What is art? And who qualifies as an artist? I’m always asking myself these two questions. I think I aspire to being an artist, but I was born a business-woman. Seriously! It couldn’t have been nurture with me because by the time I was 5 years old I was already out selling my wares to my neighbors: walnuts. The market was very crowded. Everyone had their own walnut trees, but I didn’t let that detract me from my mission – to earn a little candy money (or maybe it was for a new pair of shoes…. could my shoe addiction have started as early as that?). I was born in the late 60s (ok, very late 60s) and neither my absent anthropologist father nor my working mother encouraged my natural inclination to earn money. It was my nature. My dad was a hippie and my mom a therapist. Everyone needs money to live on but some people look down on it as a dirty necessity. That was my dad. My mom was just a struggling single mom, and broke. She was a bit bemused my early capitalist streak.
But what does that have to do with art? I really wanted to be an artist. I used to play the guitar at our neighborhood park. Music is art. I just didn’t get the great musician genes my dad and grandparents on both sides had. I didn’t really cultivate it either; I figured it was better to work on earning a living than to be a struggling musician (or therapist). But I may have some of my mom’s genes, those that dictate whether a person is an extrovert, whether he loves talking to people and even gets kicked out of class for talking too much. I have 4 generations of report card to prove that gene is alive and well in me. Or the gene that drives me to fill my house with people and feed them even if I can’t pay the phone bill, like when I was back in university. I was so poor then that my girlfriend and I would invite guys to the house, get them to bring the groceries and then I’d cook. We would have starved otherwise. Maybe cooking is in my nature. Or then maybe it is nurture…My mom filled the house with people practically every night, for either dinner or just stimulating conversation. I certainly learned the art of dinner party conversation from my mother.
Anyway, back to food as art or the art of food… Art is defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary as: “the conscious use of skill and creative imagination especially in the production of aesthetic objects; also : works so produced.” Food is beautiful! When it is in nature, it is beautiful, and therefore art. And when it is nurtured into some divine combination of dishes in a harmonious menu of point and counterpoint, contrast and texture it is also art. What is it that a chef does to make what we consider great meals? Isn’t the composition itself an artistic expression? Is a chef a chef because of his or her nature, or have they cultivated their skill and creativity? Is it artistry because somehow “it is the expression of what is beautiful, appealing, or of more than ordinary significance?” (another dictionary’s definition of art). I’m not at all sure. I cook because I am passionate about food and because it is in my nature to nurture. Yet as I think about it, I am not sure I would consider myself an artist. But I love food and tomorrow I am teaching a group of people to cook some amazing, yet simple recipes; helping them let their hidden inner chef out – a practice in the art of food.