The Art in Meat

“As for the garden of mint, the very smell of it alone recovers and refreshes our spirits,
as the taste stirs up our appetite for meat,”

~~ Pliny ~~

The Raw and Uncooked
The Raw and the Uncooked

Meat enjoys a reputation as a controversial subject these days. As well it should, in the food system now in existence. There’s even a vastly insightful magazine called Meatpaper. And some authors have begun to examine the modern, rather oppressive, presupposition that meat is bad.

But what many advocates of a meatless diet seem to ignore, whether willfully or out of ignorance, meat contributed profoundly to our survival as a species.

In the not-so-distant past, meat figured prominently in the diets (and hence in the art) of anyone who could afford it or could hunt (which meant very few people, because of restrictions on hunting to all but the nobility, for whom it became a metaphor for much of life).

But for artists, from early cave paintings to the art of Pinar Yolacan and Victoria Reynolds and Mark Ryden, meat models certain truths about society. Don’t forget the work of Gabriela Rivera, who photographs herself draped in meat, in the same way that Pinar Yolacan designs meat-clothes for her human models.

The following paintings shows what happens when artists think of meat beyond the societal norms of nourishment (click on each to find out more about the paintings and the artists) … meat as metaphor?

Cave Paintings at Lascaux, Dordogne, France
Cave Paintings at Lascaux, Dordogne, France
A Meat Satll, 1508
A Meat Stall, by Pieter Aertsen, 1508

Slaughtered Ox, 1655
Slaughtered Ox, by Rembrandt van Rijn, 1655

Still Life with Piece of Beef
Still Life with Piece of Beef, by Claude Monet, 1864

Mark Ryden: “The Meat Show” (images and commentary)

Christina, by Mark Ryden
Christina, by Mark Ryden, 1998

Ribs for Eve, by Victoria Reynolds, 1999-2003
Ribs for Eve, by Victoria Reynolds, 1999-2003

For more on food in art, see Food and Feasting in Art (Guide to Imagery), by Sylvia Malaguzzi (2008) and  Food in Painting: From the Renaissance to the Present, by Kenneth Bendiner (2004).

© 2009 C. Bertelsen

4 thoughts on “The Art in Meat

  1. Thank you, Jamie. Yes, the rawness factor indeed intrigues me, too.

    And Cucinista, thank you for the kudos and the award!

    Diana, I shall look forward to hearing what you have to say on the social and political aspects of livestock.

  2. I have been loving reading your blog — great mix of food, art, history, etc — and I have given you an award. Come by and pick it up!

  3. Nice post, Cynthia. On the political and social aspects of livestock, I will be putting something up on my site in the near future, inspired in part by the most awful presentation (exhibit) today at a hotel of the most gaudy ankole-watusi cattle horns I’ve ever seen (being painted and otherwise decorated). Pictures coming up on Facebook!

    PS – the cave painting you show, of the extinct aurochs species, is similar to the ankole-watusi cattle breed that we have in central Africa.


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