Is Food Art: Notes from the Director of the Umami Festival

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In early September, the SoFAB Institute presented a panel discussion asking “Is food art?” at the New School in New York as part of Culinaria Query, where Yael Raviv served on the panel. The national inquiry comes to close in New Orleans on October 10, 2013 with a special presentation by Ken Albala. For information, please visit this page.

Yael Raviv has been serving as the director of Umami food and art festival since 2008. She wrote her Ph.D dissertation at NYU’s Performance Studies Department on nationalism and cuisine in her native Israel, and has written on food and nation and food and art in publications such as Gastronomica. She teaches as an adjunct professor at NYU’s Nutrition, Food Studies and Public Health Department and is currently also working with culinary app developer Kinetic Art.

Is Food Art?

Yael Raviv, Ph.D

Director, Umami food and art festival.

Umami food and art festival was founded in 2008 as a place to think through the relationship between food and art and support both art based in everyday life and materials and food as a creative medium. It brings together artists that use food as a medium with food professionals through a variety of exhibits, workshops and other events for both adults and children. As the Is Food Art? panel demonstrated, a conversation between people from different backgrounds and disciplines that approach food from different perspectives, can be inspiring. I have spent time over the past few years thinking through issues at the intersection of food and art due to both my work with Umami and my academic research. My “working definition” of Art has been that which gives us pause and makes us think. I am inspired by John Dewey’s assertion that aesthetic experience is based in interaction and can be found in everyday experiences.  The panel demonstrated the importance of these definitions – how we define Art is one of the foundations for considering food’s role in this context.

The work of certain chefs, to me, is certainly inline with this definition of art: work that is conceived conceptually, tells a story, and elicits a response. I wish we had more to explore food beyond the plate. As one of the audience members said during our Q&A, growing and production are fascinating sites that can be as creative as cooking, and certainly merit the same attention currently focused on some celebrity chefs’ creations. Finally, when I discussed the panel with Umami’s curator, Ame Gilbert, she pointed out that even a more traditional art medium, like paint, is not Art in itself: it can be used to paint a wall as well as a painting, and food is similar, it is a medium, it can be use to create lunch or as well as Art.


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