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The Relationship Between Food and Art

Updated on August 1, 2017

A Portrait of a Pear

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The Art of Food

Food is an essential element to life itself, along with clothing and shelter. This is probably why food has been an important subject matter in art for as long as art has existed. Humans focus much of their daily energy on food, so it shouldn't surprise you why you see so much of it represented in paintings, sculptures and more. Art objects help secure food and protect it, to serve and store it, and artworks of food reflect how people lived, dined and even what they ate. Food also has a strong connection to ritual and various religions.

Food as Art

Art and Securing the Food Supply

Eating food has been a source of pleasure and sustenance since the beginning of time. Every group of people from every walk of life has been concerned with ensuring a food supply. Believe it or not, art played a role in this process.

Stonehenge, a ritual worship site was also used as a tool to predict the sun, so farmers were known to rely on Stonehenge to predict when the crops should be planted. Ritual-based art, such as dancing to bring the rain for the crops, has been used for ages, and in some cultures it is still used today.

However, in most contemporary industrial societies, the relationship between humans and the acquisition of their food is much different from the past. Few butcher their meat, gather their crops or farm. Modern societies rely on modern technologies and new businesses, rather than religion, to secure their food supply. Because of this, artwork from contemporary societies focuses on the production of food from afar, and doesn't have a ritual or religious connotation. Rather, this work tends to look critically at the entire food industry within a society.

The Texture of Food as Art

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Art that Glorifies Food

In addition to sustaining us, food is just beautiful! Artists in many cultures have made works that celebrate the glory of food or that revel in the awesome abundance of the harvest.

Images of bounty captured the richness and fertility of the land and would often feature gardens, vineyards, livestock and farming. Images of plenty showcased cornucopias, large tables overflowing with food and large landscapes. They often would be used to decorate buildings in order to show stately abundance or wealth.

Food imagery is so common that it can often go overlooked.

The Color of Food as Art

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Celebrating the Beauty of Food

Many artists choose in their works to allow food itself to be the main subject. The vivid colors and curvy shapes complement art well and produce high quality works.The fuzzy textures of a peach to the smoothness of an apple can add depth to an otherwise dull painting.

Still lifes of food are probably the most common way artists depict the beauty of food. This started way back with the Romans in the 2nd Century who were creating mosaic artwork to celebrate the beauty of food, and still goes on today.

Food as a Symbol of Honor

Images of food have been used by artists in artworks made to honor an individual. Foods associated with royalty will accompany the person in order to show that they have royal taste, great rank, and excessive wealth.

Bright colors, unusual shapes, and extensive details are added to the food, or the entire piece to bring more honor to the person and add humor to the overall piece.

Art and the Acting

While the act of eating is a necessity and commonplace activity, it is how we eat that gives it meaning. When observing art that shows people in the act of eating, we can learn a significant amount about that person, where and when they lived, their economic level and more.

Social circumstances and customs can be learned about a person just from the way they are eating or by what they are eating!

Art and Eating

Ensuring food supply has been a critical endeavor in every culture, and many cultures have called upon art to guarantee it. From ritual based art to contemporary artists using art to criticize modern food production, art history is permeated with evidence of how food has influenced culture, and vice versa.

Food has been a source of great pleasure to humans. Artists have made paintings, sculptures and photographs to glorify food, to celebrate its shape, color, texture, and to revel in its abundance. These food-based works also reveal broad social values and religious beliefs.

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