Eating as Experience: Connecting Gastronomy to Visual Art Through the Philosophy of John Dewey
Rubin, Elizabeth Cutler
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Rubin, Elizabeth Cutler
The motivation for this capstone paper came from a recent internship at the James Beard Foundation, a culinary arts foundation in New York, NY. In this environment it was quite apparent that food and eating were regarded as intellectually stimulating and aesthetically inclined. The chef was admired as an artist, and the food, examples of his craftsmanship, was appreciated and enjoyed according to its sensory appeal. Through an extensive literature review of the aesthetic attitudes present in the fields of sociology, philosophy, and the fine arts it was understood that, according to many scholars, gastronomy and gastronomic experiences were not seen as aesthetically significant to the human environment, and, in some cases, were even documented as insignificant aspects. My approach to confront this gap in the research and to better understand the reverence observed in New York, involves the connection between the act of eating and the act of viewing art. The bridge was discovered through the writings of John Dewey (1934), a philosopher and education theorist whose seminal text, Art as Experience, expands the definition of art and aesthetic experience. The two questions that guided my process were the following: Can gastronomy be considered an aesthetic experience as Dewey proposes?; and are analytical methods used to evaluate museum experience transferrable to the aesthetic experience of gastronomy and, specifically, how can these tools be implemented to evaluate culinary events? Through close reading of Dewey’s definition of the terms “aesthetic,” “experience,” and “perception,” it was found that gastronomy could be connected to visual art through the shared relationship between the doer and the perceiver. It is by this affiliation that the perspective of the diner is augmented and the importance of sensory engagement enhanced. Despite the difference in their constituent parts, the experience of eating and the experience of viewing art can both be described as creating an aesthetic unity that brings participants closer to what they are experiencing, whether in a museum or restaurant setting. The last section strove to make practical the newfound alignment between eating and visual art. It was proposed that several museum theories used to analyze visitor experience be applied to diner experience. Specifically, the Model of Contextual Learning by Falk and Dierking (1992) was incorporated as a way to deconstruct the nebulous perceptual process of enjoyment.