Wayne Thiebaud, Cakes, 1963, courtesy the National Gallery of Art
A critic over at The Guardian, Jonathan Jones, wrote recently that food and fashion, because they get consumed either in or on the body, are not great art. He writes:
Art is of the mind; it is ethereal. Everything it gives us it gives to our brains. Fashion and food fail to be serious art because they are trapped in the physical world. Compare a still-life painting of food – one of those rich, laden Dutch images of lobsters and lemons – with a real plate of food. The painting is very obviously not food – it does not give what food gives. But it does nourish something deeper instead. It reaches the parts of us that chefs and couturiers cannot reach.
It’s an interesting, if not entirely new, concept. He points out that that chefs like Ferran Adrià at El Bulli create innovative, challenging dishes. But can they challenge you, teach you, or illuminate truths about the world around you? Put simply, have you ever been so affected by food as to have it change your life?
Ai Weiwei, Sunflower Seeds, 2010 (courtesy designboom.com)
I would respond by saying that art is about context. Thousands of sunflower seeds in my closet is just messy. As arranged by Chinese artist Ai Weiwei in the Tate Modern, it is most definitely art.
Jones’ argument also takes a pretty narrow view on the meaning of art. Not all art is Great, and meant to tackle life’s deepest questions. Art also brings people together through creative expression. It can come from tentative strumming on a banjo, or designing a new outfit, or creating something in the kitchen that you haven’t before. There’s more to be gained by considering them all art, rather than none.