Food as the Subject of Art
Representing fruits and vegetables in “still life” is a rich and ancient artistic tradition. Countless artists, throughout history and throughout the world, have celebrated the beauty of food by arranging it thoughtfully on a table and capturing its image on canvas. Recently, students at OJA had an opportunity to experience this tradition in their art class. Using produce straight from the garden, they combined scientific, botanical observation with artistic expression. As with many of their projects, they first saw how other artists had approached this subject and used that observation to inspire their own work. Seeing work from historical seed catalogs and even a few contemporary artists rounded out their appreciation for this genre. Our art teacher is gifted at integrating other curriculums into her art program and this day was a good example. By elevating fruits and vegetables (in this case okra, pink-eyed peas, eggplant and watermelon) to subjects of art she sent a subtle but significant message to her young artists. Fresh and healthy food has value beyond nutrition. Sometimes this piece gets lost in the conversation. In our efforts to get kids to eat better we sometimes forget to emphasize the aesthetic experience of food. It is said in the restaurant business that the customer eats first with his eyes. Kids are no exception. Never is it more true that presentation is everything. The road to healthy and pleasurable eating is a journey of a thousand baby steps. This day our students took more than a few as they “ate” with their eyes. Introducing unfamiliar foods (along with some that are already known and loved) in this way gives kids a positive experience that will more than likely affect their perceptions of that food when they encounter it on a plate.
You might think that having kids draw a watermelon isn’t really necessary in getting them to value it. Granted, it’s kind of a low bar for watermelon. Even so we can’t forget that we are living in a world where the industrial food system is trying to convince parents that having a child suck pureed watermelon (along with some other unfortunate concentrated fruits) out of a plasticized foil pouch counts as healthy eating. “Eating” watermelon this way will never compare to the sticky mess of putting your face into a juicy slice of heaven and seeing how far you can spit a seed from the back porch. That is beautiful.
“Art is not what you see, but what you make others see” – Edgar Degas