Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Art vs Craft...or both?

I was immediately drawn to this picture at the Victor Vasarley museum in Pécs, Hungary. My interest became all the more pronounced when I saw that it was from 1939. Way ahead of it's time, is what occurred to me.

Whenever people reference cooking as an art form in conversation, I have always responded that I consider it more of a craft, for myself at least. My meaning is that I treat cooking professionally as a skill that must first be honed before you can embellish with creativity. While I enjoy the imaginative side of cooking, I have always recognized that in my employment situations, keeping quality and adaptability at the root of the cuisine is the most intuitive way to operate. Well, sometimes I skew the line a bit. Furthermore, the non cooking responsibilities of a chef which can be daunting at times would seem to fall more into the craftsman way of looking at this question.

There are chefs though who are undoubtedly artists. Their efforts have pushed food forward throughout time just like masters of all other art forms. Food as art is subject to all the familiar critiques and whims. It can be celebrated or rejected. Bland or bold. Dated or ahead of it's time. Curiously, since food is a fleeting medium being created and destroyed almost instantly, the ability to catalog, study and celebrate it as we do most other genres in galleries and museums is radically different.

I'm curious what others think about this...


  1. I posted a tweet with my quick 140 character response. My full response:

    Cooking is like architecture. Craftsmen may create it with art in mind, but the finished product is utilitarian.

    Let's consider the architecture analogy. What constitutes a usable building? Four walls and a roof, probably. What are the base requirements for a usable dish? Edibility, obviously, but perhaps nutrition plays a role as well. This is tricky: raw lardo is acceptable, a shot of corn syrup is not. The way around it: food must carry with it (or informed by) tradition and culture, making it a valid anthropological medium.

    The impermanence of the medium doesn't matter. Dance is an art that is consumed immediately.

  2. Having spent a good deal of my life dancing before I became a cook, I agree with Ron on the fact that the impermanence of the medium isn't really relevant to the question of art vs. craft. (I think the impermanence adds to the drama and performance elements that seem to permeate both media, but that's a different subject.)
    I believe you can ask the question of art vs craft with almost any activity we humans put our minds and hearts to, and develop into obsessions over time. Painting can be both art and craft, for instance.
    The question that interests me is, where does "craft" end and "art" begin? And why do we feel the need to differentiate? As I spend each day "toiling" away in our food cart, I hone the craft of making lefse better each time I roll and bake it, and I perfect the art of bringing a joyful food experience to each and every customer, at least I hope so. Is the "craft" the part where I do the same thing over and over in search of something like perfection? And the "art" the part where I use creativity to decide what the week's special will be? I don't know, because I have to use the creative part of my brain to come up with better solutions on how to perfect the lefse, and I have to use my knowledge and experience in the industry to decide what would be an imaginative but profitable and seasonally appropriate special. In the practical AND creative reality of my daily life, then, "art" and "craft" blur to the point of seeming like meaningless distinctions.