Literature and Art

Formerly, non-Arabs undertook translation into Arabic. Of late, Arabs took upon themselves to translate, but they were not perfect in the grammar and etymology of their language. This gave the impression that translation was an art which accepted poor language, violation of grammatical rules and of literary taste. The impression was due to the fact that translations, in the past and the present, show poor construction mistakes and jumbled up sentences.

But the renaissance in the Arab East was accompanied by a revival of neglected books and treasures of the best specimens of Arabic prose and poetry. This polished the language and corrected the expressions of modern writers. There was a further movement for learning European languages which coincided with the revival of old Arabic literature. The scientific and literary books which were published as a result of all this, were couched in the most correct expressions and used the best forms of the language.

On this occasion, translation proved a blessing for the Arabic language because it caused writers to write with a set ideal and not just to go on writing aimlessly. Previously, a writer was looked down upon if he did not use rhyme in his writing or sprinkle his pages with the set phrases coined by the veterans. This trend always made the writer to go astray. But the modern trend has relieved Arabic of this weight and allowed the writer to write according to his own observation and concept.

The institution of the press was borrowed by the Arab East from the West and it helped in developing an easy style and making room for classical expressions. The same also allowed introduction of a variety of subjects. The new sciences and translations provided new fields of thought for expanding the work of writing books on travels, psychology novels and history.

The setting of an aim is one of the blessings of the modern trend in poetry. The same could be said of the renaissance of prose with all its varieties and this happened after the Arab East's contact with European civilization. Previously, a poet had to say what has been repeated many times before by other poets; he could not say what he wanted. This made him appear nothing better than a parrot which repeated the hollow sentences it listened to. The new trend produced a poetry which had an ideal and an objective; the individual writer could be easily discovered through his collection of poetry. The oft-repeated worn out phraseology gave way to fine expressions and new meanings. The old meters could not keep pace with the growing ideas and there was a call for blank verse. The poets improved on old meters and coined new and modern ones.

A comparison between an old and a new collection of poetry will show the radical change which has occurred . Previously, collections of poems were not very different from each other except in name, or their reference to the particular poet who wrote a particular collection. We have the verse collections of Jarir, Al-Bohtori and Abou Tammam for example. But these collections had no aims; in each one of them there were similar chapters of praise, self-dignity, eulogy, lyric, advice, elegy and satire.

The new collection appeared to have features of their own. They had separate titles and the odes bore their headings which indicated their different subjects. Poetry has certain subjects such as story, feeling, psychological or social and philosophical or artistic symbols. The poets of our age began to rely upon the readers' tastes and their longing previously, it was the princes and the nobility on whom the poets depended.

Each Arab country's degree of modernism differed because of the difference in their view toward preserving the past. The most powerful reasons which obstruct modernism are close proximity to nomad life, or universities with a historic past. These factors do not allow modernism to spread itself, except with certain restrictions, sometimes very hard and sometimes easier.

The fine arts became popular in the Arab East according to their relation with the social conditions. Theatrical performances were borrowed, followed by singing and painting. Most popular were the arts which combined in themselves seeing and hearing at the same time, like stage tableau, dialogues and monologues. They combined in themselves stage acting, music and dance at times and on this occasion, translation proved a blessing for the Arabic language because it caused writers to write with a set ideal and not just to go on writing aimlessly. Previously, a writer was looked down upon if he did not use rhyme in his writing or sprinkle his pages .This is why the entertainment side of art has greater impact than the art which carries a higher purpose.

Although stage acting was borrowed from Europe, yet the same factor worked to hinder its growth in the East. The theatre owners could entertain the audience by means of introducing innovations and by presenting theatrical performances through stage scenes, but this had no relation with the nature of the society it served. Even the subjects and characters were different. The theatrical arts still suffer from the low standard of public taste. Later, the stage suffered from the film industry, which provided an opportunity for actors with little or no cultural talent to work as artists. Acting in films is carried on without any audience and is filmed at different times. Moreover, it is always possible to correct any mistake committed by any of the actors or actresses The actors were no longer in need of mastering their art, or devoting time to studying its intricacies. There was a great deal of profit with much less technical education and effort.

In the field of music and singing social taste decided to get rid of the old tunes. They were considered as fossilized or frozen and unable to march with the times. The old order in music was discarded, but no new taste was developed which could save the new tunes from being more copies and imitation. This resulted in the modern tunes looking like a patchwork having no particular type of their own.

Painting was accepted by the East as a fine art very late, but it outpaced all other arts in its developed and its independent character. The Arab East produced artists belonging to certain schools of painting, whose works vied with that of their counterparts in Europe. The Arab artists were often considered to be the most outstanding disciples of their European teachers. Probably, this was due to the fact that the development of arts in the East depended on the individual talent of either the artist or of the lovers of painting. It is an established fact that the individual's taste precedes that of the masses.

Similarly, there came the expected change in building and decoration. Since Eastern woman no longer covered her face, there was no need to have the female apartments at a distance from the male quarters. Similarly, there was no need to have open courtyards in houses. With the invention of electric fans and air conditioning, there was no need of holes in walls, the domes and the latticed windows. High ceilings and constructions aiming at providing shade were not necessary. The cost of land went up and large areas were used for roads and parks in the heart of cities. This made impossible the procurement of long stretches of land to construct palaces. Previously, the rich preferred to live in the heart of cities and felt proud to have the center of habitation reserved for them. With the availability of modern transport in the general and private sense, there was a great rush on distant areas where villas were built, the word villa itself is derived from village and refers to country side.

Here we can discuss briefly only the broad outline of the changes brought about by the impact of European civilization on the Eastern arts. However, they were not the same everywhere, since each land and nation has its particular character and requirements of civilization.