Elizabeth Telfer, Food as Art


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

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


3.      “Anything viewed” assumption of Telfer’s: Anything can be viewed aesthetically

         a.      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)

4.      Aes reactions have five features

         a.      (1) Non-instrumental (involve intrinsic valuings)

         b.      (2) Non-neutral

                   i.       But not necessarily pleasurable

         c.      (3) A degree of intensity

         d.      (4) Frequently sensual (but not always or necessarily so)

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

5.      (1) Non-instrumental, intrinsic valuings

         a.      Aes reactions are non-instrumental (they are “disinterested”)

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

                   i.       Earns money for us

                   ii.      Teaches fine moral lesson

                   iii.     Successful venture for a playwright we know

         c.      For these are instrumental valuings (valuing the play for its uses rather than for itself) and not disinterested appreciation

         d.      Must appreciate play for its own sake (intrinsically) to be aes

         e.      Food example:

                   i.       Aes if like way cottage cheese contrasts in flavor and texture with the rye bread

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

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

         a.      According to one philosopher, Urmson, they are not neutral responses, but a species of pleasure

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

7.      Aes reactions need not be pleasurable/favorable

         a.      Could be painful or negative in other ways (e.g., could make one feel uncomfortable or disgusted)

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

                   i.       Intrigued by pattern of clouds

                   ii.      Excited by lightening

                   iii.     Awed by the falls

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

         c.      Aes value only sometimes presents itself as pleasure

                   i.       Other times, aesthetic value (aesthetic reactions) might involved

                            (1)    Being riveted by something

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

                            (3)    Arousal of discomforting emotions

                                      (a)     Descriptions of the suffering of loved characters in novels

                                      (b)    Art genres that emphasize the grotesque, the shocking, the morbid, the horrifying, and the ugly

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

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

         e.      Question: Might aesthetic responses be neutral in the sense of being right in between positive and negative?

         f.       Are boring novels or tedious prairies neutral or negative?

8.      (3) Need intensity to insure that non-instrumental liking is aesthetic

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

         b.      Intensity need not involve

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

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

9.      (4) Frequently involves sensual appearance

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

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

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

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

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

         c.      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

         d.      Telfer here argues for epistemic not metaphysical objectivity:

                   i.       Epistemic objectivity: Involve responses that one thinks are correct, that others should agree with and that one can provide reasons for

                   ii.      Metaphysical objectivity: Claiming aesthetic objects have the aesthetic properties (e.g., beautiful, graceful, awe-inspiring) in themselves, independent of how humans respond to them (they are not “response-dependent”)

                            (1)    Just as a tree would be an oak tree whether or not we categorized it as such

                            (2)    So running antelope would be beautiful, graceful, awe-inspiring regardless of how our aesthetic faculties were constructed and whether or not aesthetic appreciators existed

11.    Can make aes judgments in absence of aes reactions that usually go with them

         a.      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)

         b.      This opera is great art, even though I don’t care much for opera

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

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

                   i.       This is sometimes (often?) disputed

         b.      Food can be valued intrinsically: Can intrinsically value taste and smell of food and not simply value it instrumentally (e.g., because it is nourishing)

         c.      Food can be intensely experienced

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

         d.      How does Telfer distinguish food/eating that is aesthetic from non-aesthetic food/eating?

                   i.       Former lacks, latter has intensity? Or is it awareness/notice? Or both?

         e.      Objective judgements about food: 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

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

                   ii.      Even if some don’t like it at present

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

                   iv.     Worry:

                            (1)    Some tastes in foods--like favor of ice-cream--is standard example of non-rational, nonobjective preference and because of this often claimed not to be aesthetic

                            (2)    Are folks who don’t like chocolate or coffee or wine or beer having a mistaken reaction or missing some aes pleasure that merits their positive response?


13.    Works of art versus producer of aes reactions

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

         b.      For example, works of art must be man-made (even if just putting it in a gallery and giving it a name)

                   i.       What about Bower Bird’s shady retreat?

14.    Two senses of “works of art”

         a.      Classifying: About how the object is regarded

         b.      Evaluative: Does it merit/deserve the label “work of art”?

15.    Classifying sense of work of art:

         a.       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)

         b.      Primarily” allows for the work of art to have secondary (utilitarian) uses (say a pottery bowl)

         c.      Intended” means that, for example, a pile of metal pipes in museum is art if the maker’s or exhibitor’s intention was that it be viewed primarily aesthetically

         d.      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

16.    Evaluative sense of work of art

         a.      Claim about whether the object is worthy of aes attention

                   i.       Does it merit aes consideration?

         b.      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

                   i.       Carl Andre’s Equivalent VII (about)

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

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

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

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

17.    Is food art in classifying sense?

         a.      A thing intended or used primarily for aes consideration

18.    Answer: Some is and some isn’t

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

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

                   i.       Savored, appraised, thought about, discussed

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

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

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

         f.       Cooks designing a work of art and eaters are appreciating it

19.    Some dishes clearly are works of art in classifying sense

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


21.    Is food craft and not art?

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

22.    Art/craft distinction = Creative activity versus instruction following

                   i.       A distinction in kind of work (not products of work)

         b.      Art is original creation

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

23.    For example:       Architect who designs church is artist, masons and woodcarvers who carry out his instructions are craftsmen

24.    Objection: But there is some rule following in art

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

                   i.       Does this make them craftsman?

         b.      Reply: No, because unlike exact instruction of mason, conventions leave room for choice, so there is some creativity here

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

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

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

         c.      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

26.    Are performers/interpreters artists or technicians?

         a.      Performers/interpreters: Piano players, actors, or cooks following a recipe

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

                   i.       Performance artists are interpreters who take instructions and carry them out using techniques

         c.      Reply: This ignores that interpretation can be creative

                   i.       Blend of craft/creation in interpretation/performance

                   ii.      Interpreter is like a composer or writer using a genre with strict convention

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

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

27.    Centrality of creativity to art?

         a.      How important is creativity to art? Necessary for art? Sufficient for art?

         b.      Do skill/technique take one away from artistry (as not creative)?

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

                   i.       Good portrait painter is simply using skill to follow a given design?

                   ii.      Creative choices to be made in portrait painting?

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

28.    Cookery an art or a craft?

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

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

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

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

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

                   ii.      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

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

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

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

29.    Recipe writer/music composer and cook/music performer analogy

         a.      Compare the creator of a recipe to a composer/writer and the cook who follows a recipe to a performer

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


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

         a.      Reply: But architecture is useful and it’s an art form

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

         c.      Worry: Is it true that the usefulness of an item is irrelevant to its aesthetic value? 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.

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

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

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

         c.      Reply: Telfer dismisses this as a prejudice against the body

         d.      Philosopher Glen Parsons argues that pleasures of smell, taste, and touch are not aesthetic because aesthetic pleasure is a “disembodied pleasure” and these sensations are felt localized in the body, whereas pleasures of sight and sound are not located at any specific place in the body

                   i.       Relatedly these bodily pleasures would be hard to take a “disinterested” response too and aesthetics requires this

32.    (3) Lacks complexity: Not art because not sufficiently complex

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

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

         c.      Why no “taste symphonies or smell sonatas?”

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

         d.      Reply: Claims of limitations on complexity are exaggerated

                   i.       Lots of complexity in tastes and smell and food

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

                   iii.     We can recognize huge range of different smells and tastes

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

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

                   v.      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

                   vi.     Tastes can be arranged in systematic, repeatable and regular combination

                            (1)    Arrange sequence from sweet to sour, least to most salty

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

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

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

33.    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

34.    Not all eating is an aesthetic activity

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

         b.      Might take practice and some instruction


35.    If food is (a simple) art, should we treat the art of food as we do other art forms?

         a.      Because the arts are important in our lives

         b.      State spends resources to support arts

         c.      Education tries to inculcate some knowledge of and concern for arts

         d.      Individuals cultivate arts and regard someone with no regard for them as defective, philistine, and boorish

         e.      Should art of food be treated in these ways?

36.    Should people cultivate art of food?

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

                   i.       Critique of fast food culture?

         b.      Part of being civilized

         c.      Person who thinks it does not matter what one eats is “at best boorish” (displays “crude insensitivity”)

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

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

         a.      Food art may not mean anything to some

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

         b.      Cultivate major arts first

                   i.       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)

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

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

                   ii.      Art of food as a people’s art

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

         a.      No; money is limited; subsidize major art forms first

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


39.    Because it is relatively simple? (No)

         a.      Food is relatively simple, but this is not the reason it is a minor art form

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

40.    Because transient? (Yes)

         a.      Transience makes art less important

         b.      Food not around long enough to be contemplated

                   i.       Like the art of fireworks

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

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

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

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

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

         c.      Food not representational:

                   i.       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

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

         e.      Food can not express emotion:

                   i.       But music has meaning in that it can express emotion

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

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

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

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

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

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

43.    Problem of paying too much attention to food as art

         a.      Treating eating as precious

         b.      Treating it as of more aes importance than it has

                   i.       “Avoid looking for Schubertian profundity in a folk song”

         c.      This could make us disappointed

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

44.    Still we should not ignore what can be a satisfying and rewarding aes experience, namely eating

Study questions, Telfer, Food as Art


1.         Do all aesthetic experiences involve pleasure? Why or why not? Are all aesthetic experiences positive? Why or why not?

2.         Give examples of aesthetic experiences that might be considered negative (and explain why). Distinguish them from non-aesthetic experiences (and explain why they are non-aesthetic). Give examples of positive aesthetic experiences that involve pleasure. Now give examples of positive aesthetic experiences that don't involve pleasure (and explain in what way they are positive).

3.         Using an example, explain the difference between the two sense of a work of art that Telfer discusses (the classifying and evaluative senses).

4.         According to Telfer, what is the difference between an art and a craft? How does she use this criterion to determine when food is art and not craft?

5.         Cooking involves at least two works of art: What are they?

6.         According to Telfer, who is the composer and who is the performance artist when it comes to cooking?

7.         Does Telfer believe the state should subsidize the art of food and provide education so that people can be knowledgeable about this art? Why or why not?

8.         What are Telfer's reasons for thinking the art of food is a minor rather than major art form?

9.         What would Telfer's reaction be the following claim. Since there are no taste symphonies or taste sonatas, food is way too simple to be a major art form.

10.       On your own view, is food an art form? Why or why not? In answering this question, evaluate the strongest arguments both for the claim it is and for the claim it is not (consider at least three different considerations on each side of this dispute). Make sure you look at this question from both the classifying and evaluative dimensions.