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This essay will examine the relationship between food and art by asking if food can be thought as an artwork, and if so, the commonalities it shares with other art pieces. To discuss the feasibility of the aforementioned relationship, this essay will use a particular example, through which different theories will be analysed. However, it is important to put forth this essay’s hypothesis, which agrees that food can be thought as an art piece, a concept which will be discussed later on.
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Our example concerns the figure of the Catalan cook Ferran Adrià, who had the best restaurant in the world, El Bulli, for five years, with the added accolade of three Michelin stars until 2011, when it closed. The reason why this case has been chosen has to do with the fact that Ferran Adrià has been compared as an artist and his dishes as unique artworks by different experts in gastronomy.
FOOD AS AN ARTWORK
In order to analyse if this connection is feasible, it is important to discuss the notion of food and its role in the society, an aspect that can be easily linked to the idea of artwork. Different authors have discussed the social function of food in the society. For instance, J. Hegarty(2001) says that one of the principal differences between animals and humans is the fact that we cook our aliments, which causes cultural differences among humans. Moreover, he also argues that cooking is something that humans learn and, therefore, it is not an innate characteristic but an idea that can be related to the dichotomy between nature and culture, discussed by different classic anthropologists, such as Claude Lévi-Strauss. Since food is one of the aspects that differentiate humans from animals and the notion that cooking is an acquired skill, it does belong to the culture. This is enough to conclude that food has an impact in the society. However, there are other reasons why, such as those discussed by O. Castillo and E. González(2007), who purport that during the process of eating, human beings are also looking for other social elements, as establishing new friendships or partnerships. All these ideas discussed by these scholars can be applied in different societies and in specific social contexts, which will help to understand the importance of food within it. For instance, in the case of the birthday of a family member, all the family will meet up and have a meal together, normally lunch or dinner. In this case, the idea of meeting up to eat is used as an excuse to gather together all the family. This is only a particular social context that can be used to exemplify this connection between food and its role in the society as a process that goes beyond the simple fact of eating.
So far it can be seen that food has a function in the society, which is a considerable aspect in order to link it with an artwork. As this module has shown throughout the term is that art pieces have social meaning and they structure a part of the society. One example could be the Bark Paintings, a type of Australian Aboriginal art, which are a re-representation of the landscape. Mainly, these form a representation of the external memory recalling clues of the ancestral intention, which is encoded in the landscape, linking emotional ties with the land and the presence of the ancestors in it. Another example could be the basketry by the Yekuana, which is used to structure the society in a particular way; as Guss says, “Basketry therefore becomes a significant indicator in the general growth and competence of an individual, used to chart not only practical knowledge but also status and identity”(2006:380). Whit both examples it has been shown how art also has a role in the society influencing different aspects of such.
In the case of El Bulli, this idea that food goes beyond the simple fact of eating is also represented mainly attributed to two reasons. Firstly it can be thought that because of the high prices (minimum 400â‚¬/person) the people that decided to go there expected something more than just the food. Secondly, the fact that the waiting list was minimum two years it is another element that shows that the costumers looked for something else than just food but all the experience that goes with it.
Some scholars have argued that food cannot be considered art because of its inherent and basic function: consumption. Before discussing this question, it is important to talk about the concept of aesthetic reactions, which in the words of Hegarty(2001), it is related to the idea of beauty, and specifically in the case of gastronomy:
“This translates into menu balance and harmony in such areas as colour, temperature, taste and texture which in some cases can be dictated by the aesthetic demands of the raw materials which are used to create a gastronomic work”(2001:12)
From this quote it can be said that if a specific dish has the characteristics mentioned, then it would be thought as beautiful and therefore as art.
This idea of aesthetic reactions is also discussed by Tefler, who says that the aesthetic qualities can be “characterised as non-neutral, non-instrumental, having certain intensity and often accompanied by judgements for which the judgers claim a kind of objectivity”(2002:11). In other words, for Tefler an object has an aesthetic reaction if it is appreciated for its own characteristics, it can impress the viewer and it is not influenced by a personal criterion.
In El Bulli’s case of study the idea of aesthetic reactions is useful because it is one of the characteristics associated with art. Aside from the different opinions of it, it can be said that the notion of aesthetic reactions is mainly related with the idea of beauty, and also to the different characteristics given by Tefler. Regarding this example, it can be seen that some of the dishes do not look as food at first sight but they can be thought as a portrait or as an artistic photograph  . Moreover, if the Hegarty point of view is taken into account, the harmony of Ferran Adrià’s dishes can be related to the idea of beauty and then to the concept of aesthetic reactions, which is a key concept for the art pieces.
However, some scholars believe that food cannot be thought as art because of its function, such as M.L.Quinet(1981), who has the argument that the function of art is to provide an object for aesthetic contemplations and, on the other hand, the food’s function is its consumption, which causes that these two concepts cannot be associated. However, she also states that in some cases food can be considered art as long as it has an aesthetic function and it is not expected to be eaten. This idea is relevant to demonstrate that what makes this discussion so complex is the main function of the food. But even if the purposes between them are different, it does not have to be the only criterion to conclude that food is not art. The Quinet’s idea is helpful because it introduces a key difference between the art’s function, an idea discussed later on.
Finally, it is relevant to discuss Tefler’s idea that not all objects with aesthetic reactions can be considered artwork, because they do not share the characteristics of what constitutes an art piece, a point I will endeavour to explore next.
An artwork is by Tefler a “man-made thing, even if the human involvement need consist of no more than putting a natural object in a gallery and giving it a title”(2002:12). She differentiates between artwork which can be seen in a classificative or evaluative manner. In general terms, an artwork in the classificative sense has to do with how the object is regarded and if it is intended for an aesthetic consideration. On the other hand, an artwork in the evaluative way deals with the idea if the object deserves the merit of being considered as such. This difference in the meaning of an artwork is useful in terms of knowing that the concept of art cannot be thought as a static one with only one meaning. In regard to food this categorisation is also useful, because as Tefler says, food can be thought as art in the classifying way of artwork, since for many cooks and costumers some meals are intended to be considered in an aesthetic consideration, in other words, “to be savoured, appraised, thought about, discussed”(2002:14). So, the main point of those meals is not to provide nourishment but to have a further experience. This idea of food as an artwork in a classifying sense can be highly related with Ferran Adrià’s work, which requires a lot of thought and analysis before cooking it, and its aim is to provide an unforgettable experience to the customer, which goes beyond the simple fact of eating.
In relation to this classification of artworks it is also important to mention the difference between art and craft, which is argued by various scholars. Quinet, who thinks that food cannot be considered art in general terms, concludes that “The culinary arts, one might claim, are indeed arts, but only when we use the term ‘art’ in the sense of mere ‘craft’; and this is not the way in which the term is used in aesthetics”(1981:159). The difference between art and craft is also analysed by Tefler, who says that it lies in the degree of creativity, so something is considered art if it is an original creation and when the object is a result of carrying out instructions then it is contemplated as craft. The relationship between this classification and food is significant, because depending on the level of creativity in the process of cooking, food could be thought as art or not. Even if in general terms a receipt is being followed when cooking, in the case of El Bulli, the creativity applied in their dishes is enormous, because there is a long process of analysis behind with the goal to create new imaginative dishes. One example of such could be the dish called Peach paper  , which is presented as a letter or also the liquid olives  , which is the result of a complex molecular technique created by Ferran Adrià named spherification. Hence, the food cooked in El Bulli can be considered an art according to the amount of creativity.
In relation to this difference between art and craft it is also advantageous to mention the classification between fine and useful arts, argued by Hegarty. The useful arts are those that are utilitarian, such as the design of a building or furniture. However, fine arts are defined by seeking “to relate, to communicate and commune between people in that, the artist assumes an audience when he/she for example, writes a poem or paints a picture”(2001:8). Food can be related to this last idea of fine art, as well as theatre, music or dance(Anson,2006), an idea that can also be known as minor art.
This essay has discussed the idea that food can be considered as art by using a specific case of study, El Bulli. Different arguments have been put forth to demonstrate the existence of this connection between art and food, such as its social role in the society as well as other artworks.
Concerning the case of study of this essay, it can be said that El Bulli’s dishes can be related to the idea of artwork. One reason is their aesthetic reactions, meaning that they are associated with the concept of beauty, causing the difficulty to differentiate some of them from portraits. Another reason is because their function goes beyond the idea of nourishment, since they are expected to provide a further experience. Furthermore, they have a high degree of creativity, which makes it possible to correlate them with the idea of art and differentiate them from the notion of craft.
Soup of pink grapefruit with tarragon and praline salted with black sesame (2003)
Blooming cucumbers in vinegar with mustard seeds and tarragon (2004)
2m of Parmesan spaghetti (2003)
Tree passion fruit (2005)
Ties of beet with vinegar powder (2004)
Paper of peach “Tramontana” (2005)
Spherical green olives- I (2005) Liquid olives
Bicolour wafers of carrot and beet (2004)
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