February 11, 2011 / Mediation, Uncategorized
In 1991, the Academy Award for Best Picture went to the disturbing psycho thriller, The …
In his small pamphlet on a Christian view of the arts entitled Art & the Bible, Francis Schaeffer argues for a broad perspective on art. He expands a working definition of art to not only include high art, “but also the more popular expressions–the novel, the theater, the cinema, popular music and rock” (33). Popular expressions, for all intensive purposes, are catalysts for celebrity, and since the humble beginnings of Julia Child there has been a steady build up in popular culture to the current state of the celebrity chef. So, I would like to add cooking to Schaeffer’s list of popular expressions of art, and a reality TV show that captures this popular expression is Cake Boss. Cake Boss is a popular show on TLC which features Buddy Valastro, a maker of custom cakes at Carlos’ Bakery in Hoboken, New Jersey. The show features plenty of cut aways, shenanigans, product or event placement and drama, just like any other reality TV show. But what this show has to offer that many other shows in the genre don’t is actual works of art. The cakes on display in the show are stunning, vibrant, and eye-popping. The show captures the imaginative process Buddy goes through to bring an idea to life as he pushes the art of baking to new heights. What he does on the show is nothing short of edible sculpture. Cake might not appear to be the most ready object to be defined as art, along with food in general. We tend to think of food as art when it is static, like in a Manet still life. Chefs are called artists in the sense that their food is photogenic and stirs up a primal desire in us to savor food. Cookbooks are praised for the photography as much as the recipes, especially in an age when celebrity chefs have produced such beautifully designed and photographed cookbooks like Momofuku and Nomo that the recipes are an afterthought—the centerpiece is the imagining of the food, not the food itself. Cake, on the other hand, is far more utilitarian—it is made specifically for celebration. Cake is a food that is not thought of as savored or inspired: it is emblazoned with names and candles or smashed into the bride and groom’s faces. It is a dynamic object with a prescribed life span: a party. We are taught to think of art as immortal, eternal and timeless; a cake fits none of these parameters. Yet the cakes on Cake Boss are art in spite of the demise all cakes face because they are the work of mortal men and women. Schaeffer, in arguing that art has value in itself, declares that art is “an expression of the mannishness of man himself” (35). Going further, Schaeffer speaks of museum pieces as “expressions of the nature and character of humanity” (35). Thus, our modern culture’s fixation on creativity in food points toward humanity’s mortality, a characteristic of humanity that is often captured metaphorically in artwork. Food captures mortality in a different way, pushing the mortality of man from metaphor into metonymy: the quick consumption of artfully made food is a performance: the drama of our own mortality played out in the act of sustaining our lives for a few hours until our next meal. Cakes, when made as art, become signifiers of our own mortality. Schaeffer presents the points outlined above as a foundation for his argument that the oeuvre of an artist shows his world view (37). With gourmet cooking cemented as a significant part of popular culture, it is worthwhile to find in the art of fine food a world view like the one found in Babette’s Feast: food is a microcosm through which we can celebrate the beauty, wonder, and value of life itself in all of its glory.
Brett David Potter