In the mid-1700s, a new artistic movement began in India. British East India Company officers brought their European notions of art to India. To earn the patronage of these new elite, some Indian artists responded to their tastes. Miniature watercolours depicting ‘typically native’ scenes became popular. Thus was born the Company School of Art. Experts on Company art can rattle off a list of persons, dates and places instrumental to the movement. Similar highly specific background stories can be traced (and have been extensively documented) about other categories of art such as Impressionist, Surrealist, etc. Art is categorised according to dates of origin, subject matter, influences, key persons or even cities and regions.
Now think of the term ‘Islamic art’. Can we identify a person responsible for its development? Can we pin down the place of its origin? Is it local to any city or region? Does it pertain to a single subject? Is Islamic art the art of a particular decade or century? Is it a response to a distinct political or social stimulus? The answer to these questions, as most experts agree, is negative. Yet, Islamic art exists as a category. Do we really have sound bases for making such a category? In other words, does Islamic art exist at all? Let us see what some leading scholars of the field have to say.