OBJECTION TO TELFER’S LIMITATIONS TO FOOD AS A SIMPLE ART FORM
Philosophy of Food (Phil 205)
December 13, 2016
OBJECTION TO TELFER’S LIMITATIONS TO FOOD AS A SIMPLE ART FORM
The topic of whether or not food can be considered art has been very controversial in the field of philosophy. Many philosophers have opinions, which differ drastically from one another. In a popular reading called Arguing About Art: Contemporary Philosophical Debates, 2nd Edition by Routledge, the author of “Food As Art,” Elizabeth Telfer, proposed three ideas to why food is only a minor art form because it is simple and is limited in certain ways. These ideas are that “food is necessarily transient, it cannot have meaning, and it cannot move us” (Telfer 24). When she says transient she is referring to how food changes over time, looses its taste over time, and or how the ingredients of the food change. By saying food does not have or convey meaning means that it does not tell us about ourselves, different cultures, or about the world. Food cannot move us is referring to food not being able to have the same beauty a major form of art has. These arguments are poorly executed and do not deliver strong examples. I will object to these limitations and state that food is more than just a simple art. I am arguing that food is a major art by objecting Telfer’s reasons why food is only a simple or minor art form.
Food is necessarily transient may be a correct statement in general but the way Telfer proposes it is saying that art is not transient. She says food “will not be around very long to be contemplated” and that it has to have the chance to “speak” to different generations like the Taj Mahal (Telfer 24). I will argue mainly on the point of “speaking” to future generations. She argues that recipes are not an effective way to “speak” to other and future generations because when the recipe is written, it is not possible for it to be sufficient and each cook will interpret the recipe differently. She argues that you “cannot reliably record the performance of the cook” (Telfer 25). One of the most effective ways of arguing against Telfer is the example of fry bread. Fry bread is a commodity food that has been passed down in American Indian culture for hundreds of years (Vantrease243). Despite the recipe changes that have occurred from family to family, the Fry bread has still been able to “speak” to generations for a long time and will continue to do so for many more to come. Another example is that lyrics to music are similar and can act as a recipe. Although recipes may change, a rock band such as Foreigner may add a guitar solo or new words to a live performance but the song being played is still considered the same song as the original recording. Depending on the performer of a song, the lyrics are constantly twisted to conform to a new act or performance. Despite these lyric changes, these music performances are still considered art every time they are performed. Another example, originally proposed by Dave Monroe in his article “Can Food Be Art? The Problem of Consumption,” was Moonlight Sonata by Beethoven (Monroe 137). If a performer took the original Moonlight Sonata and changed it to make their performance how they like it, the performance would still be considered art. A critic may say that the original creations of these artworks are what have value. There are also many recreations of famous artworks such as the Mona Lisa but these are still considered art. Of course, the original creation of the Mona Lisa is what is the most famous and has the most dollar value, but just because it does not have as high of a value does not mean it is only a minor or simple art. An artist still put lots of time, effort, and thought into the painting, therefore they should still have the credit of more than a minor art, specifically a major art. So it goes to show, despite the small changes the artwork may go through, the new creations are unique and are still considered art and Telfer’s argument is not strongly supported.
The second limitation that Telfer proposed was that food cannot tell us about the world, or ourselves because it does not have meaning. This argument is weak because there are many cases where food does give meaning. One example would be fry bread, again. Fry bread tells a lot about the American Indian culture; it is a symbol of their identity (Vantrease 244). There is a story behind why fry bread is a common food and why the culture acts and eats the way it does. The same thing goes for soul food, Asian food, or Mexican food. Their food portrays a common practice in their culture and often tells a lot about them. Another example could be bread and wine, as eaten in a Christian church. The bread represents the body of Christ and the wine represents His blood. There is a story behind why this occurs and Christianity represents a large population of the world, 31.7 % in 2011(Liu 2011). It is clear that food can have meaning and this is why Telfer’s argument is not strong.
Telfer’s last limitation to prove food is not a major form of art was that food is not able to move us. She says there must be “beauty” in the artwork. It is not her place to say what beauty is. Beauty is an opinion. Every person finds different things to be beautiful; therefore Telfer is not able to speak for everyone and state that food cannot be beautiful. One of her claims was that this “beauty” must be able to produce an “earth-shaking quality,” meaning that it must produce feeling or emotions such as tears or even fear. A famous art painting by Barnett Newman, an artist from New York, sold his painting for $43.8 million dollars (Daily Mail Reporter). This painting consists of nothing but a blue canvas that has a white line down the middle of it. One cannot say that a plain blue painting other than one line, that is considered a major art, produces this so called “earth-shaking quality.” Another example would be Mark Rothko’s Pink Yellow painting. This artwork is only two or three different colored rectangles. This is not able to produce feelings or emotions such as tears or fear. So even with Telfer’s own definition of beautiful, there are pieces or artworks that are considered major forms of art which are clearly not able to correctly identify with the definition she gives.
An overarching considered objection, other than the one proposed earlier, to food being a major form of art could be the Consumption Exclusion Theory. This theory, mentioned in Dave Monroe’s article says “the consumption of food eliminates for it to be the possibility of being a “proper” art object” (Monroe 134). I will admit that this holds some truth in the fact that some food is specifically for survival or health, however there are foods that are meant to be artwork and to produce feelings of art, not just to be consumed. Take the company Edible Arrangements for example. They make some items such as fruit smoothies made to get the proper healthy nutrients but most of their products are used for bouquets. Bouquets are “a group of flowers that have been attractively arranged so that they can be given as a present or carried on a formal occasion” (Cambridge English Dictionary). This shows that the purpose of the fruit arrangement is specifically for viewing and not necessarily to consume because an individual has to. Another example could be a wedding cake. A wedding cake is often more for viewing than it is for the consumption. It is displayed far before it is eaten. A wedding cake is something people take pictures of, share with their friends and family, or put on social media. It is even so that some married couples will freeze the cake in order to save it until their first year anniversary. This also shows that the food is not always meant for immediate consumption and is used for other reasons.
Elizabeth Telfer’s limitations of food and why it cannot be considered a major form of art are not strongly supported. Although some food is transient, many forms of art are also transient. A recipe does not mean the food is not able to “speak” to future generations. It has and will continue to do so, just like fry bread. Although food can changed over time, there are many musical pieces and artwork that change too. Food can give meaning and tell people about the world, cultures, and us. It is proven with many different types of foods. The last limitation that Telfer proposes about major art portraying an “earth-shaking quality” is illogical because there are many cases where major art forms such as famous paintings, would in no way, create intense emotions such as tears or fear. Because she fails to successfully give reasons why food is only a minor or simple art, food has all the reason to fit into the category of a major art.
"Bouquet Definition in the Cambridge English Dictionary." Bouquet Definition in the Cambridge English Dictionary. Accessed December 05, 2016.
Liu, Joseph. "Global Christianity - A Report on the Size and Distribution of the World’s Christian Population." Pew Research Center's Religion & Public Life Project. 2011. Accessed December 05, 2016.
Monroe, Dave, ed. Food and Philosophy: Eat, Think, and Be Merry. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2007.
Reporter, Daily Mail. "Newman Abstract Painting Sells for $43m in NY." Daily Mail Online. 2013. Accessed December 05, 2016.
Telfer, Elizabeth. "Food As Art." Arguing about Art: Contemporary Philosophical Debates, 2nd Edition, 2002, 9-27. Accessed December 03, 2016.
Vantrease, Dana. "Common Bods and Frybread Power: Government Food Aid in American Indian Culture." Journal of American Folklore 126, no. 499 (2013): 55-69.
 Telfer, Elizabeth. "Food As Art." Arguing about Art: Contemporary Philosophical Debates, 2nd Edition, 2002, 9-27.
 Vantrease, Dana. "Common Bods and Frybread Power: Government Food Aid in American Indian Culture." Journal of American Folklore 126, no. 499 (2013): 55-69.
 Monroe, Dave, ed. Food and Philosophy: Eat, Think, and Be Merry. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2007.
 Ibid., p 3
 Liu, Joseph. "Global Christianity - A Report on the Size and Distribution of the World’s Christian Population." Pew Research Center's Religion & Public Life Project. 2011. Accessed December 05, 2016.
 Reporter, Daily Mail. "Newman Abstract Painting Sells for $43m in NY." Daily Mail Online. 2013. Accessed December 05, 2016.
 Ibid., p 3
 "Bouquet Definition in the Cambridge English Dictionary." Bouquet Definition in the Cambridge English Dictionary. Accessed December 05, 2016.