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Reload the Canons!

This series of articles is an attempt to play through The Canon of videogames: your Metroids, your Marios, your Zeldas, your Pokemons, that kind of thing.

Except I'm not playing the original games. Instead, I'm playing only remakes, remixes, and weird fan projects. This is the canon of games as seen through the eyes of fans, and I'm going to treat fan games as what they are: legitimate works of art in their own right that deserve our analysis and respect.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Nomming Through The Gallery: Food and Art

I thought, in celebration of the traditional holiday bloat and inevitable self-recrimation that sets in around New Year's Eve 1, we should take time out to honor the noble Culinary Arts. Now, these are, like a lot of the art I talk about here, not what one would call high art. Not in the popular imagination, anyway. Oh, sure, everyone knows about the gold plated ice creams and the Larks Tongues in Aspic or whathave you.2 But those aren't what one would necessarily consider artistic, they're just really fucking expensive (which, in fairness, seems to be what passes for artistic value in our culture--but I digress).

And yet, people love good food. And they know good food, too, if they've grown up eating a variety of food that doesn't come in a little red box with a big yellow grin. Which is kinda weird, since art and food both ultimately appeal to the senses. Surely there can't be that big a division between taste and sight when it comes to determining art--and determining what we like. So, what qualities do art and food share? And what does one tell us about the other?

Food (And Art) Should Make Our Senses Happy

Food has a whole variety of tastes, and everyone has preferences. And, of course, some people are genetically wired to taste foods in different ways--hence why some people love broccoli and others hate it. And yet, most people know good flavor from bad flavor. And there's a whole taste of deliciousness that appeals quite strongly to our senses and fills us with pleasure. Check out Proust Was A Neuroscientist for the scoop on that one, by the way.

What's interesting, though, is that while we can distinguish good tastes from bad tastes, we don't need everything to be sugar coated. Sour and spicy things are pleasurable to eat too, even if they're also painful. So, saying that there are good and bad ways to mix flavor and texture and so on doesn't presuppose that there is only one ur-flavor we're going for, or that we can only have our senses appealed to in one way.

If we apply this to art, we find much the same thing is true. Art appeals to our sense of sight, hearing, or touch the way food appeals to our tongues and our noses. But, again, just because we can tell good flavor from bad flavor doesn't mean we need our art sugar coated: being aesthetically successful and beautiful does not mean that a subject cannot be bitter or sour or spicy. And, of course, we can recognize that something is put together well even if it's not really a flavor we enjoy. So, there isn't really a contradiction between good taste and personal taste.

Food (And Art) is a Way to Come Together

This calls back a bit to the Christmas article from the other day. Sharing food is a great way of expressing all sorts of things to others. There's a reason we talk about breaking bread, and there's a reason why meals show up so much in myths. The Last Supper, anyone? Sharing food and an experience of food is, I would argue, quite an empathic thing. This is why I try to eat food from outside my own nebulously defined culture. I'm not sure how much you can understand on a conscious level about another culture from their food, but on a level of simple bonding food is incredible.

The same goes for art. FILM CRIT HULK recently did an essay on why seeing movies in movie theaters is not just a good but an incredibly important thing. Having just gone out to the movies for the first time in quite a while, yeah, I have to agree with his analysis: there's something powerful about experiencing movies with other humans. The same goes for art galleries, to a lesser extent. It's cool to go out and see the art with another person, because you get to experience the tastes at the same time and compare notes. It's a way of coming closer to each other and, if you have the background for it, maybe you can come to understand the cook a bit better, too.

Which leads logically to:

Food (And Art) is a Means of Creative Expression

I come from a house where recipes are less a set of rules and more a set of vaguely defined guidelines. This is because once you really know the rules you can start to mess with them to fit your own taste. This is the reason why the cooking channel remains popular: people recognize and enjoy the fact that cooks are coming up with their own interesting blends and doing creative things with their dishes. Even though there's still a focus on quality, people appreciate a creative chef.

This is, again, how it is with art. We like to see something new and interesting, or a creative way of putting dishes together. There's always going to be more innovations, and while there are still things you can do to make a well flavored painting or sculpture, there's room for bending and breaking the rules in order to get a cool effect. So, art is about an individual or a group expressing themselves through creative problem solving.

My sister gets this:

My sister is pancakthulhu.

Anyway, what I think we can take from this is that art and food can learn from each other. Art discovers, via food, that there are certain things that do in fact work, but there's still lots of room for creativity, self expression, and unified experience within that. And, of course, Food discovers, via Art, that, well, it IS art! Food may be a lot more ephemeral than a painting or a sculpture, but it's often trying to do a lot of the same stuff. There are limits to what it can do as a medium, but hell, any medium has that. You can't paint a mural with felt tip pens, after all. Well, not efficiently, anyway. So, while we're elevating games and comics and music videos to the status of art, let's bring some food with us, huh? It's going to be a long, steep climb and I'm going to want snacks. You don't want to see me when I have low blood sugar.

Or you could just find out the connection between art and food the direct way--via the devouring of paintings:

 Ah, watteau, dear!

As always, feel free to leave comments, complaints, or, best of all, your own interpretations, or e-mail me at . And, if you like what you've read here, share it on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, Xanga, Netscape, or whatever else you crazy kids are using to surf the blogoblag these days.

1 And in honor of the fact that I need to go find some pictures for my next, far more [ahem] stimulating article

2 Sometimes they even know both part 1 and part 2, but usually only if they listen to college radio, or have relatives with a turn table. "That's a terrible joke!" "BUT IT'S MY ONLY LINE!"

1 comment:

  1. I am so going to paint you a mural with felt tip pens now. It's not going to be pretty, it will probably take forever, and I won't start any time soon, but this shit is happening. Just because you say I can't do so efficiently. That's how I roll.


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