Elizabeth Telfer, Food as Art


        Most think that while food/drink can produce aes (=aesthetic) reactions (aes experience), they cannot be an art form or involve works of art

        Telfer thinks food can be a work of art and type of art form, but it is minor rather than major art


        Assumption of Telfer’s

                  Anything viewed: Anything can be viewed aesthetically

                    -        Can be aes reactions to most anything, including non-art human artifacts (e.g., pieces of machinery and factory chimneys) and natural objects (e.g., sky or flowers)


        Aes reactions have five features

                  (1) Non-instrumental (intrinsic valuings)

                  (2) Non-neutral

                    -        But not necessarily pleasurable

                  (3) Frequently sensual (but not always or necessarily so)

                  (4) A degree of intensity

                  (5) Frequently objective, i.e., accompanied by judgment that claims a kind of objectivity


        (1) Non-instrumental, intrinsic valuings

                  Aes reactions are non-instrumental (or disinterested)

                  E.g., Not an aes reaction if we react favorably to a play because

                    -        Earn money for us

                    -        Teaches fine moral lesson

                    -        Successful venture for a playwright we know

                  For these are instrumental valuings

                  Must appreciation play for its own sake (intrinsically)


        (2) Non-neutral: Aesthetic responses are non neutral

                  (According to Urmson) They are not neutral responses, but a species of pleasure

                  Telfer agrees with the non-neutral claim, but not with the pleasure claims

                  Aes reactions need not be pleasurable/favorable

                    -        Could be painful or negative in other ways (e.g., disgusting)

                  Even when favorable, pleasure is often not the right way to characterize an aesthetic reaction

                    -        Intrigued by pattern of clouds

                    -        Excited by lightening

                    -        Awed by the falls

                    -        “Pleasure” is not a good way to describe these feelings

                  Similarly, in “Terrible Beauties,” Carolyn Korsmeyer argues that aes value only sometimes presents itself as pleasure

                    -        Other times, aesthetic value (aesthetic reactions) might involved

                                      Being riveted by something

                                      Experiencing the sublime (which isn't pleasurable as it might involve fear)

                                      Arousal of discomforting emotions

                                         *        Descriptions of the suffering of loved characters in novels

                                         *        Art genres that emphasize the grotesque, the shocking, the morbid, the horrifying, and the ugly

                   "Aesthetic pleasure is better understood as a kind of affective (e.g., feeling or emotional) absorption" (Koorsmeyer)

                    -        This fits with the “non-neutral” language of Telfer/Urmson

                  Question: Might aesthetic responses be neutral in the sense of equally positive and negative?


        (3) Aesthetics and sensual appearance:

                  In many cases, an aes reaction is one based solely on how object appears to the senses

                    -        Though there are cases where an aes response is not necessarily sensual–e.g., the appreciation of a novel

                  Food example:

                    -        Aes if like way cottage cheese contrasts in flavor and texture with th rye bread;

                    -        Not aes if pleased with combination because low-calorie and high fiber.


        (4) Need intensity to insure that non-instrumental liking of sensual phenomenon is aesthetic

                  Weak “that’s nice” reaction (“without really taking something in”) doesn’t merit name aesthetic

                  Intensity need not involve

                    -        Actively paying attention or concentrating (being impressed with a short-lived lightening flash aesthetic but no time for concentration)

                    -        Nor analyzing what seen/heard (there is nothing to analyze when aesthetically enjoying blue sky)


        (5) Objectivity often involved (pp. 12-13)

                  Believe the aesthetic object is warranting or meriting or deserving of one’s response

                  Has qualities others would (and should) appreciate too (or come to appreciate)

                  Aes judgments (often) claim to be valid or well-founded and are such that it makes sense to argue about them, even if the arguments often can’t be resolved

                  Epistemic not metaphysical objectivity: This is not the same as claiming the aesthetic objects have aesthetic properties (e.g., beautiful, graceful, awe-inspiring) in themselves, regardless of how humans respond to them (metaphysical objectivity)


                  Can make aes judgments in absence of non-neutral reactions that usually go with them

                    -        Landscape that normally would delight leaves me indifferent today, but still see it as beautiful (it’s the kind of thing that ought to delight people and normally would delight me too)


        Reactions to food meet all the above criteria and so are plausibly aesthetic

                    -        Telfer assumes (claims it is generally agreed) that there can be aes reactions to tastes and smells

                  Distinguish liking taste and smell of food (intrinsically valuing it) from approving of it instrumentally (nourishing)

                  Distinguish the person who enjoys her food but does not notice what she eats from person whose awareness is more vivid; only later has an aes experience

                    -        Former lacks, latter has intensity? Or is it awareness/notice?

                    -        Is this how she distinguishes food/eating that is aesthetic from non-aesthetic food/eating?

                  Can also have objective judgements that not only do I like the food, but believe taste is a fine one which other people ought to like too

                                      e.g., Taste of grapefruit w/o sugar is to be preferred

                    -        Even if some don’t like it at present

                    -        Or even if I don’t (because I’m too tired to enjoy the food)



        Taste in foods like ice cream often taken as paradigm of non-objective

        And because of this claimed not to be aesthetic judgment

                  Taste in ice-cream is standard example of non-rational, nonobjective preference

                  If food taste is objective we loose this contrast (between rational/objective and non-rational/non-objective judgments)

                  Are folks who don’t like chocolate or coffee or wine having a mistaken reaction?

                  Is there more objectivity in other art forms than food?



        Works of art

                  Not all objects that give rise to aes reactions are works of art

                  Works of art must be man-made (even if just putting it in a gallery and giving it a name)

                    -        What about Bower Bird?


        Two senses of “works of art”

                  Classifying: about how the object is regarded

                  Evaluative: does it merit/deserve the label “work of art”?


        Classifying sense of work of art:

                   Something is a work of art if it is intended or regarded primarily for aes consideration (that is, appreciated with intensity and for its own sake)

                  Primarily” allows for the work of art to have secondary (utilitarian) uses (say a chair)

                  Intended” means that, for example, a pile of metal pipes in museum is art if that was the maker’s intention

                  Or regarded” means that even if maker did not intended it to be viewed aesthetically (a knife or bowl or religious building), it is a work of art if it is so treated


        Evaluative sense of work of art

                  Claim about whether the object is worthy of aes attention;

                    -        Does it merit aes consideration?

                  Sure “Metal Pipes” were intended by maker and gallery owner to be looked at aesthetically ( for its own sake and with intensity)--and public will probably oblige--but that’s not a work of art, it’s a pile of junk

                  A work of art in a classifying sense may not be a work of art in an evaluative sense


                  Does not follow that all works of art (in this evaluative sense) are good ones

                    -        Something could be a work of art (in evaluative sense), even if was not very good

                    -        As long as it deserves to be appraised aes it’s a work of art, even if in the end it is found wanting


        Is food art in classifying sense?

                  A thing intended or used primarily for aes consideration

        Answer: Some is and some isn’t

                    -        Run of mill food is not prepared or eaten with aesthetics primarily in mind

                  But many meals intended by their cooks and those who eat them to be considered largely in this way (aesthetically)

                    -        Savored, appraised, thought about, discussed

                  These meals are too complex and long-drawn out to be seen simply or mainly as relieving hunger or providing nourishment

                  Cook not satisfied if eaters don’t notice what they eat

                  Cook aims to produce certain kind of pleasure, that depends on discerning appreciation of flavors and how combined and succeed one another

                  Cooks designing a work of art and eaters appreciating it


        Some dishes clearly are works of art in classifying sense

        But do they merit aes attention (are they works of art in evaluative sense?)



        Is food craft and not art?

                  Perhaps because it is not creative and art must be creative?


        Art/Craft distinction

                    -        A distinction in kind of work (not products of work)

                  Art is original creation

                  Craft is carrying out instructions, following a convention or employing a technique

                  E.g., Architect who designs church is artist, masons and woodcarvers who carry out his instructions are craftsmen


                  Painters and composers often follow conventions and use technique; create according to a set of rules that define a genre (e.g., sonata form)

                    -        Does this make them craftsman?

                    -        No, because unlike exact instruction of mason, conventions leave room for choice, so there is some creativity here


        Distinction between art/craft based on degree of creativity/originality versus degree of instruction/convention following

                  If lots of creativity will be art, if modest amount will be seen as craft

                  Where no room for creativity (as with mason), the person is a craftsman and not an artist at all–a technician

                  So-called crafts of pottery and furniture making (are really art) because leave plenty of room for creativity alongside convention and use of technical skill


        Blend of craft/creation in interpretation/performance as well

        Are performers/interpreters artists or technicians?

                  Interpreters include:

                    -        Performance artists, who take instructions and carry them out using techniques

                    -        Piano player, actor, or cook following a recipe

                  One idea is that composing and writing are creative, while playing music and acting are interpretive

                    -        As if interpretation is not creative and therefore not art

                  But interpreter is like a composer or writer using a genre with strict convention

                    -        Not exact plan, so choices have to be made and they can be creative

                  So each performance can be a work of art (to some extent)


        Is it true that skill and technique take one away from artistry?

                  Portrait painter: If (pure) technique is craft, not art, then a good portrait painter/drawer is a technician and not an artist?

                    -        Presumably there are creative choices to be made in portrait painting

                  Pure creativity with no skill or technique likely to produce bad art (evaluative sense) or none at all?


        Cookery an art or a craft?

                  If degree of creativity is criterion, some cookery can qualify as art

                  Chef who creates a recipe and assembles it in an ordered and structured way for the purposes of aes response is a creative artist

                    -        Even producing variations on someone else’s recipe can be creative

                  Even cooks, who produce the dishes (rather than create the recipes) can be artists

                    -        If recipe is rigid and cook follows it completely with no creativity, then no artistry involved

                    -        But usually there is a good deal of flexibility (“season to taste” “a pinch of ginger if desired”), choices about combinations and sequences of dishes in a meal

                  So the cook can be a “performing artist” rather than a mere technician

                    -        So a particular cook’s version of a recipe is an interpretative work of art, like a musicians performance of a piece of music

                    -        Will require some technique too (make white sauce w/o lumps)


        Recipe writer/music composer and cook/music performer analogy

                  compare the creator of a recipe to a composer/writer and the cook who follows one to a performer

                  Original recipe and actual dish (performance of the recipe) can be works of art if regarded aesthetically


        (1) Too usefulness: Nothing useful deserves to count as a work of art

                  But architecture is useful and its an art form

                  To appraise an object aesthetically is to consider it in abstraction from its usefulness (and this can be done with food)

                    -        Is this true? If so, it would mean that a building whose design is such that it works poorly is of no less aesthetic value because of this...

        (2) Too bodily: Not art because appreciation of food is too physical, bodily, and thus crude and disgusting and these senses are not worth dwelling on

                  See and hear at a distance (nobler senses) but taste only what actually touches our bodies and this is too crude to be art.

                  Taste and smell are too bodily and to cultivate their more physical kind of perception is to concentrate on unworthy objects

                  We should try to get away from the body and focusing on these bodily senses is disgusting

                  Telfer dismisses this as a mistaken prejudice against the body


        Three: Lacks complexity: Not art because not sufficiently complex

                    -        Limitation is either in us (our sense of taste and smell) or in the food itself (the taste and aroma of the food)

                  Taste and smell senses can’t achieve the finer discriminations that eye and ear can

                  Why no “taste symphonies or smell sonatas?” (Beardsley)

                    -        Idea is that symphonies/sonatas are very complex and taste/smell lack this complexity


                  Claims of limitations on complexity are exaggerated

                    -        Lots of complexity in tastes and smell and food

                    -        Sufficient complexity to merit food as an art form, though it is simple art form

                  We can recognize huge range of different smells and tastes

                  Although our sense of smell is less than other animals, we can develop and train these capacities (e.g., wine taster)

                    -        If our culture paid more attention to tastes/smells, people would cultivate a palate

                  A discerning diner–like an expert listener–can pick up the reference if a flavor in the savory (at the end of a meal) recalled a note in the hor-d’oeuvres

                  Tastes can be arranged in systematic, repeatable and regular combination

                    -        Arrange sequence from sweet to sour, least to most salty

                    -        Diner eats a rotation mouthful of duck in orange sauce, new potatoes with cream and garlic; then broccoli

                  Balance and climax in food too: Cook planning a dinner does not put most striking dish at beginning, leaving rest for anticlimax

                  “However humble it may be, meals have a definite plot, intention of which is to intrigue, stimulate and satisfy”

        Concludes: no limitations in tastes themselves nor in us that prevent food from being a work of art in evaluative sense, though it will be simpler


        If food deserves to be treated as simple art form, what follows?

        Arts are important in our lives

                  State spends resources to support arts

                  Education tries to inculcate some knowledge of and concern for arts

                  Individuals cultivate aesthetics and regard someone with no regard for them as defective, philistine, and boorish

        Should art of food find place among these?


        Should people cultivate art of food?

                  Some do think that one should cultivate art of food, eat elegantly and discerningly, “take trouble” with one’s food

                    -        Critique of fast food culture?

                  Part of being civilized; person who thinks it does not matter what one eats is “at best boorish” (crude insensitivity)

                  Think a person who does not cultivate food appreciation like someone who has no appreciation for music–seriously missing out?

        Even if agree that everyone should cultivate the arts, does not follow that everyone should cultivate this (or any) particular art

                  Food art may not mean anything to some

                    -        Some people will get no meaning from some art form and so can’t force all to cultivate one particular art form

                  Cultivate major arts first

                    -        Given time/resources are limited and that food is a simple and also minor art form, reasonable for person w/o much time/money to focus on the major arts first and leave food out as an art form in his life (even while realizing the aes claims of food)

                  But we all eat and cook everyday and so it can come in to some extent

                    -        Art of food is easier to appreciate than arts which require lots of background knowledge

                    -        Art of food as a people’s art


        Should state subsidize art form of food so it would be less expensive and so that everyone could indulge in it?

                  No; money is limited; subsidize major art forms first

                  Also, unlike opera which might die out w/o subsidy, the art of food will survive without subsidy


        Not all eating is an aesthetic activity

                  “Aesthetic eating” involves eating with attention and discernment food that repays attention and discernment

                  Might take practice and some instruction


        Because it is relatively simple? (no)

                  Abstract sculptures can be simple and yet sustain serious aesthetic attention and sculpture is a major art form

        Because transient? (yes)

                  Transience makes art less important as

                  Food not around long enough to be contemplated

                    -        Like the art of fireworks

                  Can’t speak to different generations and so can’t get stature of say the Taj Mahal

                  Can a recipe speak to different generations? (Same ingredients?)


        Lacks meaning? (Lacks meaning in way major arts have meaning)

                  Food has meaning in some senses, e.g., can symbolize a nation’s way of life and traditions

                  Food does not have same kinds of meaning as major art forms

                  Food not representational:

                    -        Some arts (unlike food) are representational–painting and literature–they tell us something about the world and ourselves and see these in light of ways depicted in representative arts

                  True, some major arts (e.g. music) don’t represent:

                  Food can not express emotion:

                    -        But music has meaning in that it can express emotion

                            Cook can express emotion, but the food can’t, whereas music can–it can be angry or joyful

        Food can’t move us in way music and other major arts can

                    -        Lacks a earth shaking quality (and this constitutes a limit to the significance food can have to us)

                  Good food can elate us, invigorate us, startle us, excite us, cheer us with a kind of warmth and joy

                  But can’t shake us fundamentally (as shown by tears or fear)

                  Not in awe of good food and hesitate to apply the word beauty to it, however good it is


        Problem of paying too much attention to food as art

                  Treating eating as precious

                  Treating it as of more aes importance than it has

                    -        “Avoid looking for Schubertian profundity in a folk song”

                  This could make us disappointed

                  And miss other values in the occasion of eating (social values)

        Still we should not ignore what can be a satisfying and rewarding aes experience