A Response to Prof. Necipoğlu

by Terry Allen

published by Solipsist Press, Occidental, California, 2016

Copyright © 2016 by Terry Allen

An electronic publication     ISBN 0-944940-14-5

In a footnote to a roundabout passage about a third of the way through “The Scrutinizing Gaze in the Aesthetics of Islamic Visual Cultures”, which appeared in Muqarnas, v. 32, 2015, pp. 23–61, Prof. Gülru Necipoğlu wrote (n. 35, on p. 56):

… In a critique of my use of textual primary sources in the Topkapı Scroll and “L'idée de décor dans les régimes de visualité islamiques,” Sheila S. Blair and Jonathan M. Bloom assert that “no causal relationship” exists between philosophical texts on aesthetics and artistic practice: “There is, we believe, a logical problem in this approach: while it is certainly true that these philosophers wrote learned treatises about aesthetics and that craftsmen made objects with sophisticated ornament, the connection between the two is unproven. In other words, she was unable to demonstrate any causal relationship between what learned and erudite scholars wrote and what craftsmen did.” Sheila S. Blair and Jonathan M. Bloom, “Cosmophilia and Its Critics: An Overview of Islamic Ornament,” Beiträge zur Islamischen Kunst und Archäologie 3 (2012): 45–47. The authors approvingly quote Terry Allen's verdict that my book on the Topkapı Scroll is based on a “logical fallacy.” Like them, Allen rejects a priori any connection between the formulation of proportion-based abstract design principles (particularly in Islamic geometric ornament) and the widespread dissemination of popular texts on Neoplatonic philosophy and on practical geometry addressing the particular needs of artisans, which I demonstrated in Topkapı Scroll through specific examples. Terry Allen, Islamic Art and the Argument from Academic Geometry, published by Solipsist Press, Occidental, Calif., 2004, http://sonic.net/~tallen/palmtree/academicgeometry.htm (accessed September 11, 2014). …

This passage misrepresents my position.

I never used the phrase “logical fallacy”—it is easy to check by searching the text online. Those are the words of Blair and Bloom (op. cit., p. 46, l. 8), who are perfectly correct in pointing out that Necipoğlu failed to produce any convincing evidence for her argument in her Topkapı Scroll book (see my article for a plain-language summary of that argument at “Necipoğlu's Argument”). I do not think that this failure is a logical fallacy; it is simply a failure of argument.

Nor is it the case that in the article cited I rejected anything a priori. It was not unreasonable to form the hypothesis that Neoplatonic philosophy was directly reflected in Islamic art. I rejected (and reject) Necipoğlu's argument for that hypothesis because she has not demonstrated it (see my conclusions at “Conclusions”).

No amount of verbal hand-waving can substitute for evidence.