Making art is like cooking food

This is an analogy I find particularly useful, especially when talking to young artists about how the process and product of their art-making. It involves situating what we know about food, cooking, and the sale of food and how closely linked it is to art, art-making and the sale of art. Analogies are rarely completely perfect but I have seen a lot of “Aha” moments while explaining things from this perspective and wanted to write it down to hopefully turn more conceptual lightbulbs on!

When you learn to cook – you start with cooking for yourself

Whenever you started to learn to cook, chances are you started because you wanted to learn how to make something in particular that you like to eat. You have to feed yourself and either there is no one to cook for you or no one makes it exactly the way you like it. It’s also possible that you were called on by your family to start contributing in culinary ways and so you dutifully learned how to boil, fry and bake. In any case, most people would not want to go through the process of cooking and not enjoy the food themselves. There are several analogies wrapped up in this first point especially if you think of frying, baking, and boiling as different mediums and processes.

  • The more tools you know how to use and the more methods you know the more good food you can make.
  • There are times when you will realize that you are hungry and you begin the process of thinking “What should I cook?” “What do I know how to cook?” “What do I have to cook with?”
  • You should be making food that you enjoy. Feed yourself and make it exactly how you like it, and then offer to share with others.

No one goes out and tries to sell their second pot of rice

What I mean by this is even well-established chefs started somewhere but most likely they didn’t open a restaurant because they cooked rice once. You have to make a lot of food before you even think about opening up a spot, whether it’s a restaurant, bistro, food truck or catering service. You have to be able to consistently make a good product (as the result of good processes) and you have to make it in a way that is somehow special to your audience. Even the guys doing barbecue by the side of the road have their own flavours for their sauce and prep that makes their barbecue unique. Take the time to learn the food you like to cook and do it well before merchandising it!

(This is a good spot to remind you that we’re still talking about art here.)

There are different types of food we consume for different reasons

If your audience spent all day every day at fancy restaurants buying expensive meals, they may run out of funds or simply crave something a little ‘easier’ every now and then. If you audience always eats fast and processed food they may not even realize when they have good quality, fresh food in front of them. Balance is everything. It’s ok to eat a burger every now and then and it’s good to calibrate your palette with fine dining. Having an awareness of the scope and breadth of what there is to consume allows you to make better decisions and awareness to know what you want, when you want it. It also allows you to connect better with your audience if you know they are looking for something quick to take with them and you are trying to show them your 7-course Prix Fixe menu.

No one wants a $50 roti

This goes along with the last point, but you have to understand the type of food you’re making, who and why usually consumes it, and what other people sell theirs for. My favorite roti costs $14.50 but I know where to get them for $10 and $5. What do I do when I see a roti, a particular type of food with a particular market value typically consumed in a particular type of way for $50? Most likely walk away. (Honestly I might ask a couple questions like what kind of magical beast meat went into this extravagantly priced meal). Know the type of work you make and where it is situated in the market.

I’m ready to open my restaurant

Are you basing this big decision off facebook likes? Understand that chefs spend years and years perfecting their craft and building their audience. Many will have undergone some professional training and all of them at some point had a mentor that showed them the ropes. By starting a restaurant they are taking on the responsibility of having an overhead and the day to day labor of sending out their work to an audience that may occasionally make requests to make something not on the menu or they want the steak well done and served with ketchup. Chefs will have their craft insulted, questioned, and finally at times, celebrated. They do it because they enjoy the process and they don’t make a fortune on each plate. It is a grind of consistently putting out a good product and showing up to work every day.

What type of restaurant are we talking about?

(Just a reminder: restaurant = gallery or sale of your artwork)

I have had some bad restaurant experiences in some beautiful places. I was in Cinque Terre, in Italy at a bistro on an old cobble stone street and didn’t take the cues that this restaurant was “Turistic”. The food was obviously microwaved upon my order and came out burnt on one side and cold on the other. Fine, they got my money for that round but not only would I not go back there, I would not go back to a place that looked like that restaurant. When you’re working on planning for your restaurant are you wanting to open a 5-star restaurant that will challenge the palette of your visitors with prices that are proportionally challenging? Do you want to have a space where people can come in and hangout and order some food for takeout? Will your restaurant have a different menu every 2 weeks or will someone be able to come back after 10 years and still find the same food?

Wrapping Up

This analogy can go on and on but I think the efficacy of the analogy is that the path and trajectory of food, cooking, restaurants etc. are a little more clear to us in general than the path of artist, art-making, galleries, sale of work etc. The processes are similar. Show up, make good food based on good processes, good ingredients; make food that you like without always trying to guess what someone somewhere else might like to eat. There is a saying that our relationship with others is a reflection of our relationship with our self. Make sure you are fed before offering your creation to others.

Asher Mains is an internationally recognised artist from Grenada, West Indies. He is the founder and director of Art School Greenz, the alternative art school in Grenada as well as a lecturer at St. George’s University. Mains is committed to the development of art and artists in his home country.

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