Stone for Criterion's CHARADE DVD. In the meantime, ARABESQUE turns up on American Movie Classics and Turner Classic Movies periodically, so check your TV listings -- this fun thriller is worth seeking out!

Arabesque as Music
Ozdal Tavsani begins his August 3 ruminations with this paragraph.

"Arabesque; as a kind of music which is as understood in Turkey, becomes a subject of polemics from time to time. Recently our famous piano virtuoso Fazıl Say caused a discussion complaining that Arabesque profits from uncertainties and it's a matter of laziness, agitation and trade. In his Internet messages, Fazıl Say complains about Arabesque not only because it's counted as a kind of music but also, hates the personality attached to it. He generalized his expression to Turkish nation, becoming a little rude, and said he was ashamed of Arabesque tendency of Turkish people!"

Some of the questions he raises later in the piece are thought provoking. You can read the rest of Tavsani's rant, titled Bad Music, here.

In the meantime... life goes on.

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