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Sunday, June 21, 2015

Can food be art?

Can food be art?
A piece in the New York Times, widely quoted on the Internet, states unequivocally that beautifully prepared and presented food is not art. I beg to differ.

Taking my inspiration from R.G. Collingwood, I have no problem calling some food creations art. For a short summary of Collingwood's work in aesthetics please read the entry in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. It will quickly become apparent I play fast and loose with Collingwood's ideas.

For me, I make a quick and easy divide, placing art on one side and craft on the other. Art requires creativity and the results are often unique. Craft, on the other hand, demands skill and the resulting product is cranked out repeatedly.

Most people can appreciate craft (skill) and they like their art (creativity) mixed with craft as well. This is why Jackson Pollock just doesn't cut it with many people. His work may be creative but "a child could do it." Pollock's splatter approach to art, to these viewers, doesn't appear to require a finely honed skill.

The creation of a new food dish is, in the beginning, an act of craft driven by art or creativity. But once an artistic result is achieved, then craft, the skill of being able to duplicate the artistic work, quickly becomes the force pushing the entire endeavor forward. Great chefs are both artists and craftspeople. They develop unique dishes and then prepare them on demand.

I had this at the Blackfriars Bistro.
Take the cold, potato salad I make. The olive oil used is the result of both an art decision and a craft decision. My goal is to delight the sense of taste and I want to do it repeatedly. My personal favourite oil for this salad is one from Provence in the south of France. It has a very light flavour that doesn't mask the flavour of the potatoes. This oil is dependable when it comes to its flavour and thus the resulting potato salad is at once satisfying and yet holds no surprises -- at least, not for those who have enjoyed it before.

I often serve meals that are high quality when it comes to craft but are partial failures on the artistic side. Why? These dinners taste great but fail to impress the eye. A great dish ripples across one senses like a hand playing chords on a piano. A perfect dish delights the eyes, teases the nose and surprises and satisfies the taste buds. Restaurant chefs have perfected the skill of the presentation.

And with this post, I am now ready for my meeting with a lady from the art gallery here in London, Ontario. Apparently the gallery is about to mount a show featuring food and I have been invited to give some input. I believe I can now argue food can be art but, as is true with a lot of art, many people insist on a good smattering of skillful craft with their art.

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