What relevance has food to art inspiration?

Manchester Tart


Can art inspiration actually come from food?

Strange though it may seem my art inspiration was being drawn from food yesterday, as I was taken on a roller coaster trip reminiscing down memory lane. It all happened when I had a memory of school days and "Manchester Tart". Many of you will probably be thinking "What is Manchester Tart?"

This tart is a dessert which dates back to the 1800s, when it was first recorded in the cook books of Mrs Isabella Mary Beeton, who was a journalist, but was perhaps better known for her household management skills; and in particular cooking tips and recipes. Her Book of Household Management is still in print in 2016, such was the power of this Victorian domestic authority.

The actual dessert, or pudding as I prefer, was very simple. It comprises of a shortcrust pastry base, raspberry jam and custard, generously topped with sprinklings of desiccated coconut. Some recipes show a maraschino cherry in the centre, but for me these cherries only have significance at christmas in a snowball cocktail.

I found myself busy, making a delicate shortcrust pastry with icing sugar substituted for caster sugar, to ensure the pastry would literally melt on the tongue. My custard was equally inspired by memories of being in a dreamy place, as I added double cream in preference to milk with a generous dash of vanilla extract. It was amazing as I was on a euphoric trip back to my schooldays, and memories of that time, friends and laughter.

Are there similarities between creativity in food and art?

You may be thinking what relevance has creating Manchester Tart to art. Well, it actually has much significance, as art is not something that is made in the spur of a moment. Rather it is the culmination of many moments, and different times, which inspires the artist to paint. Some people wait many years before even picking up a paint brush to be creative. However, art inspiration comes mainly from our memories. Memories give the ability to translate your current thoughts into a painting, so that others will equally conjure memories when they view your artwork. Memories are the language of the brain, forming the basis for most, if not all of our actions and thought processes. Our thoughts shape everything, giving us a phenomenal database from which to draw information. 

Just thinking of Manchester Tart, I was able to draw very positive memories of school days, and queuing up with friends in the dinner line. This nostalgia is great for teasing out new concepts and instantly colouring the mind with technicolor images. I sometimes find that it is familiar things that truly refresh my creativity, sometimes it can be nature but equally a trip down memory lane is a perfect tonic.

This process of composition for an artist is no different to a chef creating a symphony of food, planning each course, to leave the palette yearning for the next. The final crescendo being the dessert, which completes the love affair with food.

Does science offer any explanation?

Curious, as to why this was, I decided to investigate what explanation science offers.

It was quite fascinating to understand the complexity of the brain, and that memories are indeed very complex things. The brain is a colourful and intricate structure, where memories exist in different areas, somewhat like a venn diagram and high security vault moulded together. Memories are committed to multiple areas, each with their own roadmap and access codes. It was awe-inspiring to realise that memories shift over time to different locations, dependent on new experiences or recall of those events. This makes sense as the recall of a memory can evoke a constant feed of thoughts, seemingly inspired by that initial thought.

The brain has a split between declarative and non-declarative memories, with the declarative memories residing in the hippocampus. A declarative memory would be have you ever painted an oil painting, which renders a factual true or false answer; whereas a non-declarative would be how to paint using oil paints and other interrogative questions. The hippocampus is a central hub which retains memories, behaviour, emotions and motivation. It is part of the limbic system which is a complex information system of endocrine and autonomic nervous systems, which automatically influence and regulate the body. The hippocampus is key for committing short term memories to the long-term memory bank. Damage to this area of the brain via oxygen depravation or Alzheimer's Disease, means that the ability to learn is impaired somewhat, as new memories cannot be committed to the long-term memory. The hippocampus is a crucial area for cognitive learning and emotional evaluation. However, as memories are stored in different areas, as well as the hippocampus, a very confusing situation arises when damage occurs to this area of the brain. Those suffering from these amnesia like conditions, can display a furtive short term memory of simple and repeatedly learned data. They can equally recall long-term memories from before the damage. However, they struggle with the recall information which might be expected, like recent events or data. This is often why these illnesses are so harsh for family and friends to understand and accept, as it is hard to appreciate these inconsistencies.

Another interesting factor highlighted by brain imaging was that the more stimulation that the hippocampus received in terms of spatial contextual awareness, resulted in greater ability to navigate, and the growth of this grey matter. This was displayed in tests at University College London where a positive correlation was seen between the size of the right hippocampus and the length of time as a black taxi driver. It is yet to be determined whether finding and navigating shortcuts for a living actually grows the right hippocampus.

The hippocampus is also more sensitive to long term traumatic stress than other parts of the brain, which seems to indicate that it is important to keep flooding the area with happiness to prevent the death of these cells.

Is there a correlation between art inspiration and food?

Well, I think the evidence is clear that food has the ability to unlock the long-term memory, and may also stimulate many areas of the brain into activity. This can evoke long term memories and stimulate the short term memory in turn. Motivationally, it would appear important to unlock memories as a healthy way to learn, grow and exist.

Of course, memories form the basis of most functions that we do as human beings, even simple ones like eating and drinking which are vital for life. This is evident when we have a bad experience of say choking on a bone whilst eating fish. Often, that bad memory is etched deep into the vaults of our memory, resulting in us avoiding fish at all costs. Good memories conversely evoke positivity, and enable us to believe anything is possible. A great example would be those people, who as teenagers were great dancers, displaying all sort of moves on the dance floor. Years and years later, still believing they possess those moves, they try to 'break dance' and end up injuring their backs.

However, the inability to access long term memories can prevent true creativity which is inspired by a combination of memory, learning plus experiences new and old. This enables you to paint a vivid picture, using these memories of the past to create a future imagined artwork. Therefore, my thoughts of indulging in manchester tart were indeed a great recipe to inspire an art painting, as it took me to a time where I was full of happiness and excitement.

You may wish to read my poems below, which relate to some of the topics in this article, namely: -



Visions in the Mirror


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