Letter of the Week – Can Food Ever Be Art?
I am a smart person and by smart person I mean I’m a Yelper because I am full of opinions about things but I know what I like and I like to share them with people. Nonetheless because I am adamant generally about things I like and believe and do not care if these thoughts make sense to others but why I hold them is due to honesty that I love about telling people about things that everyone might like and respect.
So my question is this: Can food ever be art because I think definitely it is art?
p.s. I have a doctorate in Science. Please do not forget this when you are talking to me.
Dear Dr. Science,
The short answer is “no.” Food is not art. Food is a craft. A craft built upon technical expertise, dedication, precision and repetition.
Craft is functional and disposable; art is original, emotional and thought provoking. Great art makes you think; great craftsmanship makes you want to use something. Nay, it demands you use it to give it value.
Art is transcendent. A work of art stands for something beyond itself. Anyone can paint a picture, but only Vermeer could paint a Vermeer. (Look him up, they probably didn’t talk too much about Dutch masters in science class.)
To quote another: The only time craft has been elevated to art is when it has acquired additional value beyond its function or purpose. Charles and Ray Eames (you’ll have to look them up too, no doubt) did not design their furniture to be art, but art it became.
Food is food. It is a manufactured product, made on assembly lines, meant to be consumed. In that sense, and in the sense that it gives us life, it is the ultimate craft. No matter how pretty or ingenious the plate, it is always a creation (and craft) of the most temporal and visceral kind.
What you and other, semi-educated folks do is confuse artistry and artisan talent with something original and profound. The paintings of Arcimboldo:
…is not art:
There is nothing abstruse about whatever Ferran Adrià did. He simply deconstructed food and re-imagined it as something else — much like General Mills did when they invented the first fruit roll-up. He just did it on a much smaller scale and much prettier plates.
Nothing chefs do qualifies as art. They will tell you this. Thomas Keller and Joël Robuchon have told me this. Everything they do is born of repetition and respect for time-honored techniques. They don’t invent anything, anymore than Grant Achatz invented de-constructed dessert.
What you do, Dr. Science, is confuse beauty and cleverness with art. Just because something looks pretty doesn’t make it art. True art — be it in music, literature or the visual arts — is greater than itself. Nothing you chew on is ever greater than itself.
End of lesson