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tony h

Is cooking an art?

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There is artistry but is cooking an art form or just a craft?  Is this distinction relevant?  If a craft is there some point at which it can become an art – if so how & when?  If an art form is there some universal truth to which cooking aspires – what does this mean, is it important?  Will any chef now or in the past get their name in the history books or be known universally by a single name (e.g. Picasso, Wagner and so on) – if so who?  It is commonplace to think of food in terms of geography & tradition but do movements exists e.g. classical, baroque or impressionist.  Was the Futurist cookbook merely propaganda or where they onto something?

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There is artistry but is cooking an art form or just a craft?  

blind lemon higgins -- For certain prior discussion on the question of whether cuisine can constitute art, see "Chef of the Century" under "General".   :wink:

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The Futurist Cookbook was play, an entirely valid activity. Some of their foods were makable, others were not, but the distinction was irrelevant. The Futurist Cookbook, in other words, was a work of art.

As to whether a particular chef or school of cuisine is regarded as art or craft, this is partly a question of how decadent is the society which is assigning the label. "Craft" was quite good enough for Chaucer: "The lyf so short, the craft so long to lerne. . ."

Cf. the Balinese quotation which John Cage was so fond of: "We don't have any art, we just try to do everything as well as we can."


John Whiting, London

Whitings Writings

Top Google/MSN hit for Paris Bistros

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Hey, that John Whiting knows a thing or two, don't he ? And he retrieves at will quotes from top chefs (although I'm not sure if I've heard of the Milton guy).

Cabrales, from a standing start it's impossible to catch up with that Chef of the Century thread, so let's do it again here  :smile:

I think there is a real distinction between the meanings of "art" and "craft". An art is creative and innovative, while a craft is use of a mechanical and established skill to produce a pre-defined result.

In the culinary context, a sous-chef who follows a senior chef's instructions is a craftsman. The chef who 'invents' the dish is an artist. But like all artists, he doesn't invent every dish he ever produces. Many times he will simply copy, with minor technical modifications, someone else's invention, at which time he is playing the part of a craftsman.

So cooking comprises both art and craft at different times, but it is the artistic potential that makes it exciting and a topic worthy of discussion and study.

Does cooking aspire to a universal truth ? I'm not sure that I believe in the existence of universal truth anyway, but if there were such a thing I'm sure chefs have better things to do than aspire to one.

Yes BLH, I think there are 'movements' in cooking, and that the concept is a huge improvement on the attempt to regionalise cuisines (see other threads failing to agree definitions of what French or British or American cooking might be).

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The chef who 'invents' the dish is an artist. But like all artists, he doesn't invent every dish he ever produces. Many times he will simply copy, with minor technical modifications, someone else's invention, at which time he is playing the part of a craftsman.

macrosan -- For me, the hallmark of artistry is not the mere invention of something that has not quite been previously. I believe that extremely few chefs are capable of producing artistry (even on occasion, let alone relatively consistently). With all due respect, in my mind, almost all chefs who create new recipes would not be creating art for their diners.

Moreover, for me, artistry tends to ripen over the course of a meal (even though there has been, for me, a single dish has been so numbingly pleasure-inducing it has "carried" meals to an artistic level). It is partly the feeling of resonance I subjectively experience when subtlety is twinkling in the midst of fulfilling flavors.

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I believe that extremely few chefs are capable of producing artistry

Cabrales, I think I agree, but I believe that what you're really saying is that a chef creating a new dish is playing the part of an artist, it's just that some of them are bad artists. "Art" or "artistry" should not be used as a qualitative term. The qualitativity (hey, Fat Guy, have I invented a new noun?) is provided by adjectives such as "good".

That's why the oft-used expression "Yes, but is it art?" is almost unanswerable, but "Yes, but is it good art?" is often a given.

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Cabrales, I think I agree, but I believe that what you're really saying is that a chef creating a new dish is playing the part of an artist, it's just that some of them are bad artists. "Art" or "artistry" should not be used as a qualitative term. The qualitativity (hey, Fat Guy, have I invented a new noun?) is provided by adjectives such as "good".

macrosan -- I wouldn't agree that culinary artistry shouldn't (or can't) have connotations of quality. It can't be the case that mediocre or even very good, but not illuminating, cuisine (subjectively evaluated, to be clear) should be considered art.  My views here are consistent with the different ways in which I have previously indicated (in "Chef of the Century") I believe cuisine could, under rare circumstances, constitute art.

The concept of "cuisine as art" that you propose (emphasizing inventiveness, but devoid of qualitative standards) would arguably lead to a more "objective" notion of when cuisine is art than my diner-subjective approach (assuming, unrealistically, that inventiveness could be readily ascertained in a dish). :wink:

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To me the hallmark of art is communication - either of ideas or emotion or of some other part of the human experience. Craft is the execution of a skill.  Thus, clearly a chef can be an artist using the medium of food and the senses of sight, smell, and taste to communicate with his patrons.  Badly crafted food or badly crafted art in general impedes communication while well crafted dishes facilitate it.  Food is a fleeting medium and it is hard to compare a great chef to Picasso or Leonardo whose works we all can and probably have actually seen and experienced.  Could you compare the great stage actors to sculptors?  The great unrecorded musicians to writers?  There may be a way to quantify and list "the greats," but the medium does not lend itself to widespread and enduring appreciation like more permanent forms of art.

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To answer the original question of this post, I would like to quote a few of my favorite Personae.

    William Makepeace Thackery said:

"Next to eating good Dinners, a healthy man with a benevolent turn of mind, must as well like to read about them"

....and from Kitchener's Cooks Oracle, London 1827:

"The true Cook has, in his modest Sphere, such pleasures in Recipe making, as the Musician or Poet in Composition"

....to quote Marc-Antoine Desaugiers 1772-1827:

"A Chef seems to be a Divine Being, who....from the Depths of his Kitchen rules the Human Race. One can consider him a Minister of Heaven, because his Kitchen is a Temple and his Stoves are the Altar"

....Samuel Johnson wrote:

"He who does not mind his Belly, will hardly mind anything else"

....and last but not least (unknown):

"Good Cooking is like Jazz.... ,You have to like the Melody....and need to know how to improvise"

So, at least some of these writers thought that Cooking is an Art. Some Chef's have thought at onetime or another that their work is Art, The German Chef Waltherspiel in 1953/4 wrote a book called "Meine Kunst" (My Work of Art).

My own thought is, yes, cooking can be Art, it does not always have to be. But it is not Art that can be preserved. It is "Consumable Art" and has its own Connoiseurs.


Peter

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To me the hallmark of art is communication

I have a slight problem with art & communication.  Take poetry – unquestionably an art form but I have never learned how to untangle the mysteries of text.  To some it’s easy – but I have to work really hard and often get now where.  So what is the poem communicating – beats me.  When I am told that X or Y is a great poem I often have to take it on trust.  The same is true of much of modern art – which I love unreservedly – but all too often I just don’t get it.   Understanding what’s in front isn’t always necessary.

What of a musician and a composer?  Art copyists are universally slammed because their work is not original & yet we afford great praise & adulation to the musician who is playing someone else’s work.  Is this not true of chefs – they may tinker with this & that but all they are doing is mostly repeating what’s gone before.  Isn’t this a form of performance art – I doubt if anyone here has ever eaten at Escoffier’s table but we can recreate it or rely on others do it for us.  There is no sense of that admitedly over used term: originality.

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let's do it again here  :smile:

Macrosan, are you barmy???

(Sound of retreating footsteps as Wilfrid hurries off to a safer thread.)

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From time to time I enjoy being pleasantly surprised at table, but I make no demands of originality. In culinary matters,  most of the world's population, including its artists, its intellectuals and its artisans, have prized, above all else, familiarity. Cookery is traditionally a cooperative rather than a competitive activity; only when food was drawn into the orbit of free enterprise did uniqueness come to be valued above comfort and reassurance. Thus the ridiculous excesses of extravagance and grotesquerie, which were once confined to aristocratic tables, are now to be seen in public eating places. Next will come the Culinary Olympics, in which the world's chefs vie with each other in accordance with some arbitrary and impossible set of irrelevant standards.

So is a particular dish "art"? Yes, if its maker says it is. Any useful definition must be descriptive rather than qualitative: art, as Marshall McLuhan pointed out, is whatever you can get away with.


John Whiting, London

Whitings Writings

Top Google/MSN hit for Paris Bistros

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Hey Peter, I loved that post. You know more quotes than John Whiting, and I'm impressed  :wow:  

Damian, I can't agree that "the hallmark of art is communication". It is indeed the hallmark of some arts some of the time, but paintings are sometimes just for pleasure and entertainment, yet that doesn't make them any less art. I think communication is an optional extra, and I repeat that for me the essence of art is originality.

You ask "Could you compare the great stage actors to sculptors?  The great unrecorded musicians to writers?" and my simple answer is "YES". For example, an actor's art is in his unique original interpretation of a writer's words, a sculptor's art is in his unique and original subject or material, and so on.

And those comments apply to BLH's post. An instrumentalist is an artist in his playing of an instrument, and a composer in his composition. These are two totally different skills, and each is an art in its own right. Escoffier was an artist because he created new concepts in cooking and new dishes. So is Gordon Ramsey.

Wilfrid, I'm so sorry, I think maybe you're right :confused:

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....and last but not least (unknown):

"Good Cooking is like Jazz.... ,You have to like the Melody....and need to know how to improvise"

.

Frank Zappa:  "Talking about music is like dancing about architecture."


=Mark

Give a man a fish, he eats for a Day.

Teach a man to fish, he eats for Life.

Teach a man to sell fish, he eats Steak

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Here's a quotation I am allowed to provide, copyright-wise.

"If you eat, you should know how to cook. Knowing how to cook is not something that that can be known all at once. But then nothing is. Nonetheless, some people feel justified in saying that they don’t know how to cook as if this meant that they were incapable of learning. Outside of what one learns through the process of formal Zen practice, cooking is the most important thing to learn. The bodymind is the food that it has consumed...

"...The art of cooking is the most intimate of all art forms. The work that you have created actually becomes your audience...It can change you as you learn how to cook and it can change how the people who eat your food understand flavours...

"It becomes an art form through exploring in a very thorough-going manner ingredients, procedures, spices and herbs, equipment, developing a sense of timing during preparation and a sense of nuance and balance...

"As with Zen brush work that requires thousands of strokes to learn how to brush a stroke so that the unexpected can be incorporated into the body of the stroke as a whole, each meal is like a sketch. Be willing to fail miserably.

"And throughout, see, hear, touch, taste, smell, and think clearly and openly. Cook with the whole bodymind and eat with the whole bodymind..."

 

- Zen Master Anzan Hoshin

excerpts from "It Becomes You", teisho five in the series "Zen Arts: The Flowering of the Senses", 1999


"I've caught you Richardson, stuffing spit-backs in your vile maw. 'Let tomorrow's omelets go empty,' is that your fucking attitude?" -E. B. Farnum

"Behold, I teach you the ubermunch. The ubermunch is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the ubermunch shall be the meaning of the earth!" -Fritzy N.

"It's okay to like celery more than yogurt, but it's not okay to think that batter is yogurt."

Serving fine and fresh gratuitous comments since Oct 5 2001, 09:53 PM

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Knowing how to cook is not something that that can be known all at once. But then nothing is.

...The art of cooking is the most intimate of all art forms. The work that you have created actually becomes your audience...

Be willing to fail miserably.

Really nice, Jinmyo. The three elements I've quoted above specially hit home with me, and I've just fallen in love with "Be willing to fail miserably". That could become one of those memorable quotes that I take to the grave with me  :smile:  and I have very few of those.

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So is a particular dish "art"? Yes, if its maker says it is.

I'm not sure I agree with this.  If an artist says X is art then it is - doesn't matter if you agree with them or not.  If also doesn't matter if you never want to see it again.  However, with food the main criteria above all else is it it edible.  Regardless of the effort put in - if you don't/won't eat it then is virtually a waste of time.

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Don't read the word communication to mean transmission of a logical idea.  What I was trying to convey in my original post was communication in a broader sense.  Art for the sake of beauty or entertainment can still be art because it speaks to you on some level. After all, "Beauty is truth and truth beauty."  You don't have to understand literally a poem or "get" the concepts behind a piece of modern art to perceive mood, rhythm, and emotion.  This is what I meant by communication.  

Splotches of red and blue thrown on a canvas by a monkey may somehow stir emotions in people, but won't be art unless there was an element of intention behind them (presumably by the monkey's handler).  Similarly, a monkey mixing spices to go in a dish will create an object that tastes like something, but it won't be cuisine any more than the splotches would be a Picasso.  One can be moved by the natural as well, an inspiring vista for example, but there is no intention behind it (other than possibly a Divine one - different debate) and thus it is not art.  

Nor does the communication have to be "successful" in the sene that the emotion or notion intended to be conveyed need not, in fact, be the one received to have art.  This gets into some dicier areas, but generally, craft is the execution of a concept.  That concept may or may not be intended as some form of communication in a broad sense.  If it is, then that is art in my book.

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So is a particular dish "art"? Yes, if its maker says it is

No it isn't, and it isn't if it isn't because then it isn't.

art, as Marshall McLuhan pointed out, is whatever you can get away with

Fine, but I hope he's not relying on selling his art collection to live off in his old age.

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Next will come the Culinary Olympics, in which the world's chefs vie with each other in accordance with some arbitrary and impossible set of irrelevant standards.

The "Culinary Olympics", as they are known to the trade, although the "International Olympic Committy" (Sports) have objected to this term, and I don't remember what the legal outcome was, have been held every four years since I do not know exactly when, but at least since the "'20's". They are sanctioned by the World Association of Chef Societies (WACS), of which the American Culinary Federation (ACF) is a member, and were always held in Frankfurt Germany. Location was changed in 1996 to Berlin and again in the year 2000 to Erfurt.

Please explain "...in accordance with some arbitrary and "impossible?" set of irrelevant standards."

Here are the 2000 results:

  http://www.unichef.com/oly_results.htm


Peter

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Wow, Peter, you really had me going there  :smile:  Brilliant spoof, and I believed every word until I saw that the British Army came second in the Military Competition, LOL  :raz:

But until that point, it was very convincing - nice job  :biggrin:

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The question of what is art and who is an artist has been with us since the advent of Modernism.  As a working and exhibiting artist I come to his discussion with a specific point of view.  

"Art is a calling.  Its something you do because you have to.  Artists are the shamans, the priests and priestesses, the magicians of society.  Only a few make a living from their art.  If you have this calling, you will continue.  If not, your life will gradually move toward another career."  Audrey Flack

Restaurant chefs are not artists.  They do not produce art.  They are not philosophers.  Artists are philosophers and dreamers, who, when at their best,  show us the way to a deeper and fuller spiritual existence.  Its not a question of compensation.  Its a question of motivation.  

The difference between art and craft can also be explained along these lines.  Why something is produced or created is primary. There needs to be some greater and more profound aim than careerism for what one is creating to be deemed art.

Yes, there is good art and bad art but the intention of the artist is the all important element for deciding what is art and who is an artist- not the marketplace.

A restaurant chef, by definition, is merely a creative member of the marketplace much like a shoe designer or a journalist.

There are great shoe designers and journalists but they are not artists unless they move beyond the constraints of the marketplace and concern themselves with prolonged contemplation of  the nature and understanding of ideas.

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I feel like we had this discussion before but here goes.

For me the issue starts at the end and works backwards. Food that is intended to be eaten is not art. But food that is intended to be displayed IS art. The Cambell's soup can makes this point perfectly. A museum does not want to display a can of Campbell's soup that I just bought at a supermarket. That is for eating. Nor would anyone pay a few million $$$ for an Andy Warhol soup can and attempt to eat it's contents for dinner. So whomever said it is whatever the artists intended is correct, save for one large caveat. The intent has to be aesthetic, not functional.

The tests for chefs is whether the food is delicious. And in order to measure deliciousness, the food has to be eaten, i.e. disappear. And as hard as I can think of it, I know of no disappearing art. Logic would dictate that it wouldn't have much market value.  :smile: So if I start with the assumption that what a chef does is functional, and the aesthetics are subsumed (I should say consumed) within the functionality, I can't proclaim that their final product is art.

On the other hand, so much of what chefs do is artistic, that the use of the word art in the context of what they do feels natural. But it is liking saying a surgeon practices his art well. Or that Tiger Woods' swing is a work of art. Neither surgery, nor golf are art. And while surgeons and Tiger can both be described that way, neither one are "artists."

So when we say that chefs are "artists," we don't use the word in the same way we speak of Picasso. All we are expressing is that a HIGH LEVEL OF AESTHETICS are being practiced. Not that what is being practiced should be considered art.

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Is golf functional?

No, I'm keeping away from this.  As I pointed out when we got into this a long time back, the only basis for determining whether food/cooking is art is, first of all, to determine what art is.  That question has been occupying people, without resolution, for centuries - as stefanyb said, it has been a key question in the period of modernism.  I predict it ain't going to get solved on eGullet.

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I feel like we had this discussion before but here goes.

Food that is intended to be eaten is not art. But food that is intended to be displayed IS art. The Cambell's soup can makes this point perfectly. A museum does not want to display a can of Campbell's soup that I just bought at a supermarket. That is for eating. Nor would anyone pay a few million $$$ for an Andy Warhol soup can and attempt to eat it's contents for dinner. So whomever said it is whatever the artists intended is correct, save for one large caveat. The intent has to be aesthetic, not functional.

Steve, although I love to read your writings and think you have a very perceptive intellect, this is a case where you are just flat out wrong.  Whether or not something disappears is absolutely no criteria for determining if it is art.  All music disappears after you hear it and all of Conceptual art only exists in the viewers mind and then by logical extension disappears when the person thinks of something else.  Earth art by i.e. Robert Smithson does actually disappear.  There are literally thousands of examples of artworks  that refute your argument. Whether or not something can be bought or sold is another totally invalid criterion.  Also, the functional vs. aesthetic argument has been refuted long ago.  Rather than go into each of these points I recommend you  read Arthur Danto or John Berger.

Your Warhol soup can reference has nothing to do with food as Warhol's choice of subject matter had to do with iconography and certainly nothing whatsoever to do with chefs (my apologies to Campbells, or maybe they should apologize to us).

I could go on but I won't.

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