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Dec 27, 2007 05:11 AM

Is food "CREATION art?

Since arriving on the CH site late Christmas Eve, all aspects of food have rampantly overtaken vast areas of my thinking. A kind of ethnic thought cleansing is the manner in which I could describe the process. Here is a current thought that followed from my dream state and which I am ruminating over at present in place of preparing for my workday.

Is food "Creation" art ?

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  1. It can be. Unfortunately, it rarely is. Those very rare great chefs who come up with totally new recipes that quickly are adopted (as opposed to adapted) world wide are certainly creating art works. However, few practicing chefs have the time to be creative. Their job is to REcreate the same dishes night after night to keep their cusomers happy.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Caroline1

      Thanks for your reflective response Caroline 1.
      I'm now wondering if master food creaters have longevity.
      Is there, for instance, a Rembrandt or Mozart of this art form?

      1. re: fruglescot

        Two off the top of my head are Antonin Careme (1784-1833), and Auguste Escoffier (1847-1935). There were others, though none I can think of of equal brilliance. Like all of the arts, death seems to instill value on the artist's work.

        Both Careme and Escoffier earned their reputations for brilliance through long years of exceptional culinary perfromance. There are other culinary artists who shine brilliantly with one dish, then fade from glory unless the dish bears their name. Caesar's salad is such a dish, and bears the creator's first name. But who remembers the name of the chef who created Chicken Marengo for Napoleon Bonaparte? Or the chef who created Peche Melba?

        So much for Rembrandt and Mozart. Only history will tell us if there are any Bealtes or Elvises among us now...

    2. I think that by any definition you wish to ascribe to, cooking is an 'artistic' endeavor "The products of human creativity", "the creation of beautiful or significant things", "the term usually implies some degree of aesthetic value", etc. etc. When you cook, you are creating something that will appeal to several senses of the consumer (visual, smell taste), you are most likely endeavoring to express yourself in your creation and doing so with the intent of creating pleasure for others. You almost always put your own distinctive touch into a dish, even if you are just following a recipe. There are only 12 notes you can play on a piano, yet the 'last great composition' will never be written. So, as there are really only a few 'tastes' that we can experience, we will never (gladly) be served the 'last great dish known to man'. Some are clearly more creative and artisitic than others in the kitchen, but cooking is as much a creatvie art form as music, sculpture, etc. When I "riff" on a great standard recipe' and turn out something truly wonderful, I think I must feel like a great Jazz musician does.

      1 Reply
      1. re: bnemes3343

        Very well expressed.
        Thank you bnemes3343
        More thoughts to ponder on the RUSH , now, to work..

      2. It is most certainly art!!! From the grilled cheese sandwich I prepare for my kids to the turkey I massaged with butter on Christmas day. For some drudgery, for me it is the deepest expression of the human experience. To prepare food and serve to others is a deep and profound experience. I give of myself, my time, my experience. I want to express that I care and wish to nuture. This that I give will sustain you when life is challenging and despair is starting to surface. Real food prepared by someone with a name and a face is art. Multi-national fast food restaurants are an abomination and corruption of that art.

        1. Food is not art, and chefs are not artists. It is a craft.

          19 Replies
          1. re: Steve

            there is a point where food is no longer primarily food, it is an experiential thing. see some of the recent discussion on the creations of cutting-edge small plates places. there is also a point where "food" becomes refined to the point that it *becomes* "cuisine" which leads to canonization of techniques and recipes, and schools teaching these canons in rigid environments, in the same way people expect to train musicians in a conservatory environment.

            1. re: Steve

              I agree with Steve.
              A chef can instruct the staff of a restaurant to prepare a recipe he has devised for the patrons of that restaurant in New York while he flies off to check on the one in Shanghai.
              Yo-Yo Ma can't pass out cellos and ask cellists to play while he takes a night off.

              1. re: MakingSense

                I don't pretend to have the answers to all this. But I like the question.

                Big admirer of your posts, Making Sense, but I'm not sure your analogy works as well as it might. I'm searching here. The difference between Yo-Yo Ma and other cellists is the ability/proficiency of the other cellists. So who is the artist? Is it the composer, the person who dreamt up the music; or the musician (Yo-Yo Ma) interpreting the music? When does the act of creation occur?

                Certain technical or craft skills are required to play music in addition to some emotional/interpretative ability. So, at what level does artistry occur? When does craft transcend into art? A glorious performance that brings a new infusion of passion and interpretation? (A new dish, a new menu, a new flavor structure or philosophy of cooking?) What about a skillful performance that accurately plays the work as written on the page? (A cook repetitively cooking a chef's recipe?) Is that craft? What about an improvisation upon what's written on the sheet of music? (A new twist on a classic dish?) Is that art?

                Is the composer the only true artist in music because he created it? Is the act of playing music from the written sheet artistry because it creates sound where there was none? Or is that craft? Or does it depend upon the level of play and interpretation?

                I see I am merely asking more questions.

                I personally find the act of tinkering while cooking creative: fine-tuning a recipe, adding a new flavor that works, creating a brand new dish or creating some unusual visual appeal for a dish. I create a tall uneven sculptural wall as the outer crust for my cheesecake that faintly resembles a Roman ruin. Each time I do it it's tricky, and tedious, and looks different from every other time I've done it. Perhaps what I find most satisfying about cooking is creating something new, or transforming ingredients through some informed alchemy into a dish. So newness and transformation are keys to my own creativity in cooking. Clearly, there's some skill at play but also some improvisatory hunches that often work. Is that art or craft or both?

                Sydney Pollack, the film director, had a great quote I heard a while ago. He loves to cook, and he said he loved cooking dinner because it was an act of creation with immediate satisfaction and replenishment. [Unlike film.]

                1. re: maria lorraine

                  It is only necessary to go to a piano recital with several students playing the same piece to see the difference. A technically perfect rendition might pale in comparison to another with a few errors played by a student who has a feeling for the music to which he somehow gives emotion.
                  Many cooks can follow recipes precisely with quality ingredients but the results are quite ordinary yet others can turn a few simple supermarket purchases or what's left in the refrigerator into wonderful meals, like riffs in jazz, the most ephemeral of music. You won't have it again the same way. Craft? It does require some level of skill. Art? Does everyone who might eat it have any idea that it carries the emotions of the creator? I doubt it. They only know whether they personally like it or not.
                  I think of Jacques Pepin's comment that you can give 10 cooks the same recipe and they will produce 10 completely different dishes. Each will purchase slightly varied ingredients, interpret the directions in slightly different ways, use different equipment, make differing judgments about when to add something or when it's "done," and present the final dish is different fashions. Some will be excellent, others mediocre, and there may be failures.
                  This is how many of us cook but this isn't what's happening in restaurant kitchens where the same dish is turned out over and over again assembly-line fashion, regardless of who "wrote the music." It's the same old song, no riffs, forget the emotion, and that's not art.

                  1. re: MakingSense

                    Very much in tune (sorry for the pun) with you, but you got to admit that the diner having that dish for the first time is/can be inspired emotionally by the artist's original creation (even if its now duplicated and therefor not the original art per se).

                    Just because the Mona Lisa has been seen by you does not make it any less wonderous to me.

                    I realize that we are both viewing the same painting and that in the restaurant, as good as the assembly line may work, it never is exactly the same as the true original. Nevertheless, in the best kitchens which are usually run/inspired by the best chefs/artists the dishes should be an extremely accurate (at least as humanly possible) reenactment of the original. That consistency as we all know is what brings the coveted stars after the original creations are deemed worthy, of course.

                    1. re: eatnbmerry

                      Agree. Though your explanation makes me realize why I get that been-there-done-that feeling about the consistency of the three and four stars with the perfect food, décor and service.
                      I don't want to eat in museums.

                      Increasingly, I'm drawn back to perfect fried chicken, chefs who went to the local market that morning, a friend's gumbo, neighborhood bakeries, and all the other people and places where food is being prepared for me - not just for themselves - and for the pleasure of the food itself. That food has the spark of creativity, constant riffing.
                      If food is living art, that's where its soul is found.
                      I live to eat the kind of food that people keep alive because they truly love it as part of their daily lives.

                      1. re: MakingSense

                        TOUCHE! And what is more artful than that!

                    2. re: MakingSense

                      In film school, I learned a valuable lesson - art pre-supposes skill. Skill, alone, is not art.


                      1. re: Bill Hunt

                        Thank you for saying something I've felt for years. I know people who are skilled in many fields - painting, food, music - but just because you can do something, it isn't necessarily art.

                    3. re: maria lorraine

                      Well stated (as usual). It is in the performance, that art is created. The material might suffer a myriad of problems, but the right performer will take it beyond and tanesend all else. I've experience mediocre pieces, performed by artists, that set the bar, and set it high. As a visual artist, I always strive to create the ultimate expression, even for mundane items. I attempt to create the visual, by which that subject will always be judged. I want other photographers and visual artists to say, "OK, that has been done, and we can never do better. Let's move on... "


                    4. re: MakingSense


                      That actually DISAGREES with Steve. You are correct about the Yo-Yo Ma analong. One can play the notes, but that does not make it "art." It's about a lot more. A very large lot more. Some get it, but most do not.


                    5. re: Steve

                      By all means chefs are artists, by definition, and thus the food they create is indeed their art...

                      art: 1: skill acquired by experience, study, or observation 3: an occupation requiring knowledge or skill

                      synonyms art, skill, cunning, artifice, craft mean the faculty of executing well what one has devised. art implies a personal, unanalyzable creative power <the art of choosing the right word>. skill stresses technical knowledge and proficiency <the skill of a glassblower>. cunning suggests ingenuity and subtlety in devising, inventing, or executing <a mystery plotted with great cunning>. artifice suggests technical skill especially in imitating things in nature <believed realism in film could be achieved only by artifice>. craft may imply expertness in workmanship <the craft of a master goldsmith>.

                      1. re: crt

                        Sorry, but the definition you give of art has no bearing on this thread. What human activity, aside from dribbling saliva out of the side of your mouth, is NOT "a skill acquired by experience, study, or observation?"

                        The OP was not talking about "The Art of Getting a Good Scholarship" or "The Art of Setting a Table." The OP was trying to make a connection between the creation that chefs do and what painters or composers or choreograhers, etc do. An interesting idea, I admit, but one that I do not subscribe to.

                        1. re: Steve

                          "...and chefs are not artists."

                          I was addressing you, and your statement, Steve. Didn't you see the 're: Steve' pointer? You brought it up, not the 'OP'. You're certainly entitled to your opinion, but just because you or others 'don't subscribe to it', doesn't mean that just as many people do. It's just a matter of one opinion over another.

                          1. re: Steve


                            I am afraid that you have missed too much in your culinary experiences. If you have not experienced “art,” then you are the loser in this. I, on the other hand, HAVE experienced “art” in culinary endeavors. I feel badly for you.


                            1. re: Bill Hunt

                              Eh, don't feel so badly for me, I am a dedicated Chowhound who has found all around me (with some considerable effort) a wide variety of sublime, inexpensive eating experiences that are transporting. You've heard of Armchair Travel? I call it "Bar Stool Travel."

                        2. re: Steve

                          This is a sentiment, that I often hear. In most areas of the world, people eat to live. In certain others, they live to eat. There is a big difference. Only a true fan of the culinary arts could discern the differences. For those who do not know the differences, I feel great pain.

                          A pianist can play all of the right notes, but that does not mean that they are fulfilling the full extent of the music. A chef, or a cook, can hit the right notes, but there is still more that needs to come thorugh.


                          1. re: Steve

                            I must respectfully disagree. I am a visual artist by training and profession. I'm also a home cook. My cooking, as a process, works the same as when I am working on a painting, drawing, or a sculpture. These endeavours also have a craft aspect to them. A drawing can be purely functional, as in plans or diagrams, in which case it's not art, or it can express something of human aspiration and creativity. Sometimes with both activities, I have great successes, and sometimes, failures. I never have complete control over either, and when I improvise, I often hit upon something wonderful. Paint or a tomato.

                            1. re: Steve

                              To be clear though I'd say that food is not a FINE art (like painting or sculpture) but is an "art" (or craft) like shoe making or furniture making. Fine art has no practical utility like a boot or a dresser or a meal does.

                            2. I have been served dishes that were not that visually appealing, but made my mouth dance with joy, the same feeling I get from watching a good opera, ballet or listening to music. I have also been served dishes that were presented in such an artistic way that they were so beautiful you almost hated to mess them up by eating them, and they also tasted so good that it made my mouth dance with joy! So, to me, it can be an art form, in a roundabout way. It just isn't permanent like a painting is, except in my memories!

                              19 Replies
                              1. re: danhole

                                Food is meant only to give sustenance or pleasure or both. That has nothing to do with art.

                                1. re: Steve

                                  I agree with Steve. There is nothing wrong with calling cooking a craft. That doesn't belittle it. I know someone who considers dancing and acting both crafts, and the playwrights and choreographers the artists. Cooking doesn't mean anything beyond itself. Giving pleasure isn't enough.

                                  1. re: Glencora

                                    If I take a mediocre script and create a wonderful interpretation of it onto film, is the “art” mine, or the scrip writer, who did a so-so job? To me, it all depends on the execution, AND the final result. Was “A Wonderful Life,” the “art” of the screen writer, or Frank Capra?

                                    Sorry, but I do not quite buy into this train of thought.


                                  2. re: Steve

                                    I said ". . . an art form, in a roundabout way." I also expressed that was my opinion, not a fact. I thought that was allowed.

                                    1. re: Steve

                                      And what does great music impart besides pleasure? Great art? AND, you can't eat a Van Gogh. Based on any written definition of 'art' that you want to pick, it is hard not to read it and dismiss creative and great culinary skills as anything other than an art. But if you want to consider it a craft, so be it - I think we all can agree we enjoy the end product when it's well done.

                                      1. re: bnemes3343

                                        "What does great music impart besides pleasure?" I hope you're kidding.
                                        In art, pleasure is not even a given. Last night I saw a grim play about inner city gangs that was horrifying and revolting. I might consider it great art, but it certainly gave me no pleasure. Ideas, emotions, and physicality in art can all run the gamut from unlimited possibilities. THAT is what art offers INSTEAD of 'pleasure.'

                                        1. re: Steve

                                          Yes, one of the primary attributes of art is that it inspires emotional reponses that can and do run the gamut.

                                          Another, is that it is original in the sense that it embodies the personal expression(s) (often innermost) of the artist. Even though you may not have been a "founding member" of the Impressionist Movement or Cubism or Stream of Consciousness or Existentialism and on and on, doesn't mean that your creation/vision is any less original.

                                          If you are not a Rembrandt or Mozart or a Beatles or Elvis or Warhol is entirely irrelevant. The popularity or consensus opinion doesn't make you any less an artist as long as you are creating and effecting emotional response there to be it for or against be it pleasurable or disgusting.

                                          The cook/chef/slave (the name is just semantics) who CREATED the first pizza was an artist, the many who continue to make the same pizza are not. However, the few who from that pizza go on to CREATE something new (can be as little as making it "white" or as daring as adding golden caviar like what Puck did at Spago) are Arist too again subject to the gamut of emotional responses.

                                          I purposely chose the "common pizza" because art is not based on granduer but on creativity. In fact, to many (myself included), great art is nothing more nor less than taking the mundane/routine and creating a new vision, causing new emotional reactions to spring forth.

                                          A "still life" is as ordinary as fruits in a basket, but in Rembrandt's hand, those fruits take on a life of their own and bring to mind the faraway lands from which they sprouted or the farmers who picked them and so forth. Pizza can be as "ordinary" as __________ (fill in your favorite local spot) or can be transformed into something entirely different (Spago's version is again a great example) which causes one to reflect anew and wonder what else may be.

                                          So yes, Chefs can be artists, but not all are, just like all artists are not Chefs.

                                          1. re: eatnbmerry

                                            Not just emotions must be imparted, but ideas and physicality as well.

                                            The problem with considering food, or decorating, or the making of any craft as art is that these craftsmen are trying to please people with a commodity. If there are any ideas and emotions involved, even the first time a dish is created, they are simplistic and can hardly be considered new, even if the product is new. As where a work of art can be so complicated as to be never fully appreciated even after years and years of study.

                                            1. re: Steve

                                              While certainly not discounting your valid points...

                                              May I say that artists work to effect emotional responses. If it causes ideas to flourish than it is only from the initiating emotion(s), again running the gamut.

                                              Granted the artist can zero in on portrayals that will evoke certain emotional response which than leads to formulating specific ideas therefrom. Isn't it interesting that we call them masters of their craft at this stage if they are indeed able to achieve this bridge if you will.

                                              Picasso's Guernica is a perfect example. You FEEL discombabulated, fragmented and yes (like you say after further study) eventually rage. Then you realize its because so much innocent life was lost so quickly for so little. The idea that war is bad, Nazism evil, whatever, comes after the emotional response. Whether you continue to feel other emotions and derive other ideas on subsequent viewings can be viewed as adding heightened art value. But the length of time that it takes you to experience these newer feeelings and/or meanings is not relevant in the least.

                                              That is the artistic way, to evoke emotional response and hopefully create ideas which motivate and drive (the masters even try to steer) subsequent human endeavors. On the whole it is rarely achieved and thats why we have so few real masters.

                                              On the other hand, when you are dealing in the realm of primarily ideas than you are talking about what scientists do. And yes it may take forever to figure out some of their work (I for one never got past fundamental derivatives and integrals much to the chagrin of my "I want a doctor" parents).

                                              And aren't scientist generally portrayed as the antithesis of artist? Of course, and thats because they deal solely with ideas and try to stay as far away from emotion as possible.

                                              The great chef is much more like the artisit than the scientist. Even, I have to admit that Spaniard Ferran Adrià and his test tube foam creations appear to borrow more from the scientific world then any self respecting artist would ever admit to :). But even he, regardless of the methods employed to get there, wants to create a dish/taste/memory that evokes an emotional response. One that is unique and inventive, that lifts the human condition to a higher plane of understanding, of evolvement. In this respect, while as previously outlined their modus operandi differ, the artist and scientist DO have the same end goal.

                                              Einstein (a scientist with a lot of artist in him LOL) said it best when he said it was all relative.

                                              Steve, you write very well and I enjoy reading your posts. TC

                                          2. re: Steve

                                            I like this line about pleasure not being a given in art. And the example of the play.

                                            I've worked as a creative professional all my life and I love when a performance (of any sort) breaks new ground, when there has been some historical invention in the field of endeavor. I think about creativity a lot, what it is, isn't, and what seems to inspire it in me and others.

                                            But in regards to this play, you considered this art. Why? Because it was performed? Because the ideas were new? Were the actors artists? They were repeating another's lines. Was the playwright who wrote the play an artist? Because he invented something new? Was the overall performance art?

                                            What about the 50th time this play is performed (hypothetically speaking)? Are the ideas still new? Are the actors artists then? And what about a brilliant performance of some Shakespeare play? The ideas aren't new, the ideas weren't even new to Shakespeare, and you know the gist of the play. Is that art?

                                            I don't ask with any pretense to knowledge, but am searching along with you.
                                            [borrowed that from Plato]

                                            1. re: maria lorraine

                                              Plato the artist as opposed to Aristotle the scientist :).

                                              1. re: maria lorraine


                                                It is still art because the viewers are reacting emotionally to the performers nuances and of course the original playwright/score etc.
                                                Now whether its bad or tired art, now that is another question entirely. By the way, actors can also be artists or merely mimickers, in which case they can join SAG.

                                                1. re: eatnbmerry

                                                  I was using Steve's parameters above to frame my questions.

                                                  So, eatnbmerry, are you saying that the viewer/consumer of the art must be emotionally moved for the performance to be considered art? Are there activities outside the fine arts that can be considered art? Steve, I'm supposing, says no.

                                                  So is what makes it art the nobility/newness of the concept or the brilliance in execution? What is it? Does art always deal with ideas?

                                                  I'm just trying to get a handle on Steve's definition of art. And then use that to see if it can ever be applied to cooking or the end product.

                                                  1. re: maria lorraine

                                                    Like Steve and I both agree on I think, moved doesn't have to mean in a positve direction necessarily. You can also say that having no reaction is by its very definition also a response although perhaps a bit nihilistic (you were the one that brought up philosophers).

                                                    But Maria the real question is do you think that chefs can be artists? P

                                                    1. re: maria lorraine

                                                      So here is my definition of art. It's my own, not from any other source whatsoever:

                                                      Art is a man-made imitation of life in order to tell us something important that we didn't already know.

                                                      In order to imitate life, a complete work of art must represent the three ways life manifests itself: the intellectual, the emotional, and the physical. When an actor says "I need you" the idea could be "but it's not enough", the emotion could be a sense of hollowness, and the physical could be slamming a fist down on a table. But all three have to be present or it comes out flat or wrong or incomplete.

                                                  2. re: maria lorraine

                                                    The performing arts are evanescent. Notes on a page, lines of a play. They are meant to be performed, and then the performance vanishes. Tennessee Williams once said that a play on paper is only the shadow of a play, the blueprint for a play.

                                              2. re: Steve

                                                "Food is meant only to give sustenance or pleasure or both. That has nothing to do with art." By the same token, a rock is simply the result of geological force. But a person with vision & skill can transform this rock into sculpture or architecture..
                                                The transformation is the art, not the base materials IMO.

                                                1. re: meatn3

                                                  Then given the dearth of basic ingredients available to a chef (certainly in terms of flavors) you have absolutely made the point that a chef can be an artist. Thanks you!

                                                  1. re: meatn3

                                                    Yes, nature is not art. Art must be man-made. But not everything that is man-made is art, no matter how well it's made.