Is Cooking Really an Art?

the-art-and-science-of-cooking-feeldesain-06
Image taken from http://www.feeldesain.com, “The Art and Science of Cooking.” Photo taken by Ryan Matthew Smith.

I am not a good cook.  In fact, my skills are limited to frozen pizza, pancakes, grilled cheese, and anything I can make off of the back of a Pillsbury box.  That being said, when people call cooking an art, it baffles me, because my experience of art has always been limited to performing and visual arts.  What merits does cooking have as an art form?  In other words, what exactly is art?

Well, in short, there is no one answer.  My definition has always been something that can be done by an individual or a group for fun, and can be equally enjoyable to an individual or a group who experiences their creation.  If this definition is true, then cooking is most certainly an art, as the chef or chefs create something and it is (ideally) enjoyed by those who consume it.

But this is where things get interesting.  Cooking, unlike most other art forms, relies mostly on taste and smell, rather than touch, sound, and sight.  So we must ask ourselves, are we able to trust our senses of smell and taste to experience art the same way we trust our other senses to experience the visual and performing arts?

For many consumers, sight trumps all, and because of this sight actually can bring biases into the experience of tasting food.  For example, in 2001 Frederic Brochet had 54 undergaduates who had specificially studied wine tasting and making describe two wines.  The 54 students all described the wines differently, when in actuality they were both the same white wine with half of the samples dyed red.  When sight seems to be so heavily relied upon, does taste really matter to the extent required to call tasting an “art-form”?

This brings me to my last point, does art have to be thought-provoking?  Most people would say no, as many movies and pictures elicit no such response, but to those people I ask, would you consider stock photographs and summer block-busters art?  Again, I would assume most people would say no.  Society holds art to a very high standard, especially those who call themselves artists.  I suppose this is to validate art as a profession and culture, so if we as a society claim that art must elicit some type of thought, does cooking really count?

Of course we know that cooking is thought provoking for chefs.  They meticulously plan out meals with specific ingredients and flavor patterns; however, can the same be said for those who experience their creation?  Besides a quick “this is good” or “this tastes salty,” does cooking actually force us to think about an idea or concept?  I can not answer this question for everyone, I can only pose it, yet I find myself unequivically shaking my head “no.”

So, who knows?  I can not pretend to experience what it is like to cook or to eat for everyone.  The best I can do is to generalize off of my own experiences, and based on the criterea I have set forth, I must draw the conclusion that cooking is not art, at least not in the traditional sense of the word.

 

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