To be cultured…

In the endless searching for news that doesn’t concern war, politics or other disasters I found this interesting opinion piece on The New York Times a few weeks ago: How Food Replaced Art as High Culture.

The title struck me at first because I didn’t know that food had replaced art as high culture. How could it have passed me by? As a ardent lover of art, I was instantly defensive.

In the article, Bill Deresiewicz writes that “Foodism has taken on the sociological characteristics of what used to be known — in the days of the rising postwar middle class, when Mortimer Adler was peddling the Great Books and Leonard Bernstein was on television — as culture.” The reasons for this are cost, the necessity of knowledge and connoisseurship (a new word for me), the lurking notation of class, and that it gives snobs of the world something to one up each other with.

The author does not have me convinced, as it seems to me that he presents his argument rather than supports it. Regardless, it is any interesting thing to think about. Food is an obvious feature of culture, but does it designate high culture.

Its a tough question to ponder. My initial thought is no, because food, while similar to art can give enjoyment, is necessary to survival, while physically, art is not. But if painting and sculpture please through the eyes, music through the ears, why can’t food be an art that is taken through the mouth? It would be processing something creative via one of the senses.

Yet there is the tangibility aspect as well. Can food be a marker of culture if it isn’t eaten? Does it continue to denote high culture after it has been digested? Does looking at foodporndaily online add to the foodie repertoire, or is the experience of eating necessary?

I find some issue in the terminology. There is often confusion behind the word culture. The confusion roots from our usage of “cultured” as a word that describes someone who possess an interest in or life of art, literature, music, etiquette, philosophy. The problem that presents is it “culture” is things that make up a society, their food, language, habitudes etc, art, music, literature. See the problem?

It is considered a good thing to be cultured, and I highly support that view. I think the word could change. I also think the term “high culture” should change, as it negates the intrinsic culture of a community. Is it not “high culture” to embrace authenticity rather than innovative conceptual modernity.

There are three rough levels to existence, as far as I can tell. Surviving is at the base, and it entails eating, breathing and sleeping. Essentially, doing the things one needs to continue their existence. Next is living. You grow up, get a job, but never push the boundaries. You take what you are given and roll with it. Finally, there is thriving, which is to take advantage of every opportunity, and when the opportunity doesn’t present itself, it means finding it.

In my understanding of the world, exploring history, philosophy, art, language, different cultures, music are essential to thriving because they enrich our lives. We’re born blank canvases, and every song we listen, everything we learn, everything we try, every risk we take is another splotch of paint that makes up the masterpiece of our lives. Don’t try enough and your painting will be incomplete and inadequate.

One last note, is that this painting that we make of our lives is a personal thing. Its not a resume to be bragged about. While we can of course share our experiences, there is nothing personally gained by showboating  what we have seen, read, tried or tasted. Our experiences enrich our own lives and when we share them we must enrich others too.

And so the adventure continues…

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One response to “To be cultured…

  1. I agree that he only presented the argument but didn’t fully follow through. However, I think he was getting at the appreciation of food moreso than food in its most literal form (survival). It is high culture to have a connoisseurship of food because it requires money and knowledge, as does art. To answer your question, I think eating it is necessary – it’s like seeing a painting online versus actually going to the museum and seeing it and researching it.

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