July, 2016

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The Paintings of S H Raza

Saturday, July 30th, 2016

On the 23rd of July, the art world lost another accomplished artist – Syed Haider Raza. Raza is known for his close association with the Bombay Progressive Artists’ Group, a firebrand group of modern artists formed by influential painters like M.F. Hussain, F.N. Souza, K.H. Ara and others. Raza is also celebrated for his syncretic abstract paintings which combine Indian iconography and philosophy with European art styles. His later works, which centred on the ‘Bindu’ are his most famous and fetching pieces. At the age of 94, the artist breathed his last, and although he is no longer in our midst, we can still explore his thoughts, preoccupations and guiding philosophies through his work.

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Raza’s paintings are instantly identifiable through their characteristic style. Geometric patterns, bold colours and abstract themes abound in his work. Here are a couple of his paintings to help you familiarize yourself with his unique style.

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Image courtesy: India Art

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Image courtesy: Pinterest

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Image courtesy: Pinterest

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Image courtesy: ScoopWhoop

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Image courtesy: Whats Hot

Tips from the Best for Budding Photographers

Friday, July 29th, 2016

First-timers always have it difficult. You feel too self-conscious, or afraid to immerse yourself completely in your hobby. If photography is what you’ve taken to, you might have a hard time getting those ‘perfect shots.’ If it hasn’t been going as planned, don’t let disappointment sink in. Here’s something to help you feel motivated again.

Sometimes, the most difficult part of taking a photograph is just that, snapping the shot.  What you’re essentially doing is freezing it time significant moments that belong to others, and this awareness, of being the outsider, can make you feel like an unwelcome, inquisitive meddler. You have to step cautiously and silently around your subjects,  careful not to destroy their moment with your intrusive camera. This can feel a lot like the stealthy journey of a stray cat, out to pilfer a carton of milk. But, when the deed is accomplished, like the cat, you do end up with a rich, refreshing prize. Diane Arbus puts this feeling in words quite aptly -

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The man who captured the haunting eyes of ‘The Afghan Girl’ tells us what motivates him to do what he does. It’s good inspiration for all those who love being behind the lens, for only by expanding our search can we come across truly interesting subjects to place in front of our lenses.

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The era of Instagram and instant-everything has boosted learning opportunities like never before. At the click of a button, we can expose ourselves to the best and worst works of people in the field. And while glancing through the gallery of an accomplished photographers does help us jot down tips for our own photography, it can also leave one feeling quite unaccomplished and ungifted. But, Cartier-Bresson puts these rookie fears to rest by telling us this-

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Very often, we roam around looking for the perfect setting, or the perfect-looking subject. But, although both these are important, what’s more important is your camera settings, and your ability to manipulate these to bring out something special in your image. The man who gave us two important photographic techniques – The Zonal System and Visualization – tells us how to get the elusive perfect shot.

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If you see her celebrity photographs featured on the cover of Vanity Fair, the question you feel like asking her is “How?” How did you dream up that image? How did you think of dunking Whoopi Goldberg in a tub of milk, or asking Demi Moore to flaunt so boldly and beautifully, her baby bump? Here’s what the lady has to say-

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Well, we hope these words from some of the best in the business help you sharpen your snapping skills.

Photography Facts that will make Shutterbugs Shudder

Thursday, July 28th, 2016

Today, DSLRs are as ubiquitous as selfie-clicking teenagers. If you don’t own the ‘mother of all cameras,’ there always are the less-prestigious but trusty point-and-shoot ones, and if you find yourself without either of these, well, you always have your phone. However, just a few generations ago, our forefathers weren’t as lucky. In the olden days, poker-faced princesses had to rely on the skill of painters, and later on, when the oldest and bulkiest cameras saw the light of day, hapless subjects had to rely on their ability to stay poker straight if they wanted to see a replica of their sweet faces on canvas or on film. In those days, things were very different. To know how different, read on.

The Victorians had some strange and very unscientific practices. However, this piece of trivia will make their love for arsenic and strangulating corsets seem tame in comparison. It’s well known that the Victorians didn’t exactly enjoy the best kind of photographic equipment. Photographers lugged around bulky contraptions, complete with a curtain, to click pictures of people. It is also known that it took a really long time for the image to register on the wet plate, and this required people to hold their positions for almost 30 secs to a minute! But, humans will be humans and will insist on clicking those cute (rather creepy) baby pictures despite the really long exposure times. And, babies will be babies and will refuse to sit still for even a second. So, how does one work around this problem? By camouflaging the mother as a chair/curtain/rug and making her hold the baby still! Can you spot the mother in these rather disturbing pictures?

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Image courtesy: The Listicles

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Digital photographs don’t seem like a luxury anymore, right? We hardly thank the inventor of the process every time we click a photo on our phone or watch a video or circulate our captures among friends. However, there is quite an interesting story behind the invention of digital photography. The first digital camera, albeit a very rudimentary model, was invented by Mr. Steven Sasson, a young engineer working for Kodak. The camera was created in 1975 and took 23 seconds to display the photograph on tape. The story goes that he tried to convince his bosses to invest in his invention, however, his bosses were of the opinion that no one would want to view an image on a screen! Hence, they continued to focus on their existing technology which used film and never thought of capitalizing on this new invention, until it was too late. This could explain why Kodak isn’t popular in the DSLR world today. However, years later when the technology began to gain popularity, the digital camera patent helped the company (yes, not poor Mr. Sasson) earn billions of dollars. The moral of the story then is that sometimes, it’s good to jump on the bandwagon!

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Image courtesy: Photomag

Hasselblad cameras have become synonymous with space missions. Several of them accompanied the astronauts on the mission that seen a man land successfully on the moon. So, it is because of these cameras that we got our first glimpse of how the moon looks, and also, that the mission wasn’t a conspiracy! Well, the sad news though is that because of its heavy weight, 12 cameras had to be left back (Where? On the moon, duh!) so that the astronauts could carry back something that was slightly more important – substantial samples of lunar rocks.

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Image courtesy: wired

Inventors are a crazy bunch and several of them have gone to questionable lengths to achieve their goals. French neurologist Guillaume Duchenne can act as the poster boy of this bunch. Eager to test the notion that the face is indeed connected with the soul (what??) he went about applying electric shocks to damaged muscles and photographed the results. One of his unfortunate subjects was a shoe maker who was suffering from Bell’s Palsy (A condition that causes weakness or paralysis of face muscles.) He subjected the unlucky man to more than 100 such sessions, while photographer Paul Tournachon captured the man’s agony on film. What learnings did the experiment throw up? That specific muscles are used when a person gives a genuine smile. The authentic smile, or the smile given when a person is truly pleased of happy, is called the ‘Duchenne smile’ in physiology.

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Image courtesy: Stuff to Blow your Mind

Today, coloured images have become the norm and black and white images have become rare, a colour theme reserved for evocative candid images or symmetric silhouettes. However, years ago, things were the other way round, till a physicist named James Maxwell came on the scene. This man didn’t only give us the electromagnetic theory, he also gave us the first coloured photograph. Maxwell captured the colours of a tartan ribbon by photographing it three times through yellow, blue and red filters and then combining the images. And voila! This was what he created.

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Good stuff, ain’t it?

Why you must read P.G. Wodehouse

Saturday, July 23rd, 2016

If you’re ever posed the ‘what-would-you-carry-with-you-if you-were-trapped-on-a-island?’ question, make sure that you’re answer is – “A P.G. Wodehouse book.” Trust us, you won’t regret the decision. It is only in a Wodehouse book that you will find humor in every line. The man, a keen observer of people and situations, presents beautifully and humorously the most eccentric quirks of people. His long, carefully worded lines might be a little difficult to take in at first, but once you get the hang of it, you’ll devour book after book with ease. Don’t believe us? Here’s a little taste of his witty lines to tempt you into reading his books ASAP!

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A Farewell Interview with NSPA Artist Tushar Maithani

Saturday, July 23rd, 2016

He strikes you as a silent guy, soft-spoken, poised and always ready with a smile. At first encounter, one finds hardly any trace of that quirky sense of humour so abundant in his self-written songs, nor can one imagine him working large mobs into frenzied appreciation. But, he does own a generous amount of the former and succeeds brilliantly in achieving the latter. Stick around for one of Tushar Maithani’s performances and you’ll know what we are talking about. A long-time NSPA artist and veteran busker, as he leaves the NSPA to take longer leaps in his music career, Tushar talks to us about his time in the NSPA and what it feels like to be a busker in Mumbai.

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Your relationship with the NSPA has been a long-standing one and it gives us great pride to see you move on to greener pastures. Tell us about your experience working with NSPA, what motivated you to join the organization and what role has the organization played in your journey as a musician?

I always knew that I wanted to pursue music in some capacity and this desire drew me to Mumbai, where I took up a job with Teach For India. Here, I came across performance photos of a friend and ex-colleague, Neeraj Arya, who was then an NSPA artist and this piqued my interest in the NSPA. On a whim, I applied to the NSPA and got selected after an audition. Back then, I had no idea that I would get paid for my performances. Just the thought of getting a chance to play in front of people in public spaces was so exciting that I didn’t want to pass the opportunity by. I put up my first performance in Bandra, in December 2013 and since then, I’ve been with the NSPA for around two a and a half years. The NSPA has been a lucky chapter in my life for many reasons, firstly for providing monetary support when I most needed it, secondly for giving me a chance to not just perform, but perform the kind of music I wanted to and most importantly, for helping me connect with other artists in the area. It was through my NSPA gigs that I garnered several other performance opportunities. In fact, offers for most of the music-related activities I do apart from the NSPA came to me during an NSPA performance or through an NSPA contact. So, I must say the NSPA has played a pivotal role in my journey as a musician.

Busking is a difficult activity, one that demands a lot from the artist. How did you cope with the difficulties and disappointments that accompany the act? Has it lead to spells of self-doubt and low confidence or has it made you a more resilient performer?

Busking is difficult, especially if you’re a solo performer, because that means you have to perform all by yourself, with no setup or even a fellow artist to give you company. To add to this, on a few lucky days you enjoy a large audience, however, on other days, the numbers dwindle to just one person, and at times, none. On such days, it depends on how you choose to deal with the situation. You can either play your best or your worst. You can use these setbacks to develop a thick skin and become a stronger performer, or you can let it break your confidence. It’s really a matter of perspective and choice. I would use these low traffic days to improvise on my music, jam with other artists and experiment with styles, ask them for feedback on my songs. So, even if there was no one around to watch me perform, I would still invest a 100% in my performance. Busking has also made me a confident performer, because the nature of busking is such that it forces you to perform in a range of surroundings and exposes you to different kinds of audiences. Today, I know for a fact that, irrespective of the venue or the size of the audience, I will still be able to put up a good show. So all in all, I’d say busking has had a positive rather than negative impact on me as a musician.

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Tushar busking at Equal Streets, Bandra.

You enjoy writing and have penned quite a few originals. Your “slice of life” compositions have a humorous edge and this is what makes your songs relatable and enjoyable. Has busking impacted your writing in any way?

Yes, it definitely has. Busking has helped me grow as a musician and a songwriter. When I started performing my original compositions at railway stations or at Carter Road, I noticed that people weren’t really enjoying them. I realized that I would have to try something different, something that would captivate the interest of the average, middle class Mumbaikar on the move, who formed my primary audience. I wanted to stick to themes that I felt strongly about, but I also needed to add an extra something to make my songs stand out. That’s when I decided to start experimenting with humour, however the satirical, intellectually-stimulating kind rather than the crass, cheesy variety we’re normally treated to, like in Baba Sehgal’s or Honey Singh’s songs. I began writing songs with a sarcastic edge, with lyrics that poked fun at relatable, familiar problems people encounter. And guess what, these songs worked! Today, I have a bank of fifteen such songs, and every time I perform one of my originals, I get people telling me that they enjoyed the lyrics. So, in a way, busking helped me define the kind of songs I wanted to write, the kind of stories I wanted to tell through my songs.

Unlike the stage, which almost physically separates you from your audience, busking places you much nearer, in fact within the midst of your audience. Has this heightened proximity to your listeners helped you derive unique matter for your songs? Have you come across particularly interesting people you’ve wanted to write about?

Very often. In fact my first song, ‘Koi Aadmi,’ the lyrics of which go like this “Koi aadmi yahan pe naam bada kamaye, toh koi saala soch soch ke zindagi yuhi gavayein,” (some people here earn a great name for themselves, while some idle their lives away worrying) is what came out of my observation of people at the Mumbai Metro. You find some people who are so jovial even at the end of the day while others wear perpetual frowns. I try to capture such humorous paradoxes, eccentricities or life truths in my songs. Performing in public spaces then offers a wealth of matter and you never fall short of subjects or quirks or incidents to write about.

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Tushar performing at Kandivli station.

If busking were to become popular in India, i.e. busking in the true sense – playing for money, what impact would it have on the music and arts scene? Do you think Indian artists would welcome the concept? More importantly, do you think the Indian audience is ready to appreciate street performances and provide monetary support to a street performer?

Over here again, it depends on the individual. Some musicians might be open to it while some might not be. For example, there is an uncle who plays the accordion at Carter’s and Bandstand and a dance troop that accompanies him. They’ve created a respectable act and they do busk for money. They’re so good that I’ve placed a 100 Rupees in their hat several times. If an artist decides to busk, then he should be really good. Often, you find people who can probably play a couple of chords playing on the streets. When the streets offer bad artists or music, people start believing that all artists who play on the streets are terrible. This makes them look down on buskers and consider the act of busking disrespectable. Right now, this is exactly how people react to buskers. In turn, this perception dissuades good artists from performing on the streets. I, myself, wouldn’t be comfortable with the idea of playing on the streets for money. However, it would be really nice if busking became popular and acceptable here, because it would be of big help to artists. It can become a source of income for them. So I would love to see such a culture in the country.

Is there any incident, good or bad, that you remember vividly from your time busking? Also, if the opportunity arises, would you like to busk again?

There are quite a few. I remember once NSPA was putting up its first performance at Vikhroli station, and I happened to be the artist performing there. I had to perform on a bridge and there was no standee or chair or any sign that a performance was going to happen. People were rushing past, lost in their own worlds and I had to perform in the midst of this chaos. At that moment, I felt really self-conscious and unsure. But, I decided to just play my best, and that’s what I did. At the end of my session, I ended up signing autographs! There was another time when a man offered me a 100 rupee note after my performance. I told him I couldn’t take the money, and then he said that he actually wanted me to sign on it! So, yeah, there have been quite a few memorable moments. And yes, given a chance, I’d definitely like to busk again.

Tushar Maithani currently works with Raghav Sachar as an Assistant Music Director.

You can find his music on his YouTube channel and SoundCloud account.

Top Black and White Music Videos

Saturday, July 16th, 2016

Of late, we’ve seen a switch towards overly colourful videos, almost gaudy in their selection of shades. Bright bubblegum pinks, electric blues and popping greens and yellows permeate the videos, giving them a fairy tale, candyland feel. However, vibrant colours aren’t a fool proof formula for a successful video, sometimes, it’s this very absence that makes the video meaningful and powerful. Here are some videos that rocked the black and white colour theme and made history despite their simplicity.

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Vogue – Madonna

This iconic video, directed by David Finch is as notable for its music as it is for its references. The video pays tribute to the Golden Age of Hollywood and the artistic style of the 1920s and 30s. Art Deco-inspired sets, risqué getups and close-ups that mimic the works of celebrated photographers make this video an interesting study of the music & film industry in 1920s and 30s America. Take a look at this piece of art and get ready to vogue!

Scream – Michael & Janet Jackson

Rumoured to be one of the most expensive music videos ever made, this MJ video became an absolute craze in the 90s. Featuring the brother sister duo performing inside a futuristic spacecraft-like setup, the video shows a frustrated Michael venting out his anger through rebellious lyrics and dance moves. If you’re an MJ fan, this video is a must watch.

Take Me to Church – Hozier

This moving video traces an unconventional love story and the horrors of prejudice and hatred. The monochrome colour theme gives the video a documentary feel, which works in its favour. By the end of the video, you’ll thank your lucky stars that the video was in black and white, for if it had to be in colour, you’d probably not be able to withstand all that it depicts!

Every Breath you Take – The Police

This video was hailed for its artistic black and white cinematography. Many found it reminiscent of a Bergman film. The abstract nature of the video and the rotational scenes add to the charm of the video.

Back to Black – Amy Winehouse

The video has the gorgeous Amy Winehouse performing funeral rituals, which acts as a metaphor for the death of her relationship with the man she loves. Thus, the black and white theme is pretty fitting for the video. Keep an eye out for those frames that play with light, highlighting depth, contrast and shadows.

Amitav Ghosh: Voicing the Unvoiced

Saturday, July 16th, 2016

If you’re a person who believes in equality and deplore the way the underprivileged are treated in our society, Amitav Ghosh’s novels will earn a special place in your heart. A man who championed the voice of the subaltern, he dedicated novel after novel to exploring the lives of the marginalized, the one’s denied of a voice. His discerning plots explore their hardships, their dreams and disappointments and more importantly, their stories of success and defeat. As an Indian writer, his novels also highlight events that hold an important place in our nation’s history and this makes his stories relatable and interesting. Through these events, and the lives of his carefully drawn characters, he explores themes of alienation, migration, displacement and revolution. A writer who enjoyed experimenting with the novel, his novels reveal unconventional narrative techniques, making them a treat for those interested in studying the art of narration. He is also famous for obliterating borders in his stories and pointing out the intangible, but deeply ingrained divides that cause us to look at another human being as the ‘other.’ So, if you’re looking for a well-written work that challenges your mind while also giving you the feels, we suggest you pick up an Amitav Ghosh book as soon as you can. Shadow Lines, The Sea of Poppies, The Circle of Reason and The Hungry Tide are among his most famous works.

The writer celebrated his 60th birthday this week, on the 11th of July. As a tribute to his wit and wisdom, here’s highlighting some of the finest lines from his work.

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The Naropa Festival 2016: Kumbh Mela Feels in Ladakh

Wednesday, July 13th, 2016

Given the past week’s events, we’re all desperate for something positive to happen in Kashmir. Something that will put a smile back on people’s faces and dispel the dark cloud of fear that has been looming over like a deathly Dementor. Well, it looks like the Buddhist saint-scholar Naropa, revered for his empathy and intelligence, will once again journey to this paradisiacal place to spread love and happiness in a time of turmoil. From July to August, the Hemis monastery in Ladakh will come alive with festivities to mark the 1000 year anniversary of Naropa’s visit to Ladakh. This month-long festival, called the Naropa festival, is being celebrated after 12 years and has hence, captured the interest of tourists around the world. Grand festivities have been organized for every day of the month, but, before we reveal what these are going to be, here’s a little more information about the Naropa festival.

The Naropa festival is celebrated to commemorate the life and teachings of Naropa, a revered Buddhist scholar credited with creating the Six Yogas, a fundamental pillar in the Vajrayana Buddhist tradition. His life was a shining example of perseverance, endurance and compassion and through his teachings he sought to spread peace and goodwill among mankind. The festival is slated to be held at the Hemis Monastery, which also happens to be the largest, most distinguished monastery in Ladakh. The monastery or Gompa is located in a picturesque valley 40 km away from Leh.

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Image courtesy: tour my India

Exciting events to look out for:

The unfurling of the ‘Thangka,’ which is a mammoth silk brocade embroidered with incidents from the life of the Buddhist master Padmasambhava. The brocade is considered to be the largest in Ladakh and stretches from the roof of the monastery to its floor.

The various traditional song and dance performances put up by lamas. Another great performance to look out for is the Tsam dance or the masked dance. (To know more about this traditional dance form, read our article: Tsam Dance – Exploring the Myths & Meanings behind the Masks)

A light show organized by French lighting experts. 3D video mapping will be used for projecting images of Ladakh’s culture and wildlife on the monastery walls.

One of the largest assemblies of Drupka masters. Take part in the prayer sessions organized by them.

Shop for souvenirs, handicrafts made by local artisans, paintings and an array of other items from stalls and community markets.

Display of the sacred Six Bone Ornaments of Naropa, laid out by the head of the Drupka Order, His Holiness Gyalwang Drupka.

Well, so if you’d like to experience all this first hand, do make a trip to the scenic Ladakh and be a part of this wonderful festival. For more details about this festival, visit their website: http://naropa2016.org/programe.php

Top 5 Frida Kahlo Quotes

Saturday, July 9th, 2016

Frida Kahlo is known as much for her paintings as she is for her indomitable spirit. At a time when women were being severely oppressed all around the world, Frida stood out an an independent woman with a mind of her own, a true feminist in her own right. Subjected to life’s hardships, she experienced much pain and suffering, yet, she never gave up on the things or people she loved. Though she is no more, she still serves as an inspiration to women around the world and lives on through her perceptive and moving paintings. Here are some of her most insightful sayings.

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“Nothing is worth more than laughter. It is the strength to laugh and to abandon oneself, to be light.”

“I am my own muse. I am the subject I know best. The subject I want to better.”

 “I paint flowers so they will not die.”

A surrealistic painting of Kahlo

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“Nothing is absolute. Everything changes, everything moves, everything revolves, everything flies and goes away.”

“I want to be inside your darkest everything.”

Another of her paintings titled ‘Roots.’

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Food Art: Pleasing your Palate and Plate

Saturday, July 9th, 2016

I still remember the first time I bought a coffee from one of those branded (and expensive) coffee shops, the ones that offer exotic-sounding varieties like Americanos and Machiatos, and the sense of awe that crept up in me as I gazed inside my perfectly-brewed cup. There, dancing over the piping hot coffee, was a pretty leaf, formed of foamy froth and coffee dust. Perfectly shaped and precisely detailed, that leaf was to me nothing less than a work of art!

Time and again, in our Instagram feeds or on the glossy pages of some magazine or, if we have the dough to spend, in the plates in front of us, we get to see extremely well-presented dishes, dishes that are designed to appeal to our sight as much as they are seasoned to please our taste buds. Fancy flourishes of a crunchy lettuce leaf or a fine drizzle of a spicy sauce dress up a modest dish and transform it into a veritable pièce de résistance. Of late, especially with the mushrooming of gourmet restaurants, chefs have begun experimenting extensively with presentation. From carefully arranging the components into beautiful patterns to creating detailed pictures on the plate, chefs are leaving no stone unturned in their efforts to woo customers with truly unique dishes. In fact, so creative and attractive are these creations that they have been elevated to the status of art. Food art of culinary art is now being considered a new genre of art, some even including it among the performing arts. If you’re reading this and going, “What the?!” you’re not the only person. This move, of including gastronomical creations into the realm of the arts, has elicited as much criticism as it has praise.

Those not in favour of the move have the following arguments to make; firstly that food is cooked primarily for consumption and therefore, there is always a monetary angle involved. Chefs innovate to increase sales and not because they believe in creating something beautiful. Secondly, that food is well, food, edible items meant for nourishing the system rather than stimulating thought or change. Since the principle purpose of art is to bring about a change in the individual, food simply cannot be looked at as art. Those in favour of the move strike down these accusations with the following arguments: the monetary angle is a consideration for most artists, even if not overtly, every artist wants his art to be appreciated, in a way, consumed. Also, if dishes are sold, art is sold too, in fact, at exorbitant rates. Secondly, that art does not necessarily need to have a cleansing or moralizing aspect. Good art can simply appeal to our senses, move us with its beauty. A well decorated dish succeeds in doing this. In fact, it appeals to not just one but multiple senses, like smell, sight, touch and taste. So, if it does manage to wow the viewer, it should be looked at as art!

Well, the arguments will continue, but in the end, what matters is how you feel when you see a delectably decorated dish in front of you. Does it draw in all your concentration and tingle your senses and make you feel good about life? If your answer is yes, then you’re probably among those who consider food to be art. And guess what, it’s okay!

Here are some delicious and artsy spreads, drool!

Mosaic made from beans and other food items. Artist: Jason Mecier.

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Artwork on eggshells. Artist: Christel Assante

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Sculpture made from butter. Artist: Jim Victor

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Foodscapes by artist Carl Warner

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Fruit and vegetable art by artist Ray Duey

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All the more reason to love food, right?