Perfection and Refinement:
Toward an Aesthetic of the Báb

By Moojan Momen

First presented at the Irfan Colloquia Session #97
Centre for Bahá'í Studies: Acuto, Italy
July 3–6, 2010
(see list of papers from #97)

published in Lights of Irfan, volume 12, pages 221-243
© 2011, ‘Irfán Colloquia

    In this paper, I divide the arts into three major divisions: the plastic arts, those arts produced by using materials that can be molded or changed in some way, such as painting, sculpture, architecture, wood-and metal- working, pottery, etc.; and the performing arts, those arts where artists use their own body to express themselves, such as dance, theatre, and the performance of music. There are some arts that do not easily fall into these two categories, principally what may be termed the composing arts, that which artists produce in their mind and then transfer to paper, such as literature, both poetry and prose, and the composition of music.

    The Báb produced a vast mass of this third category of the arts in the form of a large number of writings, most of which have not even been properly examined and catalogued as yet. He was known to produce his writings in a rapid, fluent manner which amazed those who witnessed it. For example on one occasion in the presence of the Governor of Isfahan, he wrote a work of 2,000 verses (about a third the length of the Qur'an) in a single evening. It was not just the rapidity and quantity of what the Báb produced that attracted people, it was also the literary qualities and the content. I will deal a little with the literary qualities below but, although it is obviously of great importance in considering the Báb as an artist, I will not be dealing at length with the Báb's literary output in this paper but rather concentrating on the other two areas, the plastic arts and the performing arts.

    The three main points that I focus on in this paper are: some of the writings of the Báb have implications about the nature of the material with which those who are in the plastic arts work. I would also suggest that they have a particular significance for artists from native traditions. The second area that I want to explore concerns the performing arts: the Báb himself as a performance artist and the nature of some of his writings as pieces that are intended to be performed as much as read. The third area that appears to me to have relevance to artists whether engaged in the plastic arts or the performance arts is the concept of refinement that comes across very strong in both the person and the writings of the Báb.

    Paper slightly updated July 2014.

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