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Is home cooking an art, or a craft?

Some friends and I were discussing this the other day-- do you consider cooking an art or a craft, or does it even matter? Obviously, food can be prepared "artistically," esp. when considering presentation, but when you're cooking dinner for the family, do you consider yourself an artist, or a crafts person. Or, are we the only crazy group of people who ever think about this kind of thing? ;)

First post, looking forward to discussions!

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  1. The simple answer is it is both.....but I favor cooks who approach it as a craft based on the foundation of basic fundamentals....not the whimsical experimenter.

    1. Depends on the amount of originality.
      If I cook exactly with a recipe, as a chef I consider myself a craftsman. Artistry would come in with the plating.
      If I am cooking using concepts and originality to combine ingredients using principles vs a strict recipe, I am being more artistic.

      1 Reply
      1. re: freia

        It seems that the OP is asking about cooking at home, for family, not "as a chef".

      2. Cooking is a skill which may be honed to a craft.

        If seriously considering "cooking" as a culturally defined "art", then one must immediately examine the definition of "art". I enjoy food as much as the next mammal; however, I would not confuse tasty, well-plated sustenance with art.

        1. Yes, it's both if you do it right, just as the proper pursuit of any art requires technical skills and the willingness to use them with care and attention. I am not the most skilled craftsman in the kitchen, being a tad clumsy with knives and frequently losing whatever tool I'd just put down, but I'd call myself a good cook. The skill I'm happiest about acquiring is the ability to make a coherent dish from a lot or a very few basic ingredients, because I know what those things taste like and can imagine how they'll taste together with adequate accuracy. I can also smell and taste an unfamiliar ingredient, such as an Ethiopian spice mixture, and come up with a dish to use it in, something that would be way outside our usual repertoire.

          As for recipes, those are mostly for inspiration, for studying and maybe trying. For most baked goods and sauces I'll follow recipes carefully, but for the things of that nature that I cook a lot, like gravies, thickened sauces and cornbread, I can easily wing it and maybe throw in some variations.

          1. I tend to think that it's more than an art or craft. Cooking is one of the purest expressions of what it means to be human: we must eat, and for most of our history we were required to cook in order to eat. I'd say it's most like love: usually rewarding, occasionally frustrating, and sometimes (if you're lucky) transcendent.

            1 Reply
            1. re: caseyjo

              An enthusiastic +1! And APPLAUSE re your last sentence--beautifully stated!

            2. I think it's a little of both.....I'll use a recipe as a base & then adjust based on what I have or don't have & what I think will work - craft. And I try to create something that looks somewhat artistic on the plate so people will eat it.

              A saying I like is "To cook is to create, and to create is an act of integrity and faith."

              1. Home cooking is an avocation.

                1. Thanks for the great replies! As a painter who cooks, or a cook who sometimes paints, I tend to agree that it's a little of both but lean towards the 'art' side of the aisle. I think it's all in how you approach it. You need the right tools and the right techniques, but I see my ingredients the way I see my colors when I'm painting....

                  1. I'd go with crafting (with science thrown in). To me, artistry suggests something that's less bound by rules; artists can use any tool and medium they wish. Crafts have a defined border (neither good nor bad). There's plenty of room for creativity, but we're still bound to our techniques and ingredients.

                    1. The beauty of cooking is really quite similar
                      to an ever growing and transforming multiple polygon...

                      Elusive, this art, craft, and science.
                      A dance of the brain and the fingers and tongue and the nose.

                      Cooking encompasses all.

                      First as matter most of gratitude that we live
                      in a place and an age where we could even debate this,
                      while so many before us did subsistence survival.

                      Cooking is sensual.
                      From the squeeze and the sniff of the ripeness of melon
                      To the multiple layers and aromas of just peeling an onion.

                      Cooking is life.
                      At each every moment of process
                      We gain from a pause, a perusal,
                      of singular moment of doing.

                      We do it for selves
                      We do it for others
                      We offer our science and craft and our joy.

                      1. Never considered it to be either.

                        It's just a task, like doing the laundry and mowing the lawn.

                        Some tasks are more enjoyable than others, but no more necessary (or less).

                        1. My personal super-simplified definition of art vs. craft is that art is not meant to have any practical purpose, and craft is. So if you cook food in order to eat it, you are crafting. If you cook food in order to regard it and contemplate it, you're making art. A crafted item can be beautiful and a piece of art can be useful (you can hang a painting to cover a hole in a wall, for instance). But I think the intent of the artist/craftsperson is what matters.

                          1. As an artist, I suck at crafts.

                            I think it's an art, but can be a craft. Depends on the artist or the craftsperson.

                            15 Replies
                            1. re: wyogal

                              I remember seeing an interview with Jacques Pepin who took issue the the thought that cooking was an art and chefs an artist. He adamantly claimed cooking a craft and cooks/chefs craftsmen.

                              So how does one differentiate a craft from an art? Both take skill and creativity although I think you can be doing a craft by following a rule or pattern where art is more creative.

                              1. re: scubadoo97

                                "So how does one differentiate a craft from an art?"

                                It helps to have a working definition of art. Mine has several parts:

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

                                In order to do that, art works on the three levels that life manifests itself: the emotional, intellectual, and the physical.

                                The severe limitation of food is that it is meant primarily to please and to make one happy. A sometimes wonderful, sublime, and worthwhile pursuit, but relatively shallow compared to the work of an artist.

                                Or to put it another way: there is no culinary equivalent of Beethoven's 7th, Picasso's Guernica, or Beckett's Krapp's Last Tape.

                                1. re: Steve

                                  Far and away my favorite definition of 'art':

                                  Art is whatever makes you proud to be human.
                                  - Amiri Baraka

                                  I would disagree that cooking is unable to reach the realm of 'art.' Ferran Adrian, for example, seems to be operating on all of the levels you've outlined.

                                  1. re: cowboyardee

                                    Well I think there is a ton of great art that does not make me proud to be human including every tragedy ever written! In fact, they can be profoundly shocking and depressing... and therein lies the limitation of 'cooking as art.' It's like handcuffing an artist and saying, "Fine, just show me the pretty ones. Don't make it like Guernica." In fact, a chef can say so little with the tools of his trade: most intellectual thought and almost all emotions are off limits.

                                    Maybe someday I will experience the cooking of Adria. But I doubt it.

                                    1. re: Steve

                                      You've completely misinterpreted the quote. The events of 1937 in Guernica make me ashamed to be human. Picasso's painting of those events has the opposite effect.

                                      "In fact, a chef can say so little with the tools of his trade: most intellectual thought and almost all emotions are off limits."
                                      A medium is only as limiting as you allow it to be. You sound like you're missing the intellectual and emotional processes behind great cooking simply because you're not looking for em.

                                      Anyway, what one considers art is FAR more subjective than you seem to think.

                                      1. re: cowboyardee

                                        I stand corrected about Guernica. Still, if you'd like to give me a culinary equivalent as an example......

                                    2. re: cowboyardee

                                      Or even a simpler item. I make a soup, split pea. If I've made it well it can have a rich lustrous green color. I can look at it and think it looks beautiful with the contrasting colors of carrot and potato floating on the surface. I makes me think of my grandmother who taught me this recipe. She's no longer with us and I miss her and thinking of her I can get emotional, she loved to cook and to share. I know she's in a better place as she was in quite a bit of pain at the end, but that is just an intellectual excercise. I still miss her. So I sit and eat this soup and think of her.

                                      Is that not the esesnce of art. to remind us of our humanity, to make us think, to make us feel?


                                      1. re: JuniorBalloon

                                        What you are describing is a totem. In that way, a tree can also do the same thing: for example, make you think of a time when a parent taught you how to climb a tree.... Surely you don't think a tree is art? how about a football game? Reading the stock quotes in the paper? Any of those things can represent a time in your life and make you happy or cry or elicit any number of responses.

                                        1. re: Steve

                                          If I made the tree then yes it could be art. I think your deffinition of art is too narrow. Which is ok, just different than mine.


                                          1. re: JuniorBalloon

                                            Here is where I draw the line:

                                            Remembrances of Things Past is a work of art. The madeleine was just a cookie.


                                            1. re: Steve

                                              When it comes to art, I don't draw lines. I would say that the telephone pole outside my house is not art, but I wouldn't say a telephone pole can never be art.


                                  2. re: scubadoo97

                                    I am not an artist because I create good food....
                                    I am an artist. That cooks. When I have flops, it's probably due to the lack of craftsmanship. and vice versa.
                                    But, my nature is not craftsmanship, it is art.
                                    and that is how I can live with myself.

                                    1. re: wyogal

                                      Right. They are not mutually exclusive. Shall we go down the path of what constitutes good or bad art?


                                      1. re: JuniorBalloon

                                        For bad art, I vote for 'dogs playing poker.' And clowns doing anything.

                                  3. Its an ego question if you ask me. No bigger ego statement in my mind than when someone has to say "but I am an artist".

                                    5 Replies
                                    1. re: thimes

                                      I'd say the bigger ego lies with those that criticize others that are expressing their truth.
                                      and no, I don't HAVE to say I am an artist. It's the truth. It's what I am, it's what I do. No shame in that, no ego.
                                      so get over it.

                                      1. re: wyogal

                                        interesting that you took it as a criticism and my comment wasn't directed at you either, responded to the OP before I even read the responses.

                                        1. re: thimes

                                          the placement of it was rather suspect, or coincidental to my post then. And how could I not take it personally?
                                          So, maybe interesting, but really not that hard to understand. I still found it insulting.

                                          1. re: wyogal

                                            Agreed it is oddly coincidental (but seriously - you think I was sitting here refreshing the page just waiting for someone to post a response like yours so I could sneak in and get my post right after them).

                                            You shouldn't find it insulting. Considering yourself an artist is a very real truth and I'm very thankful I work with people I consider artists every day.

                                            But needing other people to recognize you as an artist, or needing to define what you do as different as what others do is ego driven.

                                            It upsets me when I hear people (for this post we will consider chefs) differentiating what others do by saying things like "but what I do is more authentic" - "my food is more traditional" - "our food has more soul" - "but what we do is art". To me, needing to make those lines in the sand are only a way to validate ego, otherwise they would just be able to appreciate what is being offered or what they are experiencing without needing to validate or compare it against themselves.

                                            That is hopefully communicating what I mean.

                                            1. re: thimes

                                              Much better, thanks.
                                              I just really suck at crafts because my stuff never ends up like it is supposed to because of all the left turns I take.... the "zone" thing..... and doing what I am compelled to do, not what the directions tell me.
                                              Which has served me well.

                                    2. we all have our talents.
                                      we all have our particulars learned.

                                      1. For me it's an enjoyable hobby. When I used to have to cook to earn money I never really enjoyed it. Now it's something I do for fun. Once the basics are really understood it's possible to prepare just about anything, assuming you have the basic ingredients, which is tasty.

                                        1. For me it is an enjoyable skill. Not sure I'd do it if we didn't need to eat.

                                          1. Art or artist implies a mastery of media and techniques, and originality. Craft implies imitation, that is to say, not original ideas, though it can certainly entail mastery as well. Of course anyone can call themselves an artist without acquiring or honing the requisite skills, and many people do call themselves artists merely because they use art media to produce a product they call art. But one really must learn the rules before breaking the rules; that applies to just about any endeavor but certainly to art and to cooking.

                                            Unless one is a home cook with the skills and culinary expertise as someone like Thomas Keller, or Grant Achatz, it is presumptuous to consider what one does "art". Heck, it may not even approach the status of craft. I call it cooking.

                                            7 Replies
                                            1. re: janniecooks

                                              I don't know where on earth you get the idea craft is imitation.

                                              1. re: magiesmom

                                                this explanation from a 1913 Websters: “An artist is one who is skilled in one of the fine arts; an artisan is one who exercises any mechanical employment. A portrait painter is an artist; a sign painter is an artisan, although he may have the taste and skill of an artist. The occupation of the former requires a fine taste and delicate manipulation; that of the latter demands only an ordinary degree of contrivance and imitative power."

                                                1. re: janniecooks

                                                  But a sign painter is not a crafter, either.

                                                  1. re: magiesmom

                                                    There is a whole range of craftspeople or crafting skills. A sign painter certainly is a craftsperson - a signpainter is a skilled painter, probably can draw, is generally a master of pigments and media, and is a skilled designer. But they don't usually create the works they paint. He is not a "crafter" of the sort who make scrapbooks or such, nor the king of craftsperson who, say turns bowls from wood on a lathe, but a craftsperson nonetheless.

                                                  2. re: janniecooks

                                                    100 year old definition for the times, I suppose. By that definition Man Ray is a craftsman, not an artist as he used a camera?

                                                    1. re: freia

                                                      There are many in the art world today who do not consider photography art, but I'm not sure I'd consider what Man Ray did as mere photography. Re the definition, it was just something I happened to come across, it resonated with me and I saved it. Do you really believe that there is no relevance in something if is was created before you were awakened?

                                                      1. re: janniecooks

                                                        ??? What I'm saying is that the definition from 1913 may not be as relevant in 2012, given our use of technology, Of course there is relevance, but times do indeed change and definitions and principles within the fields of art, science, philosophy and so on actually do change with the times.

                                              2. The words art and craft are not easy to define: but do you have a 'working' definition?

                                                For me, OF COURSE cooking is not an art, because it in no way fits my definition of the word.

                                                It is pure craft.

                                                1. Going backwards by asking "what is art?" I think you can make a fair argument that cooking does indeed have a lot in common with what you could call artistry. All cooking, even home cooking, can be pleasing or interesting to the senses. It can evoke memories, emotions and feelings. It has a character that ties it to its creator. Good cooking is almost always the result of many failed attempts at capturing just the right tone or feel to a dish. It may be practiced as a craft, but it is certainly perfected as an art.

                                                  2 Replies
                                                  1. re: gilintx

                                                    True, art can be is 'pleasing or interesting to the senses' but that is the MDR: the Minimum Daily Requirement. Any good art will go way beyond that into realms of intellectual, physical, and emotional depths that good cooking can't touch upon. Unless you think there is a culinary equivalent to Beckett, Joyce, Glass, Beethoven, or Picasso (that hack!).

                                                    1. re: Steve

                                                      I would probably put Adria or Achatz in the category of chefs whose dishes go beyond simply stimulating the senses to creating emotional and sensual experiences. That intellectual stimulation would necessarily be a requisite is an interesting question; in art, as in food, I'll tell you if I think it's good art once I've seen it / tasted it.

                                                  2. It has elements of both. Cooking and playing music often strike me as very similar (though that might be because it's the two forms of art that I know best).

                                                    That said, 9 times out of 10 I'd rather eat food cooked by someone who considers themselves a serious craftsman than someone who considers themselves a serious artist. Of course there are exceptions - no offense is intended to any of those who consider themselves artists here. But I feel like if you pay lots of attention to the craft of cooking, the art of it comes naturally. In contrast, if you pay a lot of attention to the art of cooking, you may still need a lot of work on your craft.

                                                    1 Reply
                                                    1. re: cowboyardee

                                                      This is how I feel about it as well.

                                                    2. Neither. It's what brings food on the table.

                                                      1. I think it can be both, depending upon who is doing the cooking and what is being cooked. Certain dishes my best friend makes definitely qualify as more art than craft, even though they are very straightforward and have a modest number of ingredients. My cooking, on the other hand, tends to be craft of the most basic and utilitarian kind.

                                                        1. I'm an infrequent Chowhounder but this question was too intriguing to pass up! As a home cook & baker and now a teacher of these in my own institute, I'd say these are crafts when it's done for others and an art when done by or for oneself. I'm not sure if I'm explaining this well but here it is.... When I teach, I try to convey the fundamentals so that the student feels confident enough to push their own barriers. Akin to learning driving... once learnt, not only should one be able to drive any vehicle in a pinch or situation but also have one's own personal style of driving. So following a recipe for a tested end result would be craft but then tweaking/substituting/creating would be art. Not all can do the latter.... By the way, I constantly tell my students that there is a lot of Physics & Chemistry going on in cooking, baking etc as well as History, Geography & let's not forget Psychology!!

                                                          1. i think it is sometimes a craft and many times a chore.

                                                            imo the most important thing it *can* be is a form of cultural expression that incorporates the cook's tastes and talents along with family traditions, local terroir/ingredients, season, even economics, to make a product that truly reflects back the person and social/cultural situation that made it.

                                                            like, erm, a folk dance, but more tangible and pragmatic.

                                                              1. It's both, with endless possibilities and a lifetime of learning. My craft is honing techniques and my art is creating flavors and improving my food photography skills.

                                                                1 Reply
                                                                1. re: monavano

                                                                  OK, good pic - but wipe off the front rim first. The spots are distracting.

                                                                2. I think it depends- what do you do?

                                                                  1. When my wife and I are cooking for one another it's all about the craft because we often experiment with one another's palate (the "for better or worse" part!), so its important to get the basics right, especially if an unfamiliar technique is involved.

                                                                    Cooking for the kids is usually all about routine and health and what they'll eat etc, the usual game. My daughter is the only one who care about presentation but she's 5 ;-)

                                                                    Many families we know consider cooking a chore so the arts and crafts part never comes into play. Those of us to love to cook, and love to cook for others can play the self-absorbtion mind games once in a while because it can be fun, as long as you don't take yourself too seriously.

                                                                    To answer your question, to most people it's probably neither. Damn shame.

                                                                    1. Both but more craft than artistry. And yes, it matters. Cooking to me is almost always pure joy; very rarely a chore. It is what I am happiest doing and am extremely passionate about the process. Nearly each dish I create I consciously make it the best it can possibly be. For me it started out as a craft and has evolved into artistry as well.

                                                                      As it says in the book "Culinary Artistry", "...without being really highly skilled in the craft, I don't believe you can ever attain artistry. A craftsperson is someone who masters technique and can do a lot of dazzling stuff with technique. And that comes from practice. Artistry can come from people with virtually no skills with a knife at all. That's cooking in the soul-and some people have that, some people don't. The artistic is intuitive." I cook with my mind, soul and gut.

                                                                      1. As a strong home cook, not one who has dedicated my life to cooking, I consider cooking a craft. Some do knitting or building models or woodworking, or yes, even paint as a hobby and I consider cooking, for me, in the same category of craftsmanship. I do believe there are true artists of cookery, but they are few, just as true artists of any media are few.That is just my opinion, but I do not believe my work as a home cook, even a creative one, qualifies as art any more than I qualify my mother's very impressive, beautiful jewelry making as art vs. craft.

                                                                        I also want to say that the results of a craftperson´s work should should be something appreciated and respected and not derided as "not art". In all mediums.

                                                                        1. For everyone it's different IMO. For some it's a necessary evil (like for one of my daughters) LOL For me it's all of the above at the same time, some times. It's a hobby for me. Sometimes I screw up big time. Some times I'm proud of the result. Sort of like what a person who carves wooden ducks goes through. LOL
                                                                          Welcome to the site.

                                                                          1. Both. I am so passionate about cooking that when I do not cook for a day (i.e. last week) something is missing. I need it. I crave it. My food is artistic and creative, often using challenging and unusual ingredients. It is great fun to create things from what is on hand, too. Sometimes I am at another home and the challenge is to make something great with limited ingredients. That is my wheelhouse. Often with unusual ingredients come new skills/techniques which I am eager to learn and absorb like a sponge. If I am not cooking, I dream of cooking and plan what to have the following days.

                                                                            Making things from scratch can be an art and can take skill. There is so much involved in cooking that is beyond an art and craft. Don't forget science, too! :)

                                                                            1. Cooking dinner for the fam-- little "artistry" is involved.
                                                                              Also, it would be a conceit to say I "craft" meals.

                                                                              When I'm done preparing what I want to eat and enough for them they can call it what they will.

                                                                              1. Cooking isn't something I need to be presented like a Picasso. I think once you learn basics, it becomes a "craft". Once you just KNOW certain things WILL go together, you experiment!

                                                                                1. IMO, it depends- are you more like Sandra Lee or Masaharu Morimoto? That's the difference between crafty stuff and real art.