Orientalism By Higgins, Katherine
Orientalism is the sociological, historical, cultural, and anthropological study of the Orient, with “the Orient” constituting countries East of “the Occident” (Western Europe), and including lands spanning from Morocco to Japan. The term Orientalism, however, is primarily used to describe the incorporation of Eastern culture in Western art, literature, and design during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Artists whose work largely focused on Oriental subjects are often referred to as the Orientalists, and include Eugène Delacroix, Alphonse Etienne Dinet, Jean-Léon Gérôme, William Holman-Hunt, John Frederick Lewis, and the photographers Lehnert and Landrock. Traces of Oriental themes can also be found in the work of 20th-century artists including Henri Matisse, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, and Wassily Kandinsky. Orientalist artists predominantly depicted scenes of the Arabian Desert, portraits of natives with Oriental artefacts and clothing, the harem, odalisques, and Oriental architecture. Broadly speaking, the Orientalists represented the Orient as primitive yet opulent, and in stark contrast to the “rational” and enlightened West. Much of the scholarship around (and the very definition) of Orientalism in the 20th century is indebted to Said’s Orientalism (1977), which discusses why the West has preconceived notions of the Orient (and primarily the peoples of the Middle East).