Oct 14, 2019
Linda Duke is the director of the Marianna Kistler Beach Museum of Art at Kansas State University. Formerly the director of audience engagement at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, she joined K-State in June of 2011 and has worked diligently to develop the atmosphere within and opportunities to engage with the museum, while also educating students about the roles of art in our lives. Our conversation covered the many ways we can experience art and its complex relationship with what we eat and drink. Scott and Jon joined for this one as well.
For more about Linda and the Beach Museum check out: https://beach.k-state.edu/
Food as Art and Experience with Linda Duke
In our culture, we we think about nutrition and we think about weight and diet and, and that kind of thing. But I think our aesthetic appreciation of food is only recently kind of beginning to be given more importance.
Something to Chew On is a podcast devoted to the exploration and discussion of Global Food Systems produced by the Office of Research Development at Kansas State University. I'm Jay Weeks PhD candidate in the Department of Agronomy. My co host is Scott Tanona, an associate professor in the Department of Philosophy who specializes in the philosophy of science. How often do you consider the aesthetics of your daily life? Think about the last meal you had. Or perhaps you're eating right now. We're or are you fully in the presence of what you were tasting? Or were you thinking about the myriad other things you had going on? In the hustle and bustle, I know I forget to stop and smell the proverbial roses. The more I think about it, it said in something I tried to focus on more and more. Fortunately, today, to help us better explore the art and beauty in our lives. Our guest is Linda Duke. Linda is the director of the Marianna Kistler Beach Museum of Art here at Kansas State University, formerly the director of audience engagement at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, she joined the University in June of 2011, and has worked diligently to develop the atmosphere within and opportunities to engage with the museum, while also educating students about the roles of art in our lives. Our conversation covered the ways we can think about art, and how we personally experience our lives, mainly through the lens of our relationship with food. I don't want to spoil it. But there's a description of beans in this interview that really captures something we probably all could pay a little bit more attention to. Scott and Jon joined us as well. This talk is one where it's really up to you what you take from it. So enjoy. Linda Duke, welcome to the podcast.
Thank you, Jay. Happy to be here.
So you came to K State in the summer of 2011. Correct? That's right. So what brought you here?
Actually the job to the chance to be the director of the Mariana Cussler Beach Museum of Art. In truth, I didn't really take it seriously. When the university first contacted me, they had a search firm, and I just threw away the first few emails I got from them, because I didn't think the description sounded like a good fit. But they stuck with it. And the search firm guy eventually called me and talked me into coming for an interview. And that's when I realized what a great opportunity it was.
So what got you into art in general? Is that something that you had always enjoyed? Or?
Yes, I think, I think in our family. My brother is an artist, Our father was a commercial artist, you know, back in the days before all the technology, he illustrated products, you know, drew pictures of them to go into magazine ads, and, and whatnot. And so as a family, we always went to art museums and saw art. And then I think I was struggling because I was and I don't say this as a boast. I think it's just a weird thing that I was born with. I'm pretty good at drawing. But I also knew that I wasn't an artist in that way. And so I really anguished over that a bit as a young person. And then I started studying art history in addition to studio art, and really fell in love with sharing the arts with people in that way. And I guess I'll just say one more thing that I studied tea ceremony as a young person at university and then in graduate school.
I wrote about that and I wanted to ask you,
Yeah, and one of the things that a tea host does in Japanese tradition is create a client sets up a temporary shared experience, you know, chooses a work of art to display chooses the incense, the tea, the sweet the utensils that are used, and the whole thing is designed to really create a wonderful aesthetic experience for the guest or the small number of guests. And at a certain point, I realized that's what my job is in the art museum. That's exactly what I do. I'm like the tea host at the art museum. And so that's been, that's been a real privilege for me to be able to do that.
So could you say what you pay attention to then? Besides that the art pieces in particular, right, so that the tea is about the whole experience. So how do you think about the museum that way?
Well, I think the hospitality part of it is really important to me, one of the things I felt uncomfortable with when I first came to the beach is that visitors come in the front door, and the galleries aren't there, they're upstairs. And so people who haven't been there before, feel a little bewildered and sometimes stumble into the offices. And so I'm really happy that we've been able to work on having student lobby hosts, and they do a wonderful job of welcoming people. And then when people get upstairs, there are more student employees to welcome them to the galleries. And so I just I do put a lot of importance on making people feel comfortable. Sometimes we have visitors with various kinds of disabilities. People from cultures everywhere, I always want them to feel welcomed in our space.
Is it? Is it difficult when you walk into other art galleries to take off your curatorial hat and just experience? The gallery? Or are you always sort of working in the back of your mind catching, catching things do you think are good or bad?
I don't really think of it in terms of good and bad. Oh, man, I don't know how deeply to get into this. But another fortunate thing, and this is getting back to your question, believe it or not, but early in my time working in art museums, I encountered some research that was being done at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, on aesthetic development, is what the researchers were calling it. So they were very interested in the kinds of thinking people do when they're trying to make meaning of an art experience. And it eventually developed into a curriculum that we teach teachers to use and to be facilitators of discussions is called Visual Thinking Strategies. And that really changed my professional life, because it helped me in my own viewing to learn to slow down and really appreciate deep ambiguities that are often in works of art, and how provocative that is when there's a contradiction or an inconsistency. And how many thoughts that triggers. So I remain very fascinated by that process. And that really benefited me as an art viewer, too. When I go to museums.
Tell us more about that. What was that educational experience like? And what does it mean to be a visual thinker into taking those aesthetics and things like that?
Well, I'm first of all, I think in our culture, even though we're awash with visual images all the time, especially now with technology, as a culture, we really privilege language as the way to communicate as the embodiment of knowledge or the conveyor of knowledge. And for that reason, I don't think we really pay very much attention to nurturing visual thinking skills, or to understanding how much variation there probably is among people. I feel that some people are, and I think there's research to back this up, are more oriented to know the world visually, and others are much stronger verbal thinkers. I went through a period, when I was working at the hammer in Los Angeles, I started asking people, how do you think, are you conscious of thinking in words, and I was totally blown away by how many people said, Of course, I had people even tell me, I even think about punctuation. And I was like, because I don't I I've and I think, and I think a lot of people with learning differences, dyslexia and, and other differences from the norm, probably a high percentage of them are visual thinkers. And so I think for me, what I've loved about the VTS work is that it sets up a discussion protocol where people are constantly asked to connect what they know, in a sensory way with language, and to go back and forth. And so I think, pedagogically, it's sort of serves people at both ends of the spectrum.
So it makes them more adept or more aware of these two types of origins.
Or fluent, a stronger, fluent, more exercise connection between them.
So I don't want to sort of dig too deep, like you're just saying, but we're, there's some views about sort of thinking cognition that I think are sort of the in the end at all has to be in some sense. language based, right, you know, you don't you don't have, like a proposition or a view about something unless it's kind of expressible in a sentence, right. And we've got these sort of views about visual thinking that are sort of, you know, I mean, some of us definitely, like, we'd like pictures, right. And some of us, you know, to organize our thoughts, sort of, you know, on a on a page with diagrams and stuff, but, you know, Can you can you push more like what you actually mean by like visual thinking, Do you have a specific, you know, way of describing it? Or is this kind of, it's so open ended, that it's hard to pin down?
Well, I'm starting to feel pretty nervous here. Because now, no, I, the reason I feel nervous is because I think we're venturing into a realm where I can certainly give you my opinion, based on my experience and my life work. But that's very different from the kind of scholarly knowledge that I'm suspecting you guys want in these podcasts?
No, not necessarily.
No, I mean, actually, I think personal anecdotal evidence is, you know, and that's worthy of discussion as well. Right?
Yeah. Well, I think first of all, I am not convinced that thought is ultimately language. And I think, but I think there are some people who struggle mightily, for example, people with certain kinds of autism struggle with the lack of fluency between those two, and Temple Grandin has written about that. And I've spoken pretty extensively with her about that. There are other people who are researchers who have said visual thinking is so quick, that people are largely unaware of it. So it's not like people say, well, tiempo wrote a book called Thinking in pictures, but most people would say, I don't know how I think, and I'm one of those people. I couldn't tell you, I know that I don't know what words I'm going to say until they come out of my mouth. Unless I'm planning to say something, I can do that. But it's not my normal mode. And so I don't know that that may be too out there. But I think a lot more research needs to be done on that. Because I think we waste a lot of people's lives, we waste a lot of giftedness, when people are thinking in a way that's not the norm and doesn't get doesn't get the support it needs as they're growing up.
Can you give an example of an exhibit or of a piece that you saw that really kind of exemplifies this? That example, the visual, the visual thinking how important it is as a way of kind of thinking about the world, or just approaching it or, you know, changing the way you view? Right, because you experienced something that you were looking at, right. And rather than sort of thinking about it in words, right? Yeah.
Well, I'll tell you something that recently, well over the last couple years, every three weeks, I do a VTS seminar with veterinary pathology students. It's different students each time unfortunately, it would be great if we had multiple sessions, but they're rotating through a fourth year program in pathology. And so just once again, yesterday, I was with one of those groups and we were looking at An image, I always start them out with slides of images that I've chosen. And then we go upstairs and practice in the galleries, and they take turns being the facilitator. But an image that I really like to use is, is a painting by a man named Vernon Fisher. It's called Man cutting globe. And the, the painting is done in a style that looks kind of like a 1950s reading primmer like a dick Jane and Sally book for those of us who are old enough to have learned to read that way. So black outlines flat areas of color, some people say it looks cartoonish. And it shows a man wearing a red polka dot tie and a white long sleeve shirt at a table and a little boy, looking over his shoulder watching what he's doing. And on the table is a globe. And you can see the edges of the continents. And he has his hand in a position like you would stab with a DAG or any any has some kind of tool in that hand that people debate the meaning of during the or the the identity of that tool. And it's going into the globe, it's going into a hole that's been caught in the globe, and on the table. So there are two holes visible in the globe. And there are three pieces that look to have been cut from the globe laying on the table. And then across the bottom of this painting. There's something that looks like the periodic table with those little rectangles that have the symbol for the element and the atomic weight, and then the name of the element. And the letters of those rectangles spell out the words man cutting globe. If you look really closely, some of those are genuine elements like oxygen for oh, and some of them you're like Trinity, is that an element. And there's another little tiny projection style map of the world up on the upper border so tiny that most people don't even notice it. But oddly enough, the the continents appear backwards. Like we're seeing them from behind. So that painting fascinates me when I do it with people for the first time, because it looks like such a simple image like a cartoon image. But it has so many things that could be visually discovered about it, the time period, probably the 40s, or the 50s. The sense that there's some kind of instruction going on, or at least a demonstration between an older generation and a younger one, the reference to the elements that make up the earth. And the fact that with this kind of violent hand position. The world is being cut into carved up in a sense, like a Jack O' Lantern, and yet it's not carving a face. And so people often spend time trying to think, why are the cutouts in the places that they are. And they're all the two that we can see are in the Pacific Ocean, maybe near the bottom of Japan, maybe out in the bikini at all. And I say that because I know more about this artist's work most people don't never heard of him. But he did a whole series of work about the nuclear weapons that were tested in the bikini Islands, which left them so polluted that they're still on inhabitable.
One of the sites was called Trinity. Actually.
See it just goes on and on. So Jimmy, and the fact that the style of the illustration kind of dates it, but it dates it to the period when that was going on. But it also kind of coalesces into some questions about plundering the earth or using the earth, what's being taught to the next generation. So there are dozens of things that people could discover about that image. If they looked at it long enough for thought about it. We usually don't you know, we usually look quickly and maybe we would notice one of those things about it. And I don't know if that answers your question. But what I like about the VTS process is mostly just that it slows people down.
Yeah, I was gonna ask exactly that, right? Because you said a lot of times, we're just looking quickly, right. And a lot of people experience museums this way too, right? Through and boom, boom, boom, boom, right, but so say more about the value of actually just sitting and looking and experiencing?
Well, I think it's, if you're not used to it, if you haven't, sort of exercise those mental or intellectual muscles, it's not so easy to do on your own. And that's the other good thing about this process, I think it uses a group process to model something that we could each do on our own. So people hear the comments from others in the class or whatever the group is. And many times they're like, oh, my gosh, I never I didn't even notice that, or I wouldn't have thought of it that way. But that's interesting. And so it kind of the group process kind of demonstrates a critical thinking and observation process. That's, I think, very valuable. And again, the fact that people are asked to find words for what they think and now and the facilitator repeatedly asks them, what did you see that made you say that? What's the evidence, not, not out of doubt. But to keep prompting that process to make someone more conscious of their own thought process? I knew it when I looked. But now I have to go back and tell you how I knew it. So it's an unpacking kind of process.
More and more, we see museums that offer you the chance to have an audio guide, and stick something in your ears or put like, and that tends to be very just straightforward and descriptive, and then move on. And do you think that that works against the kind of process that you're talking about? Well, do we fool ourselves by thinking that enough?
I do in the sense that I think it's, it's easy to be in a passive mode and just listen to that and have someone tell you, what you're seeing and what's important about it. They're not going to tell you what, why it should matter to you. You're the only one who can do that. Yeah. So yeah, I am not wild about that. Although we do know, we do offer smart Wi Fi in the museum, people can download an app where if they want more information about something, they can just point their phone at it and get it. But at least it's not on a droning tour that it's there has to be more choice and action involved.
So one of the things that we talked about a little bit as far as taking some time to experience you know what you're doing in the moment, I noticed this while I was actually getting ready for this interview today, I was eating my lunch. And I was reading the description you gave about the aesthetics of food and how we often don't necessarily pay attention to everything. And I realized that as I was eating my salad, I wasn't even tasting myself because I was concentrating on my on the reading, right. And then I wanted to get into the aesthetics of food and how important that is not only for enjoying the food itself, but for appreciating where food comes from, and all of that and the connections that we can make. So I'll let you take it from here about your thoughts on that.
Yeah, no, thanks. That's a huge topic. I feel like you know, I think I told you in an email Jay, that I see the art museum and to some extent, my role as being one of connector. I think the arts are a big enough tent that a lot of disciplines can benefit from participating in the arts. And I feel the same way about food, I feel that it is such a squandered or under utilize resource for education period at all levels. Because I think, you know, just like we were talking about BTS and bringing to consciousness bringing to language, and that that's really what you were talking about bringing thought to language, if it wasn't originally language. Bringing that sensory experience to language can be a really important thing for people to be fluent at. And I think we could start in early childhood, kids eat snack at school, they lunch at school, and there are people like Alice Waters, of course with her Edible Schoolyard project and all that who have known that for years and kids grow gardens and cook food together at school and talk about it and write a bout it and measure it and, and all of that. But I think it's just as true at university. I mean, what do we teach here at K State that couldn't in some way be related to food. And maybe if we could do a better job of making people more conscious of that, maybe it would also change the status of food in our culture, because I feel like well, from my travels abroad, I feel like Americans sometimes don't demand or expect the food that they're served to be as good as people in other cultures often do. That, you know, if we travel, we expect that we might have to eat something subpar in a bus station or an airport. And that's not always true. Every place in the world. I feel like in our culture, we, we think about nutrition, and we think about weight and, and diet, and, and that kind of thing. But I think our aesthetic appreciation of food is only recently kind of beginning to be given more importance. And I think that's a really important thing to happen. But it's only one of the things I mean, there's the science, there's all of this, that needs to be better appreciated and better understood.
Yeah, I mean, we really will at least historically have focused on the the quantification of things right, when we have been sort of neglected the more qualitative aspects of food and things like that way. So what do you think, you know, if you were going to be delving into a college course or something like that, or teaching a college course? What do you what would you change? How would you, how would you, how would you start to integrate some of these ideas into, you know, into practice?
Well, I mean, it would depend on what you were teaching. I think this is a topic that needs the leadership of the university as an organization, I think, because I think faculty have to be given the support they need and, and the sense of the importance of teaching in ways that connect with other disciplines and helping students think in that way. So I don't know, there are, there are a lot of ways and I think some of them do involve just this issue of science communication or communication period, the relationship between experience and knowledge and language, and being better, better at using language. I brought something in case it seemed like it would be worth it. It's a footnote or an end note from one of the articles I sent to you, Jay, I think I told you that I had an opportunity a few years ago to spend a month at the American Academy in Rome, which is a site that's dedicated to interdisciplinary conversation and stimulation. And I had not long before that I had been, I had gotten to do a little project with Alice Waters, the the chef I mentioned, and she had recently helped the American Academy completely redo their food program. Because to save money, they had started getting cheaper and cheaper food, and putting less money into paying their kitchen staff and all of that. And the food got bad to the point where a lot of the fallows and Rome prize winners and all the creative people who were staying in residence there started eating at the local restaurants instead of and that's when they realized that the heart of the academy was the table. It was that shared experience of eating food together and the kinds of ideas people talked about over meals. And they brought Alice in to help them reinvent the whole Academy really, in a sense, because that was the heart of it. And I was so impressed by what she told me about that. I decided when I went to the academy that I would interview people about their aesthetic experiences with food but with the more standard aesthetic experiences that people think of like paintings or architecture or music, or whatever. And so that's what I did, I spent a month with a little digital recorder. And I got, you know, these famous writers and artists and musicians, and the kitchen staff and the gardeners, I would just interview anybody who would talk to me about aesthetic experience. And I was really impressed by how many of them chose to talk about food. I really was struck by that.
And you just asked about the set experience in general exactly started talking about…
Yes, yes, they could pick anything.
Well, there's this entire literature of, of people talking about food in different ways. There's a writer named AJ Liebling who was famous in the New Yorker, quite a while he wrote an entire book that was based on a year that he spends a student in Paris, and it was all around eating all around food.
And it's really quite telling you this idea of the aesthetics of food being important is a little more advanced than we have had here. I think that's,
Is it because we've always just focused on price. And like what happened at the institute you're describing, you know, because, you know, they wanted to cut costs, because low budget isn't unless they cut a little bit out and a little bit out a little bit before there's nothing left? Or why do you think that that is why do other cultures value at so much more than that? Maybe we do?
I mean, I think there are probably a lot of reasons, but but maybe one of them is that it's a sensory experience. And, and as I said, I think our culture tends a little toward the puritanical and, and doesn't value things that we know, through the senses as much as things that we know, through language.
And there's a utilitarian aspect to that too. pragmatic, like sort of, right, so that right, so you want the thing to serve a certain purpose, right? Yes, is like free nourish
exactly energy, you know, freshing my heart and that's all Exactly. Yeah. And you know, I mean, there are other things, there's the rush of something that's very sweet, or the addictiveness of something that's salty. I mean, we have those two, but backing off and taking the time to really cherish food and value is I don't think it's been a real strong theme in our culture. But I feel like it's starting to come up now. And I think that's a good thing.
Do you think it has something to do too, with, with how our culture has has framed health in the, you know, things that are really sweet and really, really full of fat or something like that it really savory have often been considered unhealthy, even though the science now is, you know, kind of debates that and some are suppose especially considering fast, do you think that's why we've shied away from some of that kind of stuff? Or what do you think about that?
Well, I mean, I guess, again, I would say we've, we've explored the issue through words, rather than through experience, you know, through received knowledge received information about what our bodies need, and been maybe less attuned to how food feels when we eat it. I don't know. I think there's a lot I think it's complicated.
Sure. Yeah. I mean, that's interesting, right? And rather than trusting yourself to dictate, you know, what you should be eating and what tastes good, and what feels good and all that kind of stuff. We've relied on an outside source.
I think there's even been some really interesting research more recently about how different diets, you know, with different ratios of fat and protein and carbohydrates, how there's quite a variation in terms of how an individual person thrives on one diet or another, that it's not a one size fits all thing.
I think what it's interesting now what we're seeing, I mean, with a lot of these diets, there's a lot of still looking at how much protein are you getting versus how many carbs and right gluten insert in there's it's very much not how you're thinking about food at all right, in terms of the sensory experience, right, but but at the same time, we have this birth of all kinds of fancy coffee shops and microbreweries and you know, better restaurants that this is happening at the same time. Right. What? So there's like a little bit of maybe we're going in both directions at once. Yeah, right.
Yeah. And I'm certainly not saying that nutrition studies aren't important. I think that's hugely important and interesting. I'm just pointing out that I think we haven't. As a popular culture, we haven't been in touch with our bodies when it comes to food.
So what do you want? I mean, what do you think we need? And how do you serve? What would you want? Like, maybe just Jay mentioned college students, but like, kids, what would you tell younger kids sort of in terms of how they're thinking about food or how they're approaching? Eating?
I don't think it's so much a matter of telling them as what kinds of experiences you create for them. And, you know, I mean, I, as I said, I think Alice Waters in the Edible Schoolyard program has been thinking about that, you know, kids sharing food experiences and talking about it and writing about it. I, you know, I mean, just getting way off topic, maybe it's just talking with someone the other day about parents having battles with their children about food, where, you know, and I experienced that as a child myself, you can't leave the table until you finish that glass of milk or whatever. And I don't know, I mean, I feel like young children need to get the message that they that we do respect how they feel about food in their bodies, and that they should never have to eat or drink something that they don't want to. If they're picky eaters, when they're little, I guess my own experience, as a parent tells me it takes care of itself. I had one adventurous eater and two picky eaters, and they're all adventurous eaters now, so it didn't matter.
Yeah. And it's also been hypothesized that children's ability to discriminate different flavors and intensities changes. Yeah, so they go through a period where everything is just way too. Yeah, everything. So that's why they want macaroni and cheese and
Exactly like, and so what's gained by forcing them to eat something that they don't don't enjoy? And yeah.
Firstly, takes care of itself. We took some friends to a restaurant with a French was a very nice French restaurant. And they took their seven year old along and we thought this is going to be quite the battle. And he ordered the mussels and the snails. And we didn't get one of them. So yeah. Just they've children very quiet. Yeah,
and a lot of that. I mean, there's a lot of factors there. But I think one thing that you mentioned is, you know, giving them experiences too, right? And I was wondering if you say more about that, that notion you were talking about before with with VTS with visual thinking, putting words to sort of what you're experiencing? Because that's that's a major challenge in all aesthetic experience. Yes. I think it's a challenge people have with food, too, right. Sort of our there's a, there's a taste you like, but like, how would you describe exactly doing to you? So like, what do you have to say about like that?
Yeah. And so one of the things that tea ceremony ingrained in people is this sense of being present in the moment. In fact, there's a scene that often is hung as a calligraphy scroll in the tea practice room that reads Ichi go eta, which kind of means one time, one chance, sort of like this moment will never come again. So that that sense that the tea ceremony as an art practice, is trying to give people a moment to really notice what's happening right now, right this minute. And, and one of the rules, if you will, of tea ceremony is that you don't discuss anything while you're in the tea ceremony that doesn't have to do with what's happening right now. You're not going to talk about politics or the weather, but you can talk about the taste the texture The sound of the bamboo scoop, hitting on the side of the table, those sensory things that are happening right now. And so the it's a kind of, again, a mental exercise for being in the present, which is probably the most difficult, uncomfortable place for our attention to stay. We're always going backwards or forwards, but to be right here. I think rom das wrote a book called Be here now.
And to some extent, I guess our culture, tries to do things like that being served wine.
That's what I was saying that
he would be watching your carving carving the turkey haggis, the ceremony of the haggis and Scotland in the like,
yes, and people. That's why I was thinking of my tea teacher, when you asked me about language, it's the language of wine, or the language of tea. If any of you have ever been to a Chinese tea shop, I had the experience of going there with two T experts one time. And so the tea house was this was Chinese tea, pour the water over the tea and a little cup. And my friend would taste it. And then he would say something like, you know, I'm thinking it's the such and such farm in Assam. And I'm thinking it was the spring before last, and the west side of the hill. And I was like, Are you kidding me? But that's how wine people are too. But that's like a super intense version of being able to bring this stuff to language.
And that actually can have the opposite effect sometimes for people trying to get into this, right, because it's sort of there's all this elite knowledge. Right, exactly. And right. So I think it's important, easy to make fun of that. Right. And it's easy to be that gets put off. Right. Yeah, challenge by Right. Right. But But when you're talking, I mean, I think something you've said something about is, you know, how much you want the aesthetics, right, the the art experience, whether it's food, or whether it's visual art or whatever else to be open. Right? And, and not to not have these barriers, right? Yes. And I can say more about like, what what it takes to sort of, you know, get in enter into a museum and you know, experience
That's very, very relevant, because I think, in, in this country in the US, we've kind of made our history knowledge be the qualification for enjoying visual art. We've made people unintentionally, maybe, but we've made people feel like if they don't know very much about art and art history, they probably should keep their mouths shut in the museum. And then we've tried to make them feel better, but also shut them up by giving them an idea. And telling them what they ought to know about what they're looking at what they should have thought. And so we haven't respected beginner experiences with esthetics. But everybody has aesthetic experiences, and it's not like beginners is less valuable than experts. And yet, we've we've belittled that, or we haven't paid attention to it. And that was the other thing about the VTS research that really moved me when I first learned about it, that it, it totally blew that out of the water and, and said, This is worthwhile, you know, whatever people can do, if they stop and think and notice, is important. It has value. It's even deeply moving. And I know that as a facilitator, because when I hear people speak their own truths in front of works of art, I mean, sometimes it's very moving, and it can be such a simple thing that they noticed, but their effort to put it into words is more poetic than I could have ever made it and, um and that kind of brings us back around to teaching because you were asking about teaching about food. I think the VGS work absolutely promotes the idea that you as the teacher, need to take responsibility When your teaching doesn't work, and not blame the learner, I don't know, I think sometimes it's painful to hear someone who's burned out on teaching, and they're seeing as students nowadays, you know, you just can't get their attention and and VTS, the philosophy behind that doesn't give any credibility to that. It's, it's take responsibility, if you're the teacher, and what you're doing isn't working, find a way to meet them where they are, for some reason, you're not meeting them where they are. And so I think that principle of meeting the learner where they are, whether it's in the arts, or in some other subject.
Was it an emphasis on growth, mindset, teaching and learning as being in learning as being an experience rather than just trying to get to the right answer? Yes, right. I do think that's something that we need to focus on more is that not everybody is going to, you know, be at the same place and be able to get, you know, like all the biochemical pathways or something like that, right, but, but it's the experience of learning that, that is really what's going to serve a lot of students rather than, you know, what they remember from from x class.
And the thing is the biochemical pathways, they might be difficult or even impossible to learn, if you don't have your own reason for wanting to know them. And so it's more about when you give people information than it is about giving them information. Of course, we want to give them information, but we sometimes dump it on people, and then we complain that they couldn't remember it, or they mixed it up. But we didn't create a situation where they needed it.
So speaking of visual and learning, I listened to a podcast on Sean Carroll's MindScape the other day, and I gonna forget the lady's name, but she was talking about how mythology has been passed down in oral traditions. And some of the ways in which some of these really long stories were remembered and passed down was that the person responsible for curating that knowledge actually associated certain ideas with certain places, I think they called it a something Palace, mental palace, or something like that. And they associated, you know, this aspect of the story with this part of a building, and then they would walk around the building to help them remember each part of the story, rather than just the cornice the book in the corner. Yes, yeah. Do you? Are you familiar with that sort of literature? Or, or that sort of teaching style? And what do you think about that?
Well, I'm only familiar with it that I know that in indigenous cultures in this country, but probably in others as well, often had stories associated with land features. And so there was a sense of history and mythology and origin stories, and all of that being very tied to geographic features and places. So it seems very similar.
Yeah, it made me wonder about more as a memory
As a memory as a memory tool, but also as a way of learning things as a system to write, write, rather than just remembering this follows. This follows this, you know, in pure abstraction that you could sort of walk around your house, and then you'll visit that when you needed to recall. Yeah, and a certain port part of me, or I associated this with the drain or whatever, right, which sounds kind of crazy if you haven't experienced it, but it made a lot of sense. When she when she explained to us I thought it was really interesting. Getting back to some of the work you did with the food aesthetics and things. Were there any favorite descriptions that you had? I want to I want to try to capture you, because you brought some of the notes from
Well, I had a short quote that I pulled out from one of those interviews, and it really struck me because this woman is an award winning art historian and scholar. And when I asked her to talk about an aesthetic experience, she not only chose food, but she chose to talk about the beans that had been served lunch. And I just thought I'd read this short. I was quite amazed. So she said, I'm going to talk about my aesthetic experiences with food here, beginning with today's lunch, in particular, the beans. I feel a little bit like when I talk about food. Food is something that I'm very interested in. But it's a different sort of aesthetic experience from what I'm used to with visual aesthetics. And sometimes I feel like words fail me. But I'm not willing to let them fail me because talking about this stuff is what I do in aesthetic terms. So let's see what we can get. I think the key to the bean dish today was the contrast in texture between the sort of smooth and creamy beans, which were, I mean, with the bean is some sort of grain to it, especially when you're cooking from dried beans. As you bite into it, you can sense different gradations of that. But in these, it was so perfectly cooked that there was no gradient or real texture, it really had this consistent smoothness to it. There was like a balance going on there, in terms of not just texture, but you have that kind of mellow almost a nuttiness to the sort of mellow buttery nutty bean flavor. And the same thing with the bread, which is another mellow flavor, contrasted with the sharpness and bitterness and acidity of the tomato on the chart. So it's like the entire dish is about contrasts. It was fun.
Let's, let's enter amazing quote. If people who know me know I love being so I really appreciate it, though.
So yeah, we don't think about our food that often it that kind of level. Right? So yeah,
yeah. And it could feel silly, you know, she felt a little embarrassed almost to launch into this. But it was her truth. She didn't know those things about the lunch.
Sure, and cooking, right, sort of some, you know, good cooking shows, or try to talk you through some of these things, too, right. And so this is something you think about, right? If you try to learn the art of cooking, or to learn to try to create experiences like that.
I came across the quote, from Dwight furrow, he does a blog called edible arts. And are you familiar with that? Yeah. But he said, You know, when he was referring to preparing a meal and things he said, the idea is not merely to create a fantastic concoction or to add a new flavor note to a dish, it is to capture the essence of something that has hitherto gone unnoticed and to impress upon the diner that there is something here to be explored and understood. Great. Yeah. That was a really interesting way to capture you know, everything that goes along with Yeah, food.
Yeah. Yeah. And you could almost say the same thing about a visual art experience.
So what do you have to say about art and food? So we've been talking about sort of the art of food, right, but how about the combination of like visual art and food or other things like that? Do you have any thoughts about how they how food has shown up in visual art or how it's showing up today and works?
Yeah. Well, like I said, in history, tea ceremony has been a practice that has involved a tea ceremony meal and all the cookie darts that go with it. There are some artists who have done really interesting work, like I'm thinking, trying to remember his name. There's a West Coast artists Leeming way, I think is his name, who did a whole series of hospitality projects. And I remember one of them was he had a little miniature efficiency apartment, set up in the gallery of an art museum. It might have been the Whitney. And visitors could sign up to spend the night in that little efficiency apartment with Leeming way and he would prepare dinner for them. And so there were two little beds in their eating area kitchen, and he would fix this food for them.
Could people watch them interacting and him preparing food? I can't remember.
Well, that tradition comes into the US in the Chef's Table, where for a little more money, you can actually get a table in the kitchen. Uh huh. And watch Alice Waters or whoever do that. And you're and they will come over and they will talk about the food in those terms. They will, uh huh. Share their aesthetic with it. It's quite fun.
That's interesting. Have you ever experienced that? Yeah. Really?
Yeah. How? Not to? Not with not a cheap a nice, but yeah, that's another Yeah, I'm kind of a foodie. Oh, wow.
Oh, good. I think we've been touching on several times throughout this discussion. And we're talking about the tea ceremonies, or the chef's table or anything like that is just how profoundly social food is, as an art, right, how all of these things always come back to and sitting, how important it is to enjoy other things. If you're sitting at a table with a bunch of people talking, talking about it and that sort of thing. And maybe, you know, today, although I do think that that's it's changing along with the appreciation of higher quality food and things like that when people are going back to just having dinner together at a table. Yeah, right. Yeah. As opposed to like me today eating my lunch and not tasting myself, right. So yeah, I think that's it. importantly, I don't know if anybody has anything more to say about that. But it's just something that it's seems very deeply human to have to share food is a social experience.
It very much is. And there have been studies that have been conducted, that have been funded by food companies actually looking at outcomes where families are made, it's made easier for them to eat as a group as a family. And then, you know, further on down the line, they would look at other sorts of outcomes from that. It's very clear that that's positive, not negative.
Interesting. Well, and then we want to be respectful of your time. Is there anything that we haven't covered today that you'd like to talk about? You'd like to touch on?
Like we've covered a lot of Meat.
John Scott, do you have anything?
No, it's fascinating, fascinating.
Well, hey, Linda, we really appreciate it.
Thanks for having me. I really enjoyed talking to you.
Look forward to checking in again. If you have any questions or comments you would like to share check out our website at https://www.k-state.edu/research/global-food/ and drop us an email. Something to Chew On is produced by the Office of Research Development at Kansas State University.