Maria Palmo


Considering Art as Cultural Understanding: Italian Cuisine and Cultural Identity


The knowledge that we acquire through art is not scientific whereby there is empirical proof to substantiate fact. Rather knowledge obtained through art is an understanding that one reaches about our world, the people in our world and who we are in relation to our world. In order to gain deeper understandings, one needs to entertain art as an ontological text that is both cultural and social. Using anthropological studies and interpretive theory, I propose that art may provide us with cultural understanding, a form of knowledge that is essential in a world of multiple cultural identities. Anthropologist Clifford Geertz recognized art as part of our social and cultural world. This interpretation of art challenges Western cultures limited view of art as pure aesthetics. Art is inseparable from culture because it is integrated in our life experiences and revealed through cultural signs and symbols. Interpretive theorists such as Hans-Georg Gadamer and Martin Heidegger invite us to dwell in art. They recognize that our essence of being is housed in art. It is through an interaction with art that one reaches new understandings that are forever expanding our horizons, rather than a knowledge that is limited to facts. I use the example of Italian cuisine to illustrate the idea of art as cultural. Italian food represents the identity of this country and its people. However, it is not through an appreciation of art objects, but an understanding of traditions that are lived, not observed from afar. I then apply the theoretical interpretation of art to the SlowFood movement that recognizes art as cultural and essential to social relationships.


Maria Palmo received her undergraduate degree at Boston University and her Masters Degree at the University of San Francisco. She is currently pursuing her doctoral degree at the University of San Francisco, School of Education in the Department of Leadership Studies Program. Maria’s research focus is on the artistic process and the use of art in social contexts. Her research framework is anthropological in nature and grounded in interpretive theory. Maria has a background in the performing arts and trained at the Culinary Institute of America. She worked as a professional chef in Italy for five years in private villas and restaurants devoted to the preservation of authentic traditional Italian cuisine. Maria’s latest artistic exploration is photography, with a particular fascination for black and white photography. Maria’s experiences with different artistic mediums and her time in Italy has fostered a desire to promote a keener awareness and appreciation for the arts and for celebrating cultural diversity.