Thursday, January 30, 2014


Ancient Egyptian art is one of the oldest art forms in the world and one of the most distinctive.  The art is drawn on a two-dimensional scale, and the people and objects tend to be drawn in profile.  There’s very little shading or any acknowledgement of depth.  They also utilized what’s called tiered space: where objects that are supposedly in the distance are placed higher than objects in the forefront. Sometimes people are drawn with the heads of animals that symbolize gods. 

In other arts, gold is a very important material that was used. The ancient Egyptians believed gold was a gift from the gods and that it was virtually indestructible for that reason.  However, at that time, payment for goods and services were done on the barter system – you got paid in food and clothes, so gold didn’t have much of a monetary value at all.  It was used for a variety of projects, from jewelry to sculptures, and masks.  Gold was either mined from surface mines, which are considered state monopolies in Egypt, or was panned from the river.  Actually, Egypt really didn’t produce that much gold, probably around one ton, and most of it went to the royalty.

Because of the influences from the Arab world, there are many Arab-inspired and Islam-inspired buildings throughout the country.  These buildings also tend to be geometrically and mathematically designed. The arts scene now reflects many of the arts movements throughout the world, and you can find Egyptian artists of all mediums, from painting and sculpture to modern techniques using digital arts and other contemporary styles. Egyptians are very tech savvy and use the Internet and social media to promote their art as well. 

The ancient Egyptians were the first people to develop paper from papyrus, thus giving us the book.  Their writing system, hieroglyphics, is one of the first alphabets to emerge.  Some of the more well-known books from this early period are Story of Sihune, Westcar Papyrus, and the Book of the Dead.  Early Egyptian literature usually fell into three categories: autobiographies, informative literature, and myths/stories. Many of the Coptic works were also held in libraries in Alexandria. By the eighth century, Muslim Arabs had taken control of the area and Arabic became the language most written in. They borrowed Egyptian folk tales and many of them were included in One Thousand and One Nights (Arabian Nights).

By the time the 19th and 20th centuries came along, Egypt went through a sort of Renaissance movement that hit all of the arts, not just literature. One of the most important writers to emerge from this time is Naguib Mahfouz. Mahfouz has published 34 novels and over 350 short stories, and his works often delve into existentialism. He was also the first Egyptian to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. (And I think his photo makes him look a little like Jack Nicholson.)  The novel that is often considered as the first Egyptian novel and Islamic novel is Zaynab, written by Muhammad Husayn Haykal in 1914.  It not only dealt with issues such as the relationships between men and women, but also with the relationships between laborers and plantation owners and was set entirely in Egypt. The novel was also the basis of Egypt’s first silent film of the same name that was produced in 1925. 

Naguib Mahfouz
Jack Nicholson
Up next: music and dance

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