Can Racists Be Good at It? A Simple Litmus Test if Something Is a Craft or an Art
There’s something of a running joke about KKK barbecues, and in its most recent incarnation, the dilemma of eating at Chic-Fil-A. How can people with such undigestible and repellant politics produce such delicious results?
The answer is simple: cooking is a craft, not an art.
A virulent racist can be a master carpenter. The most violent homophobe can design the best cars in the world. This can be because carpentry and design are crafts, geared around a defined purpose that require no expression from their practitioners in order to be considered excellent. You can’t taste “God Hates Fags” in a chicken sandwich.
Art is different from craft in that expression is the main thing, perhaps the only thing. To pour oneself into art is to pour one’s own expression of self out into the world, and if that self is a racist idiot, that art is nigh-guaranteed to be dumb and worthless.
Now, you might say to yourself, “I know plenty of great artists who have committed foul and unforgivable acts!” Think harder. Were these artists truly terrible people, or were they just clinically insane? A person living on the edge of dementia is not the same as David Duke.
Just because someone is crazy, though, doesn’t mean he’s a great artist. Burzum lead Varg is noted for his wacko views and burning down churches. These certainly sound like insane acts, but they are informed by an ideology that is shallow and boring. Big surprise: so is his music.
There’s a reason why Hitler’s paintings and Thomas Kinkade’s look so similar. I’m not saying Kinkade as a person was as bad as Hitler (but if you’d like to say that, that’s fine with me), I’m saying his art never rose to a level better than Hitler’s and Hitler could never have made great art.
In the line of Hitler, there is an awful lot of handwringing about Wagner and his contributions to art. Certainly, Wagner is an influential figure with great technical ability, but as for his actual art, it is easy to see that it is overwrought, over-long rubbish, the product of a small mind whose self-importance outstripped his ability. It is easy to see why such art would resonate with Hitler.
George W. Bush’s art is more interesting. Congratulations, George W. Bush, you’re better than Hitler.
There are a couple of exceptions that prove the rule with regards to cooking: Grant Achatz approaches his cooking as a highly considered enterprise, taking big risks, with expression and execution on par with a Marina Abramovitz exhibit.
Yet, even Achatz makes concessions to a diner’s food allergies and taste preferences, and no doubt to his great annoyance, he is subject and slave to the unwashed masses of Yelp, where he is treated the same as a plumber, because that is the way we as a culture view food, with the same metrics of excellence as any craft, be it fixing your toilet or trimming your hedges. If anyone in cooking can be said to be an artist, it should be Achatz, and yet the form and the economics of the situation demands that he be a craftsman.