Toward a Material Modernism: Introduction to S. R. Choucair’s “How the Arab Understood Visual Art”

This introduction and commentary on Saloua Raouda Choucair’s article “How the Arab Understood Visual Art” (translation by author in this issue) sets the context in which a private rebuke Choucair addressed to a former colleague for his ethnocentric cultural criticism became a quasi-manifesto for art (and social) modernism. It inventories the conceptual shifts Choucair pursued in her reevaluation of cultural criticism: shifts in the approach to time, matter, visuality, and Arabness. It explicates the lessons Choucair learned from Sufic Arab science, math, and philosophy (particularly Alhazenian optics) toward extracting an essentialist view of matter, which allowed art a serious public role for teaching people the possibilities available in modern social existence. It relates these findings to Choucair’s own visual art.

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