The other day I was cooking some stuff from the cookbook The Jewish Gourmet, and a few things from old Sunset Magazines. I rarely ever follow recipes, since they tend to disappoint me (unless I’m up for Julia, who is an absolute chemist, and will never steer me wrong.)
But every once in a while I get provoked by the gorgeous photography of Sunset, or start flipping through cookbooks for ideas, and I decide to trust one author or another.
On this day, I tried a fried turnip cake, oven-dried roma tomatoes with herbs, and a seared beef dish. The recipes—all of them—were bunk. The tomatoes recipe was off in its baking time by two hours—no kidding. The turnip cake wasn’t even close to its crispy-edged finish per the cooking instructions, and the beef…well, let’s just say it was time to start over.
What I learn from cooking is something that I apply to my art daily. That is, there is no recipe for making art. Every time I try to follow a recipe and sideline my own instincts, I’m sorry. I remember working through the recipes in the memoir Under the Tuscan Sun, realizing that though the author told a great story, she could not, for the life of her, construct a usable recipe. And that has turned out to be a great analogy for my art life.
The truth is, if I want to create, I have to trust my own instincts. That doesn’t mean I can’t learn fundamentals from other people. Sure, I can. But the fundamentals will only take me so far. At some point I have to give up on other peoples’ ideas and just trust my own experimental nature, get my hands dirty, and try some stuff.
When I first learned to bake people said to me, “Oh, you can’t mess around with measurements in baking, or cakes will fall.” And that’s nonsense. I mess around with them all the time with delicious results and have for years. But I had to learn that. I didn’t know that until I bucked the rules and messed around and gave in to intuition and pushed the parameters of what I thought might work.
And that’s what we’re after in art: the ability to hear our own voice, grounded upon what we’ve learned, standing on the shoulders of others who’ve come before us, and then making the craft our own.
That’s the point of all this: to be able to throw out the recipe book altogether and just trust our own artistic nature, guidance, and actions. To know that other people’s direction is just not adequate for us after a while, and we have to find it inside ourselves, for ourselves.
So once again, my cooking taught me something profound: that there is no sure-fire recipe for art, and—ahem—no sure-fire recipe for cooking, either.