By the late nineteenth century, the world of the fourteenth century artist, craftsman, and performer was rapidly disappearing in the central lands of Islam. Guilds were dying out as new producing and marketing institutions characterized by exchange with the imperialist Western powers reoriented the economies of Muslim lands. Though an increasing number of Muslim lands had come under direct rule by European imperialists, and many of the Ottoman provinces in the Balkans had rebelled and acquired Christian regimes, this had not initially undermined their artistic and cultural vitality. Local demand for performers, artists, and crafts had remained strong, and some of the handful of Europeans who administered their countries’ overseas possessions continued to exhibit a taste for local luxuries. European museums and libraries testify to avid collecting of art and artifacts by administrators and officials professionally occupied in colonial Muslim lands. Moreover, although common European tastes were often satisfied by goods of lower quality and price, an increasing flow of goods from Muslim lands to Europe led to the development of new markets there. Purely touristic craft production was still on the horizon, but the degeneration of standards that eventually became associated with such craftsmanship was not far off.
It was the industrialization brought about by imperialist powers, rather than imperialism itself, that destroyed the livelihoods of local cultural producers. For instance, European and American factories produced goods like machine–made carpets that were cheaper and more abundant than hand–knotted imports from Turkey, Iran, and India. While the quality of the machine–made product was naturally inferior, the new goods were offered at a price that made them more accessible to a wider range of consumers, and they gradually took the place of local, hand–made products. Plastics came to replace pottery; aluminum pans drove copper containers from the market. By the middle of the twentieth century, the spread of Western entertainment media, and the inventions that they depended on — the phonograph, radio, and motion picture projector — had inaugurated a wave of cultural influence that would quickly lead to a large–scale rejection of traditional arts and aesthetic standards in many Muslim societies.Back to the top.