Orientalism refers to the imitation or depiction of aspects of Eastern cultures in the West by writers, designers and artists. An "Orientalist" may be a person engaged in these activities, but it is also the traditional term for any scholar of Oriental studies. Orientalism was more widely used in art history referring mostly to the works of French artists in the 19th century, whose subject matter, color and style used elements from their travel to the Mediterranean countries of North Africa and the Near East (or western Asia).
These meanings were given a new twist by 20th century scholar Edward Said in his controversial book Orientalism, in which he uses the term to describe a Western tradition, both academic and artistic, of hostile and deprecatory views of the East, shaped by the attitudes of European imperialism in the 18th and 19th centuries. When used in this sense, Orientalism implies essentializing and prejudiced outsider interpretations of Eastern cultures and peoples. Said was critical of this scholarly tradition and also of certain modern scholars, particularly Bernard Lewis.
In contrast, some modern scholars have used the term to refer to writers of the Imperialist era who had pro-Eastern attitudes, as opposed to those who saw nothing of value in non-Western cultures.