Status: Available

Food, Art, and Society

From the Roman villa to the Golden Arches

Moderators: Ellen Kosmer, Betsy Siersma



In this seminar we will examine the significance of food in society as portrayed in the visual arts.


From the story of Adam and Eve to our current obsession with dieting, food has been a central element in our lives. Necessary for sustenance, it can also be a symbol, a sensual pleasure, or an element of our identity. We will explore these aspects of food as represented in the visual arts: from Roman floor mosaics depicting bones and food scraps after a wild banquet and Dutch still-life paintings symbolizing society’s wealth with lavish displays of exotic food to the Pop artists of the 1950s and 20th-century commercialization of food in advertising. We will look at socialization around food: dinners, luncheons, and cafes, as painted by Manet, Renoir, and Degas. Some contemporary artists use food as a medium to comment on society. For instance, Thai artist Rirkrit Tiravanija creates participatory installations that revolve around personal and communal traditions, e.g., cooking, bringing people together, and, thus, expanding the social dimension of art.

ROLE OF PARTICIPANTS: Participants will select from a given list of topics. They will make a 20-minute presentation and then lead a discussion on the topic.

Participants will find many resources related to this seminar on the internet.

ABOUT THE MODERATOR: Ellen Kosmer is an artist and an art historian. Betsy Siersma is an artist and past museum director/curator.