Chapter 1. Can Cuisine Be Art?: A Philosophical (and Heterodox) Proposal
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part I  Taste of Art Methodologies and Critical Approaches 23 Chapter 1 Can Cuisine Be Art? A Philosophical (and Heterodox) Proposal Nicola Perullo Whether cuisine can be considered art is a very old question that philosophy has posited frequently since Plato’s time. In the history of Western thought, many of the answers, primarily negative ones, began with a hypothesis to be verified as to whether cuisine had such characteristics that would allow it to be assimilated or included in the domain of the arts and in particular those which, from 1700 onward, were defined as “fine arts.”1 Beginning in the eighteenth century, reasons for considering a positive approach toward cuisine as art became more evident, thanks to the vast changes taking place in modern Western society that, in the twentieth century, led to a profound subversion of art in general,from Duchamp’s readymades to installations, collage, and performance art. This subversion offered space for a positive answer to that old platonic question. Usually, approaching the question as to whether cuisine is art involves trying to discern, through particular and exceptional culinary results created by great chefs, conditions, elements, and structures that allow analogies with other already accredited art forms that do not require other justifications and that imbue cuisine with this status.A common demonstration that cuisine is a form of art involves discerning formal characteristics of a specific meal or particular dish that are analogous to ones in music, painting, sculpture, architecture, theater, and performance art.2 Often, even the chefs themselves take this perspective, working with artists and imitating procedures or 24 Taste of Art characteristics from other art forms. Naturally, there’s nothing wrong with bringing cuisine closer to other forms of art; as in all human activities, cuisine thrives on a fruitful contamination from diverse knowledge and practices. My position, however, is that this strategy is not very effective. In this essay I propose an inversion of perspective: to understand and accept the hypothesis that cuisine could be art, it is necessary to think of art as a cuisine. In other words, one does not proceed from accredited arts to cuisine, but rather from cuisine to art. This means definitively secularizing art and understanding it as a material practice ,which is process and performance oriented and contingent.As we already know,the possibility of understanding it in this manner is both ancient and modern at the same time.Ancient,because it is connected to a paradigm that has been relatively forgotten today, in which “art” designated a technical capacity, a way of producing, and a concrete know-how.3 Modern, because it regards a way of using it as a specific cultural experience, aesthetic, as well as a consumer good, which has been exponentially affirmed over the last hundred years. In the age of mechanical reproduction of artworks and of widespread aesthetics, art has become—or can be—something different with respect to its occurrences in terms of uniqueness and superior artifacts. The following nine theses for cuisine as art propose a theory that seeks to bring out the deep meaning of the values of the food, assuming that cuisine can be the art of everyday life in which aesthetic value and artistic value coincide.4 1. Cuisine can be art if there is cuisine that is not art Cuisine has a history in both its public and official dimensions as well as in its private and domestic ones. The question of artistic cuisine must be put in a correct historical and theoretical context. This leads us not to simply ask,“Is cuisine art?” but rather, when is cuisine art—in terms of historical, geographical, and, generally speaking, situated occurrences? Types, categories, or styles, however, do not identify the quality of the cuisine. Any type of cuisine can be art—both “high” Can Cuisine Be Art? 25 and “low” level, professional and domestic—but none is art by statute. Cuisine is an a posteriori art. In the West, the establishment of a code with respect to which we can legitimately pose the question of an artistic statute of cuisine is very recent: it was formulated in the eighteenth century—more than one hundred years later than that of the conventional arts—when the social role of the cook changed profoundly. If in the 1500s the great chef Bartolomeo Scappi—author of an Opera in six books published in 1570 and a reference point for all cuisine of the century—was the expression of...