Art & Flesh

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Having taught aesthetics since 1993 I am accustomed to hearing about weird and even stupid things in the arts, so I was not even surprised when I saw a bit on cannibalism and art on the History Channel. I had heard about the artists before, but the show inspired me to write a bit about this.

The segment that made the greatest impression was that about Marco Evaristti. This fellow had his fat liposuctioned, turned into meatballs, canned and then served as part of a pasta dinner to fellow artists. The piece was called Polpette al grasso di Marco.

The intent of his work was to explore cannibalism from an artistic standpoint. My own view of the matter is that his approach was more sensationalist than substantive and did not really add much (or anything really) to the aesthetic and philosophical discussion of cannibalism. I am also inclined to regard what he did as not being art. After all, he simply had liposuction, had his fat made into meatballs and served a meal. As such, he was a patient, a purchaser of meat balls, a cook and a host-hardly the stuff of art.

While I have not had liposuction, I have been a patient, I have bought meat balls, I have cooked them and served them at a dinner.In a odd coincidence, I have even had a discussion over cannibalism over meatballs (which began as a discussion over the ethics of eating meat). On the face of it, none of this activities are artistic in nature and hence the burden of proof seems to rest on those who claim it is.

The main distinction between what I have done and what he did was to actually serve his own fat in the meal. While this does technically transform the meal from non-cannibalistic to cannibalistic, it is not clear that this results in an aesthetic transformation of the event. What needs to be shown is that adding such a content to a meal somehow transforms the event into art. After all, serving some beef meatballs to facilitate a discussion about eating meat hardly seems to transform the event into art. Likewise, adding some human fat to the meal does not seem to make that art either.

Interestingly, as I watched the clip showing the artists talking about cannibalism all I could think was this: “you might be talking like artistic intellectuals, but you just ate some guy’s ass fat.”

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  1. Dudley M. Jones


    Thanks for a good laugh! I have just seen a sad movie and this is exactly what I needed.

    The concept of an artist canning something gross that came out of his body has been done before, I believe, but not the previous stuff was not actually eaten. The artist was Manzoni.

  2. I thought this was a ‘leg-pull’ at first but checking on the artist apparently not.

    In this case I would like first to know Mike Labossiere’s definition of “activities being artistic in nature”.

  3. Wait…. why is cooking (making meatballs) not art? Why is body modification (liposuction) not a kind of art? Why is not turning something unusual (cannibalism) and juxtaposing it with something common place (spaghetti and meatballs) not artistic? It forces us to reconsider why we think of cannibalism as wrong, or unusual.

    I mean I think this performance art is far more thought provoking and engaging than something like the Mona Lisa.

  4. DON BIRD wrote: “In this case I would like first to know Mike Labossiere’s definition of “activities being artistic in nature”.”

    I agree. The whole question of some thing or activity either being or failing to be art on the basis of some property of the thing or activity itself is a nonsense. The only principled criteria for what qualifies as art is the intention of the creator, in other words, that it was intentionally created or carried out AS art. The REAL question then, is whether the subsequent art has any merit at all, which indeed it may not. When people say “That’s not art!”, often what they really mean is “I don’t think that’s any good!”, which is, of course, a seperate issue.

    If Evaristi is merely “a patient, a purchaser of meat balls, a cook and a host”, then in a similarly reductive vein, Van Goch was merely an ‘applier of paint’ and Michelangelo was merely a ‘chiseller of marble’ etc. If you look for the ‘art’ in an activity, like some magic ingredient, you won’t see the wood for the trees, or if you look for some creative ‘threshold’, you will find your judgments far too subjective to be taken seriously.

  5. Hey Mike, what’s your definition of “ART,” something you have to hang on a wall forever? Cooking, for me and I’m sure many others, is an art. Because you don’t permanently display your creation on view makes it no less an art. Also, there is a form of art called “performance art” look it up on Wiki. What the mentioned artist did would be considered such a work.

  6. I thought it’s been a long-standing controversy whether art can be defined at all (some say not) to the point that it’s been deemed an uninteresting question. And I agree with DMR that “art” is probably being used in the meritorious rather than the descriptive sense in the head post.
    Conceptual art anyone?

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