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Art imitates food… and life.

January 3, 2010

Today the boy went upstate to volunteer as an 18th century soldier for a historic site event. So I spent (and am spending) the day by myself. We got back from Ohio (loooong drive) on Friday night. Our full car load included my pens, inks, parchment paper, and watercolors and brushes from home, via my mother’s luggage.

I was never a pro artist, or even much of an amateur one. I’ve never taken a drawing class or studied the principles of chiaroscuro or the stylistic brush strokes of impressionism. I dabble. Give me something to look at that’s not too complicated and I can usually reproduce it well enough that it pretty closely resembles the original. Today I went and bought watercolor paper (not, alas, something that was included in my art package) and set to painting. I had a nice pomegranate I painted, but forgot to tear it open so I could paint the ruby-red the insides, too. So I added a pear. And then made a blue background. It’s definitely not my best work. But it’s a start.

Today in perusing The Kitchn.com, I ran across the work artist Nikki McClure, who does papercut art that uses a verb as a focal point. Her art is bold, simple, and iconic. My favorites of hers are those that focus on everyday tasks like gardening or cooking. I’d like to have some of the prints up on the walls of my dream kitchen. Particularly Process, Sustain, and Encourage. I think what I like most about her art is not only the bold look and the homey subjects, but also the style, which is reminiscent of Depression-Era art and propoganda posters (in a good way). Personally, I think she is a little crazy for the medium she picked-  scissors and construction paper – but I think the art she creates is lovely.

I’ve always been a bit in love with the aesthetic. I never cared as much about art or its famous personalities as I did about whether or not a painting was beautiful, well-done, and spoke to me. So the old masters and impressionists gave me more of a thrill than Picasso or Andy Warhol or other “modern” artists.  Why does art that “says” something always seem to be ugly?

I appreciate art on a daily basis. Mostly, it’s nature who’s the artist. For instance, today on a milk run to Stewart’s, I noticed the moon. Really stopped and noticed it. It was, and still is, freezing outside (15 or so, which is better than Fargo, which has been highs of -15 or so lately) but the sky was very clear and the waxing moon very bright. It was just a moment, but I noticed. Earlier today I also noticed and appreciated the dusky green curly kale, bright, fat, and waxy green beans, and crusty bread I snagged from Adam’s today. I even appreciated the old-fashioned, block-color cartons of the Boice Bros. half and half I bought today.

I like useful things that are pretty. Or rather, pretty things that are useful. Like dishes. Lord knows I’ve inherited the china genes from my mother, grandmother, and great-grandmothers. Grandma Ruby got me started on Currier & Ives blue transferware and I’m slowly expanding to milk glass, monax petalware, azurite, and blue cobalt glass. Not to mention my collection of blue and white teacups. I don’t know what it is about blue and white and jade/celadon green, but my kitchen collection is slowly amassing in those colors.

Eating and dining are arts in and of themselves. Ever notice how the atmosphere of a restaurant can affect your opinion and enjoyment of the food? Even the best food doesn’t taste as good in an industrial-cafeteria-type setting. Paper, styrofoam, and plastic dishes and utensils in restaurants disgust me and are annoying. I’d rather have plain china than none at all. Too-dark lighting, too-loud music, and a server or neighboring diner with too-heavy perfume or cologne can ruin a restaurant experience, too. And if the food looks unappetizing, it probably is.

Maybe it’s the Dane in me, because the people of Denmark are apparently obsessed with setting a beautiful table (my fine china genes DO come from the Danish side of the family!). I once read that Danes consume more candles per person than any other nation because they like to have candlelight at every meal. How lovely is that?

I’m pretty influenced by Scandinavian country style in home design. It’s a good mixture of Georgian/Federal and homemade furniture, rich, natural colors, and plenty of sunlight. Carl Larsson is one of my favorite artists (my mom’s, too) and his work practically exemplifies Scandinavian country style. Many of his paintings also focus on food or eating, which I love. For example:

Julaftonen, or "Christmas Eve"

Here we have the Christmas Eve feast with ham, cheese, flatbread, beer, and other goodies. And the blue and white dishes! Many of Larsson’s paintings look like photographs: simple vignettes of everyday life. And that’s perhaps what I love most about them. Larsson also does excellently in capturing clear color and sunlight. Here’s another example:

Breakfast in the Open

Sweden (and Finland) have a long history with birch trees, and this outdoor vignette showcases them. You can clearly see the mix of modern clothing and old-fashioned Swedish peasant costumes. Note the copper coffee pot off to the left and the big wicker baskets and hampers the women are unpacking. And look, even outdoors there are tablecloths and flowers.

This is something that I think is lacking in American life – meals en plein air or al fresco. The Europeans seem to do it so much better than us, particularly British gentry on holiday in foreign nations. Perhaps it is because few of us historically ever had enough servants to justify it (after all, do you want to carry the chairs and table and giant hampers of china and food?), but I think it is a valuable lesson. We are a nation of picnickers, that’s for sure, but nowadays we reject even tablecloths, favoring disposable paper and plastic dishes and utensils and food that can be easily eaten out of hand like sandwiches and chips. I, even, am guilty of that, hauling our little soft cooler full of sandwiches and chips and fruit up the mountain to picnic at Lake Minnewaska. But maybe I should find a real tablecloth that I wouldn’t be afraid to let get dirty (or sew my own) and find my own picnic hamper and get some dishes from the thrift store that I wouldn’t mind if they got chipped or broken and start making dishes that need to be eaten with forks like potato salad and marinated vegetables and pasta salads and cold chicken and fruit. And a bottle of sparkling Lorina lemonade or a big bottle of Orangina with sturdy glasses and a big loaf of fresh bread. And pound cake for dessert. There. Doesn’t that sound like a feast?

Maybe that should be my New Year’s resolution this year – to make eating more beautiful and like art. Because, I have to admit, my lack of kitchen space means that I often do food preparation right on the kitchen table. So more often than not the boy and I eat on the coffee table and couch. : ( Which is bad. But cleaning has never been my forte. I’ll just have to try harder. And maybe paint some more food art along the way. : )

So this was a long ramble, but I’m wishing you all a happy new year and hope that both you and I will keep our resolutions!

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