'Fann': Art, creativity and talent rolled into one Arabic word

The word refers to the many forms and expressions art can take

Fann is the Arabic word for art, and can be either a verb or an adjective
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Art, creativity and talent are all separate parts of the same whole, the arts.

Each is an integral part of society, contributing to the identity of a city, country and culture through a range of creative mediums. And all encompass the meaning of one word in Arabic, fann or al fann.

This week’s Arabic word of the week is made up of two letters, fah and noon. However, the noon in this case, which in English translates to the letter N, would be considered a double noon. Meaning that when pronounced, a stronger emphasis is placed on the N sound at the end of the word.

Fann can act as a noun and a verb.

As a noun it means any piece of work that stands out because it embodies or displays a high calibre of taste and skill, and can evoke a range of emotional responses from an audience. In its verb form it means the act of being creative or making something more decorative in appearance.

Whether painting, sculpture, music or film, fann is not considered to be of a high standard if the artist is not passionate and dedicated in creating that work.

If the work stirs emotions, then it’s considered fann. It sounds simple, but it isn’t — an emotional response to any work of art is universally subjective.

Which makes the universal as relevant in Arabic — what is fann and what is the value of fann?

Fann is an umbrella term for many versions of artistic practices.

These include fann al tashkeeli, which is another umbrella term for all visual arts such as painting, photography, sculpture and architecture, art that is often displayed in a gallery.

There is also fann al ta’abeeri, which is an expressive art form referring to the art of rendering the real world exactly as it is through the medium of drawing or painting. Fann al tagreedi is art that relies on abstract shapes and forms while fann al me’emaari is the art form of architecture and construction.

There is fann al ida’a, or performing arts, which includes dance, drama and music when performed before an audience. Fann al adab refers to the art form of writing novels, articles and poetry, while fan lil fan, is art free of any political, social, emotional narratives or elements and focuses simply on the form and process of art making.

Funnon sha'abiyya, refers to the art forms that come from folklore, indigenous communities or reflect the common man’s culture or belief system. Fann lil moujtama is any art form including novels or films, that make statements or point to prevalent issues in society.

One of the most powerful forms of fann is funoon al saba, the cinematic arts such as films, TV shows or documentaries.

There are also other words that derive from the word fann.

Fannan, a noun deriving from fann, whose verb is tafannana, means a highly skilled or knowledgeable expert in any topic. This expertise or knowledge doesn’t only apply in the sphere of the arts, but can be used in other contexts. For example, someone who always delivers speeches in an exceptional manner would be referred to as fann of reciting speeches.

Fananat is a verb that refers to the act of changing or interrupting one’s opinion, thought process or belief system about a particular topic.

The word fanna has more negative connotations than the word fann when used in fus'ha or classic Arabic. It means not acting in a straightforward manner or not making your intentions transparent in the context of an exchange.

Most interestingly is the word fenan. In classic Arabic it’s a noun meaning a straight branch growing on a tree. Its plural, afnan. refers to many aesthetically pleasing straight branches on a tree. In many ways this meaning reflects the many forms of fann that exist that derive from the idea of art or art making.

Scroll through the gallery below to see The National's pick of Arabic words of the week

Updated: March 03, 2023, 6:02 PM