Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Arty Wednesday: Art/Food in the Washington Post

Can food ever be elevated to the level of art? Even really great art?

Not a new question, right? Especially not here on this blog, where I've written about food and art more times than I can count. My take, very simply, is that yes, it can.

Blake Gopnik is not so sure. But Ferran Adria and Jose Andres are doing their damndest to convince him.

On the eve of the US publication of Adria's elBulli book, Food for Thought, Thought for Food, Gopnik, the Washington Post art critic, visits and eats with Adria at elBulli in Spain and with Andres at Minibar right in DC.

Gopnik eats a lot of crazy things that look like one thing but taste like another, or look like one thing and taste like that thing, but have a different texture, or look and feel like what they taste like, but are made in some unusual manner.

In addition to eating, Gopnik chats. He listens as Adria insists it's not about technique. But it's not exactly about the food itself, either - at least not how the food tastes. It's about what he wants to say with the food. The message.

He quotes Andres, who says, "We don't want to feed people, we only want to have a conversation."

Gopnik describes Adria' cuisine as, "a new language, yes, but without an identifiable homeland, and with the possibility that it will be radically reinvented at any moment. That instability makes it barely even count as a language."

None of this feels new to me, but I have been arguing with my family and friends about food and art and various related topics for a while now. The message-driven, not-quite-a-language status of this outsider cuisine reminds me, in a way, of conversations I've had with my dad about minimalism.

It's more than a little difficult to appreciate the minimalist movement unless you know a lot about the theory behind it and the history of all the art that came before. Yes, it's peaceful to look at a white canvas, but it's also easy to write it off as hackery. To enjoy it, you have to buy into the idea that theory's important when it comes to art (or food). My dad absolutely detests minimalim because he doesn't buy into the validity of theory-driven art. I have a feeling he'd do some scoffing at Adria's brand of cheffery, as well.

Ultimately, Gopnik enjoys his meals and his conversations. But he's not sold.

I, however, am not totally sold on his conclusion. I can't help but read it as art snobbery trumping food snobbery. Though he makes a blanket statement suggesting that, "of course food can be art," I'm not convinced that he's willing to open his mind to even consider food on the same plane as more traditional forms of art.

Finally, as a bit of an aside, the title makes the "palate/palette" joke that I'm sure I've used way too many times. And the video caption uses "Guernica" a shorthand, which I totally do, all the time. I can't figure out if Gopnik, his headline writer, and I are all kind of lazy, or if we're all smart, awesome writers. Until somebody tells me differently, I'm going with the latter. After all, why not?

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