Feast for the Eyes: Art and Taste


Would you consider practiced culinary excellence a form of art? Deliberating the distinction between cooking and art tends in fact to reveal their relationship taking place within the fascinating network of human sensory knowledge. Consider the senses of sight and taste, the “predominant” faculties for artwork and food, respectively. By exploring the link between our perception of things like colour and composition and our experience of things like flavour and aroma, we can understand why art may be significant to how we enjoy food.

Eating is a multisensory experience. Taste, yes, but also sight, smell, texture and temperature, and even sound factor into whether or not we enjoy a given dish. All of these sensations constantly send information to the brain simultaneously, producing a sensory blueprint belonging uniquely to you, informing your memories and your personal preferences.

Especially when it comes to eating, then, the expression “you eat with your eyes first” rings true. Just as our noses perform “taste” by taking in aromatic food particles, our eyes suggest our food’s likability. Often the first noticeable visual element is colour. People hold colour-flavour associations learned from repeated combinations, explaining why participants in an Oxford University study reported that 7Up had more of a lemon taste when more yellow was on the drink’s packaging. The same study showed that coffee served in a white mug tasted less sweet than the same coffee served in a blue mug, and that strawberry mousse tasted better on a round white plate than it did on a square black plate.

Being that more than 50% of the cerebral cortex is used for processing vision (and only a percent or two for the tastebuds), we can see why sight in fact largely predetermines taste perception. While this is related to an evolved intuitive judgment on a food’s color (as to avoid eating spoiled or unsafe food), how do we account for the more complex question of composition (or in culinary arts, “presentation”) and what can this tell us about art’s relationship to the dining experience? Oxford University conducted another study in which a salad was arranged in three ways: regular presentation, neat but non-artistic manner, and another to resemble a Kandinsky painting. The Kandinsky-inspired plating led subjects to rate the salad as being more complex, more expensive, tastier, and all-around more enjoyable to eat.

The composition and colour of food items clearly play a determining role in whether we enjoy food. Since we also know that our optical impressions impact how we interpret the mood and purpose of a room, it is worthwhile to consider how interior design and artwork specifically function in food contexts including kitchens, dining rooms, cafes, and restaurants. Interior consulting professionals can offer proper advisement for what colours, furniture, and lighting create a fitting atmosphere for your home or establishment. Artwork is, of course, a concentrated item of visual elements, making it a great opportunity to express character in a way that complements the room and stimulates the appetite. When selecting art for these places, then, professionals can consult the interesting research available on culinary-artistic overlap to make the most palatable choices.

Words by Michelle Costanza.