Art is Where Food Was 30 Years Ago


Something’s changed about the broader public’s interest in art and it is not just the celebrities showing up at art fairs. In many ways, art is at the beginning of a long journey into public awareness—and popularity—similar to the path taken by gourmet and artisanal food:

It would be hard to separate the growth of interest in art from the increasingly visual culture created by the internet and mobile technology. In the age of Instagram, communicating through images has become a necessary part of contemporary life. No longer a luxury, finding meaning through images is becoming a Maslovian need.

You can think of this in terms of food. The U.S. is in the midst of yet another phase of transforming tastes in food. Not 30 years ago, processed foods were ascendant in American culture. Today, companies who ruled that era are facing a growing preference for fast-casual restaurants that serve food prepared with fresh, whole ingredients. McDonald’s and Twinkies are down; Chipotle and Whole Foods are up. The canary in the prep kitchen, the signal that preceded this massive shift, was a change in high-end restaurant culture.

In the 1980s and 1990s, a generation of college-educated chefs followed Alice Waters’s lead and built restaurants that were more inviting and inventive showcases of food than the stuffy old restaurants in a few global cities. Over the course of 30 years, diners became accustomed to learning the about the purveyors and sourcing of their meal’s ingredients. Leveraged by the growth of a television food network and reality shows about cooking and chefs, and aided and abetted by a growth of high-quality coffee outlets and an explosion of craft brewers and cult winemakers, the language and culture surrounding food in contemporary life is nothing less than a sea change from the last century.

Art has the same opportunity. It won’t follow the same path. But there is no reason to think that our society’s enduring fascination with homes and decoration as a form of self-expression will not evolve into the kind of collecting—of diverse cultural objects from a broad variety of sources—that adds order, depth, and meaning to ordinary people’s lives.

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