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Food as Art


mikeczyz
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i apologize if this topic has already been covered.

I was lying in bed last night thinking and started to compare food to the art form that i am most familar with, music. at first glance, food appealed to four of the five senses...taste (duh!), smell, touch, and sight. music on the other hand, appeals to two senses, sight and sound. (this is taken from the diner/audience point of view. if we wanted to go chef/performer, we could add the sense hearing to food, and touch to music.) it would seem music beats out food, yes? but i thought some more, and came to realize that food can not be an art because man needs to eat to survive. i believe that only when the necessary elements for survival are in place, can art be created. i mean, who has time to paint when he's hunting and foraging? (this is just my opinion, please feel free to disagree.) using this thinking, food can not be a form of art. but when i see some plates of food, the use of color, architecture, form etc. firmly convince me that it is an art form, even if for only the visual aspect. any other opinions?

mike

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I'm not at all comfortable with the premise that art can only be created after food and shelter are provided. For one thing, that eliminates architecture as an art, but might allow food that is designed to be eaten by those who are no longer hungry to be considered art.

I'm afraid most people are too restricted in their views to consider food as art and I'm not sure art should exist apart from life. There's painting, there's sculpture, there's ceramics, there's music, there's drama, there's food, etc. Some of each is art for me, much of what falls in each category seems like less than art.

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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Bux-

I would wholly agree when you say that "Some of each is art for me, much of what falls in each category seems like less than art." Am I to assume that you believe that some food is art? I wonder because I was reading a cooking related book ( i think it might of been Dornenburg and Page's Becoming a Chef), whichever book it was, one chef said cooking was not a art and stated flatly that cooking was a craft. maybe it was bourdain who said this. i don't remember. i'm just looking for a few more opinions.

mike

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I also remember reading that book, with the quote about food being a craft. I would have to agree, for the most part. Some have taken it to the level of art, especially in pastry. However, I think most of it is just craft.

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after thinking further, i would like to retract my statement about art not existing until essential needs are met. while it does apply in some cases, i've got a lot more thinking to do before i jump to any conclusions. just the product of an overeager 22 year old. sorry

mike

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You may, in light of the "hunting before art" concept consider arts resulting directly from hunting and food preparation; Carving of waterfowl decoys, fishing fly tying, the perfecting of bows & arrows, cutlery and their ancillary crafts. Glass blowing, metallurgy and the arts involved in pottery. In a lot of cases the artisinal crafts involving food evolved into more esoteric art forms.

Of course this has nothing to do with food preparation and presentation as art, but a look at the various haute cuisines from Asia to Europe and now the New World could argue that a large aspect of high end dining (and increasingly middle end) involves and artistic view of both the decor and the presentation of the meal.

=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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I might say that the experience of mid/late 20th, early 21st century dining;an admittedly encompassing term that includes everything about the restaurant experience (front and back of the house, cooking, tabletop layout, and restaurant design) is analogous to popular performance theatre (inc. opera, ballet, popular dance, musical performance etc.)

Now is popular theatre as practiced on the London or Broadway stage an art form? Don't raise the question with an actor, singer, dancer, musician etc. You may get smacked! :biggrin:

Robert Brown in an earlier thread, posited the idea of Chef as Couturier. The thrust of that thread was different than this, but a fundemental question over whether modern fashion design is art may also be raised.

Somehow I think one must first define art and that job is for someone other than I. :biggrin:

Nick

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No Nick, it's your job. :biggrin:

Nick is correct in one way, you can't really say if a thing is art or not, unless you have a fixed definition of art. For me, art is that thing that when it's killed becomes culture. For others however, art is craft raised to another level. For yet others, it's distinguished from its crasser cousins when it's not commercial. I remember the occupation of "commerical artist." There are no more commerical artists, they've died or changed their business cards to read "graphic designer" or something.

The very best a work of art can do in my mind, is not to exemplify the definition of art, but to challenge it. That challenge alone should make anyone stop wanting to discuss this issue with me, as evey argument for food as art strengthens my belief in food as art and every argument for food as art, weakens it.

Perhaps food is best discussed as food without concern for it being art or not art. Barney Newman's "Art history is for artists as ornithology is for the birds" strikes me as applicable here. A great chef shouldn't worry about whether his work is seen as art, or even if it's art, nor should we.

i apologize if this topic has already been covered.

Apology accepted, but you know what, Mike, this is not going to be the last time the subject is covered. :biggrin:

Robert Buxbaum

WorldTable

Recent WorldTable posts include: comments about reporting on Michelin stars in The NY Times, the NJ proposal to ban foie gras, Michael Ruhlman's comments in blogs about the NJ proposal and Bill Buford's New Yorker article on the Food Network.

My mailbox is full. You may contact me via worldtable.com.

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  • 3 weeks later...

all i can say is it depends on a person if he/she thinks food is art. some people dont eat the food when it is not well presentsed, some when hungry do eat, whatever they look like. I think food is like music, they all have genres. rock-pop...etc. some people like rock, some people cant stand death metal. i know what im saying is very confusing. Im an artist and i think of the world in a different way.

A lot of my friends listens to death metal and they hate the way the music industry goes today. they told me that, they do music for fun, not for the money because music is art and kind of letting yourself free, expressing your self out of it. thats why i think food can be art. the truth is every thing you see, smell, feel, taste is art. you just have to look close and define it. sorry for being such a wierd person.

dont make fun of my post. please! i beg. this is my first post.

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  • 1 year later...
Bux-

I would wholly agree when you say that "Some of each is art for me, much of what falls in each category seems like less than art."  Am I to assume that you believe that some food is art?  I wonder because I was reading a cooking related book ( i think it might of been Dornenburg and Page's Becoming a Chef), whichever book it was, one chef said cooking was not a art and stated flatly that cooking was a craft.  maybe it was bourdain who said this.  i don't remember.  i'm just looking for a few more opinions. 

mike

Reminder: Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page are online for an eGullet Q&A right now.

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I'd say that any expression of self can be called 'art'. Presumably, the great chefs express some part of themselves, whether it be culture, taste, aesthetic sense, etc. All of these, plus the choice the act of feeding other people as a medium to express oneself qualify cooking as art.

There is a range between the poles though: 'low art' like McDonalds & sustenance food on one end, and 'high art' chefs on the other. In-between must be people like me - home cooks cooking as a hobby, trying to do as best we can. Even at the low-end of the spectrum, some part of the cook will make it into the food: even at McDonald's there's a taste engineer who has crafted the Big Mac.

The problem with food as 'art' (and to some extent, music) is that it's nearly impossible to express an idea as clearly as with painting, sculpture, or other more explicit arts. For instance, at Trio, chefg is into playing with peoples perceptions of taste, asking them to reassess their notion of food. You could go further and say that maybe he, and chefs like him, are taking the mundane task of sustanence and transcending it - showing us that basic everyday things can be appreciated and savored. Definitely in the realm of art. Or another, those weird food guys who present food as theatre: bobbing for cow testicles or something. And yet, food hardly ever can express more dissonant emotions - who would eat awful tasting food to experience angst, disgust, and other unpleasantness?

As a side note, I've come to think of Music (instrumental) as being somewhere inbetween Food and Painting (or other, explicit art forms). It envelops you in sensory reflection, but can be more explicit or didactic. However, it still has limitations: you have to know and be able to analyze the symbolism embedded in the music (harder than in painting), and even then you can't bluntly just say what you're trying to express.

Some forms of music - that are clearly art: groove-based music like jazz, or indian classical music - are not trying to express an explicit thought, but to get one involved one in one's senses, create activity in the mind, build community, give release, etc. I think food can accomplish many of these aims. We may eat because we need sustanence, but clearly that's not the only thing that people like we egulleters are interested in.

Grateful for the chance to pontificate,

Ian

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I wholeheartedly agree that food is (or CAN BE) art. It may not be audible, but I do belive that in some rare cases it stimulate another sense that is equally important in our lives, even if it is not noticed or ignored most of the time. I'd hate to refer to this as a "sixth sense", but great meals appeal to senses of humor, creativity, imagination, and of course the innate sense of the FNORD?! that exists in all of us. A meal that is not only delicious and beautiful, but conceptually stunning as well is a new frontier for food that I hope becomes more prevalent in days to come. It creates such a nice, large separation between the simple sustenance and the edges of the food envelope. My brother constantly mocks my ideas about this, claiming that there is no value in creating an "experience" for diners aside from the food coming out the way it should. The masses may not seek it out by the millions, but some DO seek it out....and I typically hate the masses anyway...hehe... Food is a bad path to take if you want to be a rich man. Personally I don't know how whores like Emeril live with themselves.... I've seen him in multiple commercials these days, none of which have anything to do with food...that is off the main topic though....

The point is, yes food CAN be art, and in my opinion should to some degree. I would aslo venture to suggest that those who disagree and say food is for consumption solely and all else is unnecessary are not artists...they are drones in the hive. Which is fine, there are hundreds of thousands of restaurants serving millions of people, not all of them (not even a majority) want to bother eating or experiencing a plate of food that is awe-inspiring...but then again, I personally don't want to cook for them...I want to cook for those who will laugh at my use of a slurpee straw in a shot glass of savory foam, or question their own beliefs about food while staring at a spoon of "wonton soup" with no visible form of liquid...

As Sir Edmund Hilary said when asked why he climbs mountains: Because they're there....Art is a possible dimension of food, so why not explore it?

"Make me some mignardises, &*%$@!" -Mateo

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Of course food is art.

Van Gogh used paint...Julia uses butter and garlic.

Picasso used canvas...St. Jacque uses a ceramic platter.

Different mediums, but art nonetheless.

I think because food & eating is such a transitory experience whereas most art is considered timeless and permanent (I know, there are exceptions) that food isn't considered to be art.

As an aside, I think there was an attempt in California(?) to try and get the UC college system to open a school dedicated to the food arts to be named after Julia Child. It didn't happen, of course.

 

“Peter: Oh my god, Brian, there's a message in my Alphabits. It says, 'Oooooo.'

Brian: Peter, those are Cheerios.”

– From Fox TV’s “Family Guy”

 

Tim Oliver

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Could something as simple as a qenelle of mashed potato be art,I believe it

can be.In there lies the conundrum.Then I must believe a craft can be considered art in some forms.No reason to leave food out of the equation,IMO.

EDIT:sometimes I pluralize without thinking. :blink:

Edited by Oreganought (log)
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  • 4 months later...

Simply put, cooking is a CRAFT. The products, inventions of that CRAFT are called FOOD, or in some cases, CUISINE. No matter how ornately or intelligently approached, whether or not the chef has gone to extreme lengths to produce high beauty (lumping flavor into this def.) they still don't fit the admittedly loose definition of an artist. Chefs may feel they are artists because they've put together a magnificent plate that no one has ever seen before but that makes them, if anything, a creative and skilled craftsman. Is NORM from This Old House an artist?

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This is always an uncomfortable discussion whether it's applied to cooking or furniture making or architecting or pottery throwing or rug weaving or. . . so on and so forth. The problem, I think, is one of valuation. If a thing is considered to be art then that thing is more valuable. Compounding the issue, there's a linguistic problem. In the context of this discussion, the word has two meanings. Art can refer to what some people call "the fine arts": painting and sculpture and more recently expanded to include photography performance art and installation art. But art can also describe virtuosity or general creativity. So the word art can describe either a category or an achievement. Maybe the discomfort is a confusion between these two disparate meanings. Cooking is not fine art but it is sometimes executed with virtuosity.

I've always enjoyed the painter Ad Reinhardt's take on this problem. It goes as follows:

"The one thing to say about art is that it is one thing. Art is art-as-art and everything else is everything else. Art-as-art is nothing but art. Art is not what is not art."

You shouldn't eat grouse and woodcock, venison, a quail and dove pate, abalone and oysters, caviar, calf sweetbreads, kidneys, liver, and ducks all during the same week with several cases of wine. That's a health tip.

Jim Harrison from "Off to the Side"

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Source: Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary, © 1996, 1998 MICRA, Inc.

craft

n 1: the skilled practice of a practical occupation; "he learned his trade as an apprentice" [syn: trade] 2: a vehicle designed for navigation in or on water or air or through outer space 3: people who perform a particular kind of skilled work; "he represented the craft of brewers"; "as they say in the trade" [syn: trade] 4: skill in an occupation or trade [syn: craftsmanship, workmanship] 5: shrewdness as demonstrated by being skilled in deception [syn: craftiness, cunning, foxiness, guile, slyness, wiliness] v : make by hand and with much skill

Source: Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary, © 1996, 1998 MICRA, Inc.

art

n 1: the products of human creativity; works of art collectively [syn: fine art] 2: the creation of beautiful or significant things; "he was a patron of art" [syn: artistic creation, artistic production] 3: the superior ability that is attained by study and practice and observation; "he had mastered the art of a great craftsman" [syn: artistry, prowess, superior skill] 4: photographs or other visual representations in a printed publication [syn: artwork, graphics, nontextual matter]

Personally, I think of a Craftsman as more of a journeyman, with knowledge and skills, but an Artist takes it to the next level. I've had food prepared by Craftsmen, and I've been lucky to have food that's been created by an Artist. The difference is that the food created by an Artist hits that 'sixth' sense that literally sends shivers down my spine.

“"When you wake up in the morning, Pooh," said Piglet at last, "what's the first thing you say to yourself?"

"What's for breakfast?" said Pooh. "What do you say, Piglet?"

"I say, I wonder what's going to happen exciting today?" said Piglet.

Pooh nodded thoughtfully.

"It's the same thing," he said.”

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Judging by the above definitions, I think both music and food have the potential to be either an art or a craft. Here's my reasoning for music (at least, performing it) as craft: well, popular music theater, at times. And my string quartet doing music for weddings. Trust me, when you play Canon in D for the thousandth time, only the most fanatical might call it 'art'. Really, you're there because music 'needs' to be there, accompanying the bride down the aisle, and some/all musical considerations are subsumed by the need to get the timing absolutely right.

I guess the cultural need for wedding music is not exactly equal to the physical need for sustenance. But can you see where I'm going with this?

Nikki Hershberger

An oyster met an oyster

And they were oysters two.

Two oysters met two oysters

And they were oysters too.

Four oysters met a pint of milk

And they were oyster stew.

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Is this a false dichotomy? Why must it be either/or?

The foodservice industry could certainly be seen as a prime application of Sturgeon's Law ("90% of anything is crap"); given that the majority of restaurant food is pretty low-end. Of the remaining 10%, the majority is well-crafted food; created by craftsmen (/persons) of varying degrees of ability, but a comparable basic skillset.

But then, once in a while, you run across someone with the same basic skillset; the same basic ingredients; and yet what they put on a plate is somehow light-years above the run-of-the-mill. That's artistry.

And for the record, towering showpiece plates are not food-as-art to me. They're self-centred masturbation; the kitchen equivalent of a 20-minute guitar solo.

“Who loves a garden, loves a greenhouse too.” - William Cowper, The Task, Book Three

 

"Not knowing the scope of your own ignorance is part of the human condition...The first rule of the Dunning-Kruger club is you don’t know you’re a member of the Dunning-Kruger club.” - psychologist David Dunning

 

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The foodservice industry could certainly be seen as a prime application of Sturgeon's Law ("90% of anything is crap"); given that the majority of restaurant food is pretty low-end.

Careful: I know you must not have meant to equate low-end with crap.

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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The foodservice industry could certainly be seen as a prime application of Sturgeon's Law ("90% of anything is crap"); given that the majority of restaurant food is pretty low-end.

Careful: I know you must not have meant to equate low-end with crap.

yes. though my crap does usually come out my low-end.

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