Cooking to explore art history

Looking for a way to get creative with your food? We’re talking about how cooking can help kids learn about art and art history.

There’s an art to cooking, and as it turns out, cooking plays a big role in art too! Getting in the kitchen can help with just about every school subject, and art is no exception. Find out the fascinating history of cooking in art history...and then mix up some amazing art pieces in your kitchen!

Meals are so central to the human experience that as long as humans have been making art, food has been featured as a central subject. In Ancient Egyptian paintings such as these ones from the Tomb of Nebamun (c 1350 BCE), you can see a variety of food being hunted, harvested and feasted upon. Meanwhile, in the ruins of the Roman city of Pompeii, colourful wall frescos show detailed depictions of bread being purchased at market (ca 79 CE)—in fact, art like this is partly how we’ve learned about how Romans of the time ate. Once you start looking for food in art history, it’s everywhere! Giuseppe Arcimboldo’s Summer (1563) is a portrait made entirely from food - take a look with your child and see how many ingredients they can spot! Not quite as exotic but still absolutely beautiful, even everyday acts like pouring milk become art in classic genre paintings like Vermeer’s “Het Mielkmeisje” (1660).

Even the containers made to hold food can be works of art. Ask your child to guess what this engraved Mayan spouted vessel (ca 1 CE) was for (spoiler: it’s a chocolate jar). And food containers can become art again—just look at Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Cans (1962).

Food is a beautiful pre-occupation for modern artists as well. In Canada, Mary Pratt is famous for her luminous paintings of everyday kitchen items like jelly jars (Jelly Shelf, 1999) and Annie Pootoogook’s painting The Tea Drinkers (2001-2002) captures a wonderfully cozy moment in a family kitchen.

Ready to make some art of your own? Get started by mixing up your own paint. Though you’re probably used to paint as a store-bought product, for centuries it was ground and mixed by painters, usually according to secret recipes. Powdered pigments such as vermilion red or viridian green were ground to a specific thickness and then combined with linseed oil or other materials (like egg or chalk!) to get the right consistency of paint. Want to paint like an old master? Try this kid-friendly recipe for egg tempera, and or try edible finger paint for toddlers. If your kids are more sculptors than painters, playdough is easy to make and kids will enjoy exploring their creative side with these wintery recipes. Once everyone’s hungry, try experimenting with food art: this very hungry caterpillar’s fun to look at as well as eat, and while you snack you can check out these incredible food art ideas together—lunch may never be the same!

We can't wait to see what works of art you create—please don't forget to share your creations with us on our Facebook and Instagram feeds!

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