Monday, June 4, 2007

another attempt to define the undefinable

Probably no one is ever going convince me that food cannot be art, certainly not Guardian Unlimited blogger Jonathan Jones in a short (May 17) post titled Food Can Be Artistic, but it can never be art. It seems that Adria has been invited to participate in the Documenta art show in Kassel, Germany and Jones agrees with the some in the Spanish art establishment who are pissed off that he was asked to show on 15 June. Jones agrees that Adria should not have been invited because he is not an artist and his work is not art. He believes that for someone to be considered an artist he must not be afraid to disgust his patrons.

So in Jones' calculus Damien Hirst , who made the sawn cow in formaldehyde depicted above, is a real artist because his art can be disgusting, but someone like Adria cannot be an artist because if he did make something disgusting he'd go out of business.

I'm not buying it. Not everyone who sees Hirst's cow is disgusted (I'm certainly not) and I'm willing to bet that some people heave when they see Adria's spaghetti extruded from an aerosol can.

And WTF? Even if Jones' understanding of art is based on post-modern notions of what art is supposed to be, are we to believe that Roy Lichtenstein is not artist because none of his work evokes disgust, but Andres Serrano is a true artist because he wasn't afraid to snap a picture of Christ in a bucket of piss?

Another popular criticism of chefs who have been called artists, is that what they do can never be considered art because what they make is created primarily for financial gain and not for aesthetic reasons. They are artisans, this line of reasoning concludes, and not to be held in the same esteem as creators of true art. This argument parallels a similar argument made against classifying graphic designers, illustrators and typographers as artists and has about as much credibility, which is to say, very little.

How anyone could look at a typeface like Helvetica, and not be amazed by how the characters define the space they occupy and not think of that as art is beyond my comprehension. Norman Rockwell was dismissed by the fine art world for years because his work was done mostly for covers of the Saturday Evening Post and so could not be art but rather "illustration." Now he is revered as a master and his works sells for millions.

Perhaps the best objection to food as art is that even though it can provoke an aesthetic sometimes life changing experience, because it is a temporary creation and not designed to endure, it should not be included in the pantheon along with statues and paintings and other more tangible works. In other words shouldn't real art stick around for a while so that more than handful of people can experience it?

The trouble with this argument it that it would seem to exclude music, dance and all of the performance arts from the pantheon too.

Perhaps it just might be that real reason so many people object to the idea of food as art and chefs as artists is that even today-even after Piss Christ- our basis for determining what art is, is based on classical, Greco-Roman conceits. And since there is no muse for cooking, chefs must be getting their ideas from somewhere other than the sources of what our ancient cultural ancestors considered to be the wellspring of all artistic inspiration.

Or maybe the ancients just never identified the muse for cooking and she's out there waiting to be heard? Hmm... Maybe I should try an old Homeric trick and try to get her to get her to help me out. And maybe I'll get invited to Documenta. Okay here goes

Sing Muse, sing of the man who wields the knife and tends the grill
Sing in me, and tell of what he made for dinner

Guardian Unlimited: Arts blog - art: Food can be artistic - but it can never be art


The Foodist said...

now without being a hypocrit to my previous comments about food and art Im gonna say this:

Art is defined as:
1. the quality, production, expression, or realm, according to aesthetic principles, of what is beautiful, appealing, or of more than ordinary significance.

Now using that definition food can be art. My grip is with the food art that cant be eaten. Now to say Adria is NOT an artist is a mistake in my opinion. Matter of fact he probably more of an artist then a painter can be (hypothetically). Your talking about making something that is not only aesthetically appealing, but also smells and tastes.

He takes multiple mediums (Spices,Protiens, Veg etc) and creates a balance of colortexture and flow.

So what, the man could serve a pigs head and then and only then be an "artist"?

As for the fact that "Food cant be art because its temporary" is crap. You can stop any person on the street and ask them to tell you about the best meal theyve ever had and they will remember it, in detail if only for the length of their own life. So to say food has no lasting impression is a false statement. And in this sense, what if Di Vinci hadnt painted the "Last Supper".. what if it was the "Last Poker Game" or the "Last Meditation Circle"?

To say that food as a medium cannot be art is to be blind to what food is, does, and can be.

Now if we could just get people to stop making macaroni pictures and start making artful dishes.....
/rant off

The Foodist said...

ok so not to highjack the post again but after pointing out this entry to my roommate and a somewhat in depth discussion about what we feel makes food art/art with food I decided to take a poll on my blog.

Feel free to stop by a give your two cents id be interested to hear it more in depth

Sorcha said...

That's the stupidest logic I've ever heard. In that case, any 8 year old boy who delights in making fart noises is an artist. Just think of all the undiscovered talent I'm working with every day, telling it to sit down, stop throwing Legos and not use words like that at school!

tscape said...

This guy is an art critic? He truly believes that art must be gross to be true art? Where did he even get that from? Trying to counter that argument would make me feel silly for even bothering.

This whole business of being shocked - shocked! - at what what is considered to be true art and who is invited to show their works in exhibits is an old, old controversy. That's how some people felt about Marcel Duchamp's works being considered art, but today he is considered one of modern art's greatest artists. The Impressionists were shunned at first because their paintings were considered sloppy and not technically proficient. Photography was considered a craft and not an art for for many, many decades. Willem de Kooning was initially not fully accepted into the art world because he got his start as a graphic designer - which was considered purely a craft and therefore beneath the aspirations of "true art". The list goes on and on.

For an art critic to fall into that same song and dance routine shows a serious lack of knowledge about the history of his chosen field.

And I'd like to point out that any artist who does not have a day job and derives his income from his art is, by his definition, just a craftsman and no longer an artist.

imichie said...

Okay, here is my take on art and food. Of all the mediums of art it is only art that , to me, employs all of the five--or six if you are talking to a postmodernist--senses. Taste, of course, sight, yup, hearing, can happen especially with crispy or crunchy food, touch, absolutely, and smell--to my mind possibly the most important. As for the sixth sense, refer to Proust. My only problem is that as an art, culinary arts just isn't enduring. This may be a crude way to put it, but when all is said and done, it all comes out the same way in the end. But this may be the best argument for classifying it with "Piss Christ."

Robinson said...

Perhaps it would be easier for Jonathon to reconcile chef-as-artist if someone would simply let him know that Post Modernism is over. Welcome to Post Post Modernism.

Abulafia said...

Just my two cents.

It's a difficult question, what constitutes art, and what constitutes craft.

None of the differences, I think, are concrete. They blend and bleed at the edges.

But part of the difference is that art produces purely aesthetic artifacts, and craft produces useful artifacts. Art and craft are used in different ways. DaVinci's paintings are art.

His engines of war were craft, though they sprang from the same intelligence, and mind.

And food has normally been a functional, utilitarian artifact. It's a thing you use, and it doesn't exist just for it's own sake. It's primary purpose is to feed people. Most cuisines are deeply mired in this aspect of food. It is often their greatest strength.

It is transitory in a way that music is not. Music is scored, and annotated with a precision that no recipe can provide. It is immortal in that sense. And our ability to near perfectly record performances in their totality - the sound, the light, the timbre and pitch, makes that permanence more starkly contrasted to the fleetingness of food. It's also almost entirely aesthetic. It exists only to be beautiful, or as an idea, a metaphysical play. Food is not permanent in the way that Shakespeare is, or James Joyce, or Mozart.

And this permanence, and primary purpose do separate it from food.

And in general, it is true. Food is not art, and chefs are not artists. I say this, as opinion, and as a person who ceases to function if I can't read or if I can't cook for more than 5 days.

That said, I came here from the Masa article referenced in Mr Ruhlmans blog. And there may well be exceptions of a sort. In Japanese culture, permanence and art are not so strongly linked. And the relationship between the artisan and the artist in much more blurred than we have in most of the west.

Swordmakers, who are ultimately makers of tools, are informed by an aesthetic of utility. What functions supremely well is the beautiful. Similarly, the zen sense one finds in food preparation is an aesthetic world. Chefs are trained to a degree not generally found in the West, and the general philosophy is one of largely egoless perfection. It's difficult to describe. But there's a philosophical differnce, and a sense genreally not found in even the best French, Italian, British, Spanish or American kitchens. The chef is not an artist.

The chef is an instrument of perfection. And it is perfection which produces the art.

The chef's job seems to be to not get in the way.

Sorry about the length of the post.