I confess: I am an orientalist. But in what sense exactly?
Orientalism is (or was) a specialism in art that flourished especially in the nineteenth century and was inspired by what was formerly known as ‘the Orient’, the mysterious East: the beauty, the richness, the beauty of colours, the cruelty and the sensuality that people perceived there or at least imagined. A painter or architect who practices orientalism is called an orientalist or an orientalist painter.
Oriental studies are (or were) the scientific study of the languages and civilisations of formerly called ‘the Orient’: an area that began at the steadily receding Turkish border and ended somewhere in East Asia. Someone who practises Oriental studies is also called an orientalist. That’s what I am; more specifically I am an arabist. I cannot paint.
This is also the case in German:
– English: oriental studies – orientalism – orientalist, orientalist painter
– German: Orientalistik – Orientalismus – Orientalist
The concepts of oriental studies and orientalism can be kept apart with the help of the above definitions; so far, confusion is only possible with the word orientalist.
In French, however, the confusion seems to be ingrained. Oriental studies are called études orientales, but also orientalisme. The term orientologie was probably created to create clarity, but is not widely used.
Outside France, confusion only came up when Edward Said’s famous—or notorious— book Orientalism was published in 1978. This author mixed up the two concepts. He did this deliberately, because he wanted to emphasise what he thought was common to both activities, i.e. the desire to create a distorted image of ‘the Orient’ with the intention of subjugating and dominating it. Said primarily had the intention of discrediting both orientalism and oriental studies.
The sword of Islam.
Orientalising the Dutch East Indies, or: Pimp your princes. Dutch colonial rulers imitating Javanese princes.
Dreaming of the Orient. Orientalist painting.