Is making a salad a work of art?

When I was in college, I spent a lot of time hanging out with people at potlucks. Many times we were asked to bring a food that represented our culture. I didn’t identify with the casseroles midwestern friends brought. I didn’t feel kinship yet with apple pies. Perhaps I could have brought latkes, but I wasn’t very good at frying things.

By my senior year in college, it finally dawned on me that salads were my cultural food. Growing up, with my mom and sister, I often ate “Everything But the Kitchen Sink” salads for dinner: greens, garbanzo beans, carrots, onions, peppers, tomatoes, avocados, apple slices, etc. etc. Sometimes, we three would all just eat out of the same large communal salad bowl — why dirty three plates? At family get-togethers during the holidays, all my relatives would bring some kind of salad to complement the host’s Thanksgiving turkey. Multiple kinds of green salads, cabbage salad, fruit salad, pasta salad, three bean salad, etc. etc.

Perhaps it was for this reason I was so tickled when I learned about artist Alison Knowles and her art project called Make a Salad. In different venues, with different people, she orchestrates the making of giant salads. Here is a video of the process:

This event really makes me question how I define art. Must art hang on a wall? Can art be delicious, colorful and event-based? Are everyday actions artistic? With my inherent love for salad, it didn’t take much to convince me that making a salad could be art.

But now that I grow vegetables, I’m even more convinced. I think one criteria for good art is that it ought to be transformative, generative.

When I seed a tray with tomato seed, when I water it and put it on heat pad, when I check it every 24 hours, I am waiting for transformation. What is more magical, artistic, generative and practical than planting tomatoes?

But I think there is only one way to find out if making a salad is really an art. Let’s do it together. Gathering Ground is planning a potluck for late summer when everyone’s gardens are going to be full and ripe and abundant. Stay tuned for more details.

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