Islamic art newsletters: a lot of missed opportunities

The first image that comes to mind when we hear the word “newsletter” is an inbox crammed with annoying marketing emails urging us to buy something that we don’t want, don’t need, and don’t really like.  In fact, newsletters are much much more than that: in the past years, newsletters are enjoying a new revival and a new life. Far from being the stale marketing tools we all have come to hate, newsletters are now part of a thriving subculture of readers eager to read more, to learn more, to discover more. The focus is no longer on promoting whatever product or service, but inform readers: curation is key. 

Personally, I love newsletters: I am currently subscribed to around 20 of them, their topics ranging from fashion to finance. They widen my horizon and spark my curiosity. I have been looking for a good newsletter on Islamic art for months, literally, and my research, this far, has been painfully disappointing,That’s why I decided to start mine. Still, I would like to receive a newsletter on Islamic art that is not curated by myself. Also, I am starting to feel lonely.

In case you have not embarked (yet) in the quest to find the perfect Islamic art newsletter, below you can read a summary of what I have found out there so far.

The newsletters on Islamic art out there

So, what is the panorama of newsletters on Islamic art? This is what you find:

Metropolitan Museum’s Islamic Art Newsletter

The newsletter of the Islamic Art Department of the MET is among the first results when you google “Islamic art newsletter”. On the museum’s website, the Islamic art newsletter is downloadable in pdf. Subscribing is easier said than done: on the website, there is no “subscribe” button and no link to the web version of the newsletter. I had to copy and paste in the browser the link that I found in the pdf version to be able to open the web newsletter and finally find the option to subscribe. The whole “subscribing experience” was time-consuming—compared to my expectation, at least: if I didn’t have the time or the motivation to subscribe, I would have probably given up. 

From the webpage of the museum, it is hard to tell the frequency of the newsletter, but probably it is sent out twice a year (I could see a “Fall 2019” and a “Spring 2020” issue).

The content is very museum-oriented: the two issues that are online showcase the photos and some insights on a bunch of the items in the museum’s collection.

Islamic Arts Newsletter

This is the newsletter of the Islamic Arts Magazine. The magazine is not really published and its website tends to share press releases only—original content is rare.

Opposite to what happens with the MET’s newsletter, here you can subscribe in a breeze. Still, it is not clear what you are subscribing to—what are they going to deliver? And when? 

So far, I have not received any update: it has been 1 month.

IAMM Newsletter

The Islamic Art Museum Malaysia has a newsletter, too and it is pretty similar to the one of the Metropolitan: the newsletters are available in pdf on the museum’s website; they provide information on museum’s activities and objects; they are issued quarterly.

The difference is that in this case, subscribing it’s not difficult: it is impossible. The “subscribe” button is just not working.

MEI Newsletter

A newsletter sounded really promising and I was really looking forward to receiving it in my inbox: the Middle Eastern Institute of Washington’s newsletter. They actually don’t have just one but five newsletters and all of them sound interesting and insightful: two different weekly newsletters, one sent on Mondays (Monday Briefing) and the other on Fridays (News and Views), with updates and insights; the Arts and Culture Quarterly, which focuses on the events of the institute, their cultural programs, and everything related to that; and two update-newsletters, one for the new publications, the other for events invitations.

I planned to subscribe to the two weekly newsletters and the arts and culture quarterly—but I could not. The captcha kept giving an error message: I tried over and over again, but with no results. Eventually, I sent an email asking to be subscribed, but I have received no answer. And, I am not receiving newsletters, so I guess I have not been included in the mailing list.

Art of Islamic illumination Newsletter

I managed to subscribe very smoothly to this one newsletter. It is very promotional and all focused on the work of the owner of the website Art of Islamic Illumination: she uses the newsletter to update her audience about her new projects, works of art, and the workshops she launches. I subscribed, and so far, I cannot really say it caught my attention.

Ok, so what?

So, newsletters on Islamic art are rare and difficult to get and not because of a lack of content, but a lack of interest. The majority of the newsletters that I found are managed by big institutions that probably don’t think an Islamic art newsletter deserves much time or effort, for whatever reason.

This is a missed opportunity: newsletters are a powerful tool to communicate ideas, start discussions, and inform. Something that experts and institutions should be eager to do.

In general, what I perceive, is that when it comes to Islamic art, it very hard to find a compromise and it is hard to talk to the general public (even if there are exceptions to this…don’t get me wrong!). It is very easy to find insightful content if you are an expert and know where to look, but if you are not an expert or a scholar, it is very difficult to find your way and build a knowledge that is not superficial. I think newsletters can be incredibly powerful in filling this gap and give a wider audience more information on Islamic art and culture.

I will be out there looking for a newsletter on Islamic art and related subjects not written by me. If you know about one, let me know :).

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