Why I like Art

“I like art,” is possibly the least controversial statement that one can make.  The difficulty comes in how this appreciation manifests itself in one’s life.

I am a museum person. Somewhere in between the statement “I like art” and “I purposefully seek out art at museums” lies a line that some people will not cross. And while an argument can be made that art isn’t (or shouldn’t be) made for museums, I am not so ideologically rigid that I believe that museum visits should be rejected out of hand. In fact, I recognize and even appreciate the fact that, in order to see some of the masterpieces that are available for public consumption, a museum is the only place one can go. This position can be a little daunting for my travel companions, some of whom see museum trips as on par with viewings at funeral homes.

Add to this the fact that,  in this digital world, while in the midst of the silicon revolution, mediums such as paintings and sculptures can seem both quaint and anachronistic. These are the mediums of a bygone era, dinosaurs in an era where even film is now seen as “old-fashioned”.

So why do I go? Why do I consume and consider these mediums? It’s not because they are important (even though they are), or because I feel obliged to in order to feel as if I’m a well-rounded person. I do so because these works provide insight into both the artists, as well as the cultures in which they were produced. As I get older and gather a deeper appreciation of history (which I’ll explain in a different post), that insight that art supplies can be critical to understanding a “bigger picture”. That insight is another data point in understanding what it was like to be alive in Venice in 1500, Amsterdam in 1650, or Paris in 1875.

Additionally, when I view several works of art, patterns emerge which sometimes speaks to some historical meta-narrative. For example, the Impressionist movement is, in part, the result in a change of technology. Paint became more transportable, once the craft of making paints became more industrialized. Once paint became easier to carry, artists left their studios to develop their works outdoors.  Figuring this, and other similar bits of information, has allowed me to understand various movements better.

This “understanding,” as nebulous as it may be at times, is addictive to me. It’s akin to solving a puzzle. It’s what keeps me opening new books, as well as going to museums.

It doesn’t always work this way, as sometimes what the artwork conveys is complex and not always apparent. There are also times when the insight speaks more to who I am than to what the artist’s intent was. But this is a feature and not a bug. In fact, artwork that teaches me something about myself is far more important to me than one that speaks to its era.

Why do I like art? Because it teaches. The ability to learn what it teaches, and acknowledging the challenge in that process  is something I’ve come to appreciate in my life.

Leave it to me…

Yes, I started out interested in food and ended up passionate about history.

The Historical Place of Sugar and Honey

Note: From time to time, I’m going to repost items from the archives of Accidental Hedonist. Some of these items will be of note only to myself. Others may/should provide context for ideas I’m playing with on the site.

Initially posted: December 7, 2009 

At the suggestion of my publisher, my initial idea of a book about chocolate has evolved into a broader subject which may or may not evolve into a book of some sort. So for the past week or so, I’ve been immersing myself into the history and anthropology of sweets in order to write a passable book proposal.

During the course of the readings, there has been one belief of mine that has been pretty much dismissed or diminished by anthropologists. Foods that we deem as “sweet” have, for the most part, been less of an influence on nutrition and less of an influence on food culture than we in the modern age may believe.

In reading Sidney W. Mintz’s book Sweetness and Power: The Place of Sugar in Modern History, he states that, for the most part , civilizations “have been built on the cultivation of a particular complex carbohydrate, such as maize or potatoes or rice or millet or wheat.” The rest of a culture’s food choices have evolved in such a way to make these foundation foods both interesting and varied. Think of the many ways that rice dishes are presented in East Asia, or corn dishes are offered in Mexico, and you’ll have a rough idea on what Mintz is trying to say.

Fruits, at least those domesticated to a point where they could be grown on a regular basis, weren’t as prevalent as some of us would like to believe. Apples have been around since about 8,000 BCE and dates in 6,000 BCE, but the age of domesticated fruits truly doesn’t occur until 4000 BCE with citrus, watermelons, and grapes becoming a farmed crop. That’s 6,000 years into the civilized era. By this time, Homo sapiens have already mastered the way of farming the carbohydrates they need to survive.

Because of this “complex carbohydrates first!” trait found in many cultures, simple carbohydrates take on a unique, and at times, even relegated position in food history. Honey, which popped onto the scene at around 5,000 BCE became an exalted product. Many religions incorporated it into their rituals and undertakings, making it one of the first food stuffs to reach (literally) cult status.

Sucrose (or granulated sugar, as we know it) is a recent food product, not hitting the Western World until about 700 AD (give or take) when Muslim expansion brought the sugar cane into the Southern European growing regions. Its influence was so profound upon the Europeans that finding adequate places for sugar crops and plantations was one of the driving forces of colonization into the New World, second only behind the quest for metal commodities.

While the importance of these sweeteners in food history is absolute, there’s still something about them that separates them from other foods. They are less important than salt, at least from a bio-chemical point of view. But their influence seems greater than other spices in the world.

To me, this is what makes processed sugars so profound. They are venerated, yet we can survive without them. They were one of the world’s pre-eminent luxury items, but now even a child can by a piece of candy for mere pennies. When I see a piece of candy, it’s interesting for me to see what part of history had to occur in order for this candy to exist. What’s even more interesting is that I can now dismiss that piece of candy without consumption, an idea that would have seemed wasteful two hundred years ago.

It’s Been a While

Did you ever have a moment when the world seemed to be telling you something?

Truth be told, I don’t want to believe in coincidences, or fate, or that separate, isolated incidents could be somehow related. If there’s any semblance of truth to Occam’s Razor, it’s more likely that I am seeing a pattern, than it is that the universe is creating one for my benefit. It’s important that this perspective is noted, even if only to remind myself that the universe isn’t here to tell me what to do.

Here are the facts:

  1. I haven’t been putting a lot of energy into both this website, as well as my writing career.
  2. I have instead been putting said energy into my regular, everyday, nine-to-five (well, eight-to-four) job.
  3. I have been less happy.

Whether my state of mind is the result of items one and two, I cannot say for certain. However, certain recent events in relation to Item 2 have made it understood that the energy I have spent may have been misdirected.

In other words, I started to care too much for my job. There’s a philosophical question in here somewhere, along the lines of “How much should one care about their job?”, but that’s not why I’m writing today. I’m writing, because of some deep understanding within myself that I’ve missed many aspects of writing, both via blogging and via books. There are some aspects that I don’t miss, but, as a whole, I am more fulfilled  when I am writing than when I am not.

I hesitate to declare anything more than that, because life is too complex to make promises (such as “I’m going to write more often”) that are at risk of not being met.   But I am making motions that are noteworthy. For instance, I’ve updated the blog engine. I’ve also cleaned up a little, having removed the archives of my past writings, with the intent of not feeling beholden to any format and/or topics of the past. I’m calling this my do-over, as blogging has changed immensely in the past ten years.

Finally, I’ve posted this entry. I’m still unsure about many things surrounding this action. For example, how often should I post? Does it matter? And more curious for me, for whom do I write this? For the longest time, I had a sizable audience, and felt pressured/required to write to that audience. In the end, that didn’t work for me, as it made it feel like a job. A job, mind you, that didn’t pay nearly as well as the one I participate in from eight A.M. to four P.M., Monday through Friday.

I’m working on the answers to these questions on a case-by-case basis.

There are things that haven’t changed. I’m still immensely curious about a whole lot of different things. And I still have a predilection for having a good time. “Hedonist”, accidental or otherwise, is still a good word for who I am. Another question, for me, is how much of my own “good time” should be communicated?

Again, I have no answers.

What I do know is that I am expending less energy at my day-job, energy that needs to go somewhere. It’s a good bet that creativity is where that energy is going to go. And for me, creativity almost always has meant writing.

All of this is my long way of saying “Yeah, I haven’t posted in a long time, because I’ve been distracted. I’m less distracted now, which might mean more attention to my writing. But maybe not. At any rate, hello! Again!”



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