How Not Going To Art School Brought Me Closer To My Greatest Artistic Inspiration: Food!

Laurel GreenfieldComment

Last week I told you why I decided against art school. You can read about that here if you missed it.

It was actually my decision to not go to art school that helped me figure out why I was so drawn to painting food. I would sit at my desk or on the floor of my dorm room and paint pictures of donuts, cupcakes, burgers, and ice cream cones, but if anyone asked me why I was obsessed with painting food I didn’t really have an answer beyond, “because I like those things!”

At the end of my sophomore year of college, I settled on a major in Hospitality Administration, but it was in my senior year that I discovered that if I did one extra writing assignment I could earn 8 credits toward a Masters in Gastronomy and then continue straight into that program after graduation.

I had read about the Gastronomy program as a freshman and was intrigued by the class list. There was food history, cheese studies, history of pots and pans, food anthropology, and so many more. I tucked it in the back of my mind and low and behold, it popped up again right before graduation!

I didn’t know exactly what it would be like or what I might do with this kind of education, but I was hoping that I might somehow be able to combine it with the art I was making. I told several people this and got the classic “yeah ok…” look, but I knew I would figure it out. It just seemed like such an obvious fit.

I started with some introductory classes and was immediately excited to be in rooms full of people as obsessed with talking about food as I was. There were students with history backgrounds heading toward PhDs, students who worked in marketing for food companies, students interested in food policy, and so many other food-obsessed classmates. I felt like I had found my people.

I learned too much to recap here, but what really spoke to me were the lessons and readings about food memory, identity, and nostalgia. The most classic example is Proust’s madeleine. If you haven’t read that portion of “Remembrance of Things Past” I highly encourage you to read it here. But the gist is that Proust takes a bite of a madeleine dipped in tea and is instantly overcome with joy and nostalgia for a moment in the past that he can’t quite put his finger on until he accepts that he might not be able to remember.

A more contemporary example of this same thing is the end of Ratatouille when the food critic Ego takes a bite of his ratatouille and is instantly transported to his childhood.

Through lengthy class discussions about food and memory and culture and identity, it occurred to me that this overwhelming sense of joyful memory and nostalgia triggered by food is EXACTLY what was inspiring me to paint food all along. It wasn’t about the food at all. It was about the joy and the memories. I just wasn’t able to articulate that before!

It has been 3 years since I graduated from the Gastronomy program, but I’ve been using what I learned as inspiration ever since, even if just subconsciously.

Gaining a deeper understanding of my creative inspiration helped me tremendously to keep going and keep paying attention to the things that really inspired me to paint. Being around other people who loved talking about food as much as I did also validated that food and nostalgia and memory are worth talking about!

There are still days when I wonder what my life as an artist would be like if I had sucked it up and gone to art school, but I think pursuing my interests and letting them inform my art was a better decision for me.

Artistic technique is definitely important, but I think that a love for your subject and inspiration helps you make better art than technique alone can.

What gets you excited as an artist? What subjects appear over and over in your work? What feeling are you most often trying to convey?

Tell me in a comment below!