Art and Cooking / by Jeannine Cook

A story in today's NPR All Things Considered about cooking a Tuna Noodle Casserole started with a statement that immediately had me making a parallel with art.  Melissa Gray was citing food editor and author Ellen Brown discussing her recipe for this dish.  She started by quoting Ellen Brown saying that many food professionals claim that we eat with our eyes first. Brown however disputes this claim and thinks that it is not with our senses that we approach food, but with our emotions.

I think that the same order of priorities often comes to play when we approach art.  Long before we start looking at paintings or drawings, for instance, we are in a mood and frame of mind to look at art. In many cases, we make a conscious decision to go to an art museum or an art gallery. So we have already elected to go in a frame of mind that is open to viewing art, for reasons that range from experiencing beauty to learning about an artist's work, or, on occasions, to purchasing a work of art. Of course, there are other times when we round a corner, or just happen on, a work of art that stops us in our tracks.  But bound up with the visual experience always comes a rush of emotion - interest, delight, surprise, incomprehension... a full gamut of reactions or emotions is possible.

Only after that first visceral reaction do we start to use our eyes to study the work of art and understand more about it.  Perhaps then the same effect can happen as occurs when we have a plate of attractively presented food placed in front of us.  Colour, shape, texture, form ... all count at that point.

But I think Ellen Brown has a point: just as we associate a certain dish that we know with pleasant past experiences (or the reverse!), so we associate certain artists' works with previously experienced emotions positive or negative.  For most people, "Claude Monet" means beautiful Impressionist landscapes that radiate luminosity and delight the viewer. 

 The Manneporte (Etretat), Claude Monet, oil on canvas, image courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Antibes vue de la Salis, Claude Monet, 1888, image courtesy of
 the Toledo Museum of Art, Ohio

The name, "Titian", conveys to many viewers a sense of marvel and admiration at extraordinary portraits, long before one's eyes can feast on the skill and virtuosity with which he depicts his subjects. 

Portrait of an Old Man (Pietro Cardinal Bembo), Titian, 1546, Image courtesy of  Museum of Fine Arts (Budapest)

"Rodin" means wondrous, sensuous, powerful shapes sculpted in plaster, marble or bronze; it is only later that our eyes can tell us exactly how and why we find his work so memorable.

Eternal Springtime, Auguste Rodin, 1880-1901, image courtesy of Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest

Emotions and/or senses... basically Ellen Brown is talking about the same important ingredients of life as we all are - enhancing and celebrating life through beauty, interest, taste. Both cooking and art help us get though each day with  enjoyment.