(JD) "I had hoped that our focus would be more on the nature of food than the nature of art"
Well, you did not ask about food in the first place - you asked about cooking. Cooking and food art two different things just as painting and paints are different. Cooking, like painting is an activity, a process. In cooking you use creativity, concepts, and skills to create something using food. In the case of cooking, both the raw ingredients and the final composition are categorized as food.
What IS the nature of food? Anything that one can consume as sustenance? That really does not help in the discussion. Maybe you were really thinking about more focus on cooking?
I was thinking that over time our interactions with food have become more complex and our manipulation of it from raw material to edible 'art' or product has become more sophisticated. Then I thought that this statement can easily be said to be fatally flawed. To me it seems that while we might perceive that there has been progress, and complexity and sophistication and growth here that in fact we are seeing greater simplification and minimization of food in its more artistic sense.
I read an assessment of language in which the premise was basically that language and communication becomes ever more complex and diverse, more sophisticate. The results of the effort indicated though that as society grows more sophisticated and complex language actually becomes less precise, less subtle, less descriptive, less nuanced as we develop more shorthand forms of communication in our speech.
While one might have consumed bread and an apple as a meal many years past, one might now consume a cheeseburger with fries and a coke. Have we progressed? Is there more art in this food? In all respects I see more art in the bread and the apple. Presumably one would have made the bread or know well the person who did, and one probably grew, or at least picked the apple from a tree. Even if this was not artistic to the consumer, I prefer the picture it evokes.
JD "Do certain types of paint (oil, watercolors, acrylic, etc.) offer the artist more flexibility and subtlety than others? Switching back to cooking: is pastry, as I asked in an earlier post, superior to savory cooking as a vehicle for artistic expression?"
Answering in terms of paint, yes different paints give different effects and support different types of expression. But the key is the technique, the style, the skill, the vision of the person wielding the paints.
Switching back to pastry, yes I think that pastry gives one more latitude and a better vehicle for artistic expression than savory cooking. This is both in terms of creating food (desserts) and in using food to create art. That said though, there are plenty of opportunities to be artistic in savory cooking as well not only in creating foodstuffs, but also more statically artistic - look at butter and ice sculpting, tallow sculpting, salt dough, glazed poultry, hams, fish, those giant jellied platters that used to be on buffets, carved gourds... on and on.
(JD) Art is "the making well of whatever needs making"
I thought you were reading these posts. Need has nothing to do with it. Art is about creating. I think need might actually detract from art. If it NEEDS to be made then its harder for it to be art. Things that NEED to be made CAN be made artistically, but ...
Art is about WANT. I make a painting or a sculpture or a croquembouche with sugar flowers because I WANT to. Because a creative spark sets me off to do this thing. I may be making the croquembouche because I will have hungry guests and need to feed them, but I CHOOSE to make this fanciful dessert to delight and astonish my guests.
(JD) "... cooking has the potential to reach the highest levels of artistic relevance... because it is so closely linked to one of our most basic needs."
NO, No, No, Nooooooo!!!!!!!!!!
This is actually a somewhat complicated issue at the heart of all these philosophical discussions. On the one hand when people use food to create art or when people make food in an artistic manner the SERIOUS THINKERS brush it off as impractical, frivolous, and wasteful. On the other hand, because food is something we NEED, and most food needs a bit of manipulation or interpretation to be consumed these SERIOUS THINKERS say it is not art because it is a fundamental requirement of life. So there you have it, no matter how you look at it cooking is and is not art. It is just that simple.