Doing-cooking - Luce Giard - Making/Thinking

Perhaps one day a complete idea will manifest here, but this is not the day. Yet another sketch is all we offer up in this post. We're going light on the theory today and really blogging it up.

A recent NY Times article generated some discussion around the artist - fabricator relationship (see Art Powerlines to start). We've always wondered how a supposedly theoretically savvy art world can still cling to the mind /body lacuna. There is still a pervasive privileging of the mind over the body in art production.

The political implications of the mind/body split are well articulated by any number of feminist theorists and the split has been thoroughly problematized by philosophers and cognitive scientists. Yet, artists routinely fail to credit fabricators as it is "the idea that matters." For a great example of how this sort of thing is playing out in the realm of the legal system, look to the Dale Chihuly mess (see also the discussion around that article at Edward Winkleman).

We were going to stay quiet on the whole matter until reading through James Beard's Delights and Prejudices and in passing he mentioned the denigration of working with one's hands in reference to cooking. This leads us to the title of our post.

We've mentioned The Practice of Everyday Life Volume 2 before and Luce Giard's description of doing-cooking is especially germane here. The "gesture" of cooking is to "include the movements of the body as well as those of the mind...all the resources of intelligence and memory are thus mobilized." We have in this perspective an understanding of embodied intelligence, a conceptualization of cooking/making as thinking and of the inventive concept as a kind of making. This dovetails nicely with Deborah Fisher's attempt to develop a theory of the MakerThinker as a challenge to the artist/fabricator - mind/body - concept/practice split. She describes the MakerThinker process: "Their thinking is physical and relationship-based, and that physical thought process is evident in their work." The parallel with Giard's doing-cooking is obvious, but to further illustrate Giard describes the way cooks interpret recipes: "...the knowledge or ignorance of tiny secret practices (flouring a pie pan after greasing it so that the bottom of the crust will remain crispy after baking), an entire relationship to things that the recipe does not codify and hardly clarifies..."

In the professional cooking world, chefs are credited with the restaurant's food production despite the fact they rarely cook. Often the chef never cooks. The food that they "invent" is carried out by anonymous cooks engaged in the "tiny secret practices" that make a meal. The cook follows Giard's imperative that they "must memorize, adapt, modify, invent, combine..." in the moment, in a struggle with time. The cook develops ideas, and counter-ideas in the messy realm of bodily practice, toiling outside the privileged and lofty realm of the chef whose level of inventiveness is of an entirely different order. As we've quoted Giard before:

"Thus, entering into the vocation of cooking and manipulating ordinary things makes one use intelligence, a subtle intelligence full of nuances and strokes of genius, a light and lively intelligence that can be perceived without exhibiting itself, in short, a very ordinary intelligence."

Here's to "ordinary intelligence" in all its manifestations...