Artists and craftsmen have traditionally been highly respected individuals in the Arabian Peninsula. But living as they did in a harsh desert environment, men and women with an artistic bent historically gravitated to more practical art forms which could be applied to everyday life. Calligraphers produced copies of the Holy Qur’an that were artistic masterpieces; wood carvers crafted intricate windows, doors and other accessories used in homes; jewelers manufactured beautiful pieces worn by women; architects built masterpieces that were adorned with intricate plaster work; and weavers, generally women, produced striking pieces used for clothing, tents, blankets and other everyday items.
With the completion of vast development projects and the steady rise in the standard of living in recent decades, people now have more leisure time that can be devoted to hobbies such as art. One of the art forms that has recently taken root in Saudi Arabia and is becoming increasingly popular is painting.
Embraced by many Saudis, men and women, young and old, painting is taught at schools, with enthusiasts able to pursue their interest in this art form at literary clubs and cultural centers set up by the General Presidency of Youth Welfare across the country. Private cultural centers, some funded by charitable organizations or wealthy patrons, also provide avenues for talented artists to rise to national prominence.
As a result, many of the thousands of amateur painters who have taken up the brush in recent decades have emerged as noted artists in the Kingdom. Their works have also been exhibited at galleries abroad and their names are recognized in art circles around the world.
Some of these outstanding artists pursue their interest solely as amateurs. As an example, Asir Province Governor Prince Khaled Al-Faisal is an avid painter whose works compete favorably with noted painters in the region and the world, and whose works have been exhibited abroad. Like many amateur Saudi painters, he donates his works to government agencies and charitable organizations for display.
Other Saudi citizens have taken up painting as a career and have achieved great success in the Kingdom and abroad, such as Safiyah Binzagr, an artist who has devoted her life to painting and has displayed her works at many exhibits in Saudi Arabia and abroad. Last year she opened a museum that also provides training for young Saudi artists.
Significantly, Saudi artists, both professionals and amateurs, have embraced traditional themes and have used their talent to record scenes of Saudi culture and heritage for future generations. Their paintings provide glimpses into both the past and the present.