Food, Art, and Cowardice

If Hemingway were alive, there’d be a trail of bloody hipsters down Sunset Boulevard from Café Stella to Trois Familia.

In a world where everyone with an iPhone is an artist or a foodie or both, the intersection between how we palate art and food is clear: how Instagrammable is the gallery or restaurant you’re gracing with your supposed influencer presence? Consuming a specific artwork or dish via your camera app has made the noticeable shift to art and restaurant as “experience”. It has become about creating social spaces in which visitors can interact not only with what they’re viewing or eating, but also about how they can connect with those around them who are present physically as well as on a social media platform.

Every year, millions of food pictures are posted on Instagram with a litany of hashtags to accompany every sentiment toward them. Never mind if your food gets cold in the meantime, people are constantly in search of the perfect photograph of their dish, and apparently don’t mind standing on chairs or even tables to accomplish this. Restaurants have responded by thinking differently of course about the presentation of their dishes, but also about their interior design and the lighting in their restrooms. (Gotta get the “best bathroom selfie” comment on Yelp!) Art has essentially ventured in the same direction, where curators are increasingly crafting exhibitions with selfie-mongering Millennials in mind.

Recently at Sweetgreen, I asked the clerk how frequently he sees people taking pictures of their meals. Missing my question entirely, he replied, “Oh, if you want a good picture, you should’ve gotten the Hollywood Bowl. It’s really colorful… A lot of people get it for Instagram.” Also recently, I was accidentally at Carrera Café where I asked the off-duty model/barista about their espresso. She told me, “I don’t know anything about our espresso. We’re really more of an Instagram café.” And fittingly, they’ll print photos from your feed onto your latte. All this, and you’re right next to Paul Smith!

In 2015, an American grill chain invested over 700,000 dollars to make their hamburgers look more Instagram-friendly, ultimately adding a special glaze on the buns to add an appealing shine factor. Puratos, an innovative baking product company, created the aptly named “Sunset Glaze,” which has been determined ideal for the new wave of the Instrgammable food trend. However, it is reported that it simply doesn’t taste all that good. Puratos also has a well-maintained blog chalk full of tips for restaurants to take advantage of said trend, most notably with detailed explanations for how to make your restaurant’s Instagram page look like that of an influencer’s, thus elevating your business to seem like the best place for people to come to take their own photos.

In this same vein of “how well will what I’ve ordered look on my feed,” there has been an insurgence of art tailored for post-worthy exhibitions, especially with an emphasis on creating social spaces. Artists with pieces that do this and in turn allow for high social media engagement also dwell in conformity. Displays such as Michael Parker’s Steam Egg (a public sauna built to look like a giant egg-shaped disco ball) or the bookshelves at 3307 W Washington Blvd (curated bookshelves “that translates the text-based inquiry into an embodied, social format,” which basically just means dinner parties surrounded by books displayed as objects) preserve the status quo rather than address prevalent issues… Or much of anything, really.

Although it can be argued that it’s a revised form of art for art’s sake, it does not push boundaries, and makes spending 700,000 dollars to find the perfect glaze feel like more of a substantive undertaking. (Actually, a piece on that ridiculousness would be more compelling than the resurgence of relational aesthetics we’re seeing currently.) Today the way we interact with art and food has never been shallower. As Hemingway quipped, “Cowardice… is almost always a lack of ability to suspend functioning of the imagination,” and while they may defend themselves in that they’re just responding to our climate, the artists and restaurants who cater to social media crazed patrons in exchange for quality are cowards.

And for god’s sake, if you have a Tinder profile pic at the lampposts, you will be swiped left.