Art and Spaghetti

by beccaborrelli

Flats. 2005.

My grandfather was born in Italy, and my grandmother had an Italian father. As most Italian women could, she made a spaghetti and meatballs that was orgasm in your mouth.

Her cooking process always began early in the morning. She would work on and off all day until dinner at 5 pm. The family would line up card tables from her tiny kitchen into the living room, and we would dine.

After she passed away, my father would occasionally pull out her recipe card to make it. And it was good.

But different.

Herein lies one significant difference between an artistic process and an analytical one. I am not about to suggest my father isn’t an artist… he plays beautiful guitar. Nor am I dogging his cooking abilities… he has Italian roots after all. What’s the difference?

Italian women from the old school do this really organic thing when they cook. They taste. Then they think. Then they add. Then they taste again. Every day is different. A thousand factors influence food, and a formula will produce good food… but rarely amazing food. Great cooks might start with a formula, but will employ dozens of tiny alterations to make sure it’s perfect.

Italian women also love the idea of food. The experience of food. The nourishment of their loved ones. The coos of gratitude as family savors their dish.

Sometimes when I eat an apple I remember her. I remember how she would open her fruit drawer and let us pick a snack. She would skin the fruit and cut it neatly into the perfect size. Her  apples tasted much better then I’ve experienced since.

When I follow recipe I make food. When my grandmother cooked, she made art.


When I was 26 I went to a biodynamic farm in New York. There’s a lot to the practice, but one thing that stuck with me:

Those who work the land and harvest the food, treat everything as a living organism worthy of love and respect.

If you’re a biodynamic farmer,  you don’t pump out a farm formula. You watch your babies day in and day out and make necessary modifications to nourish them. The idea being: if you love and respect land and food, it will be of higher quality and better nutritional value.

Whoa hippies.

Love affects matter.

One example is the Intentional Chocolate study by researcher Dean Radin. Another is by nutrition researcher Deborah Kesten.

There’s certainly more research to be done here. I’m not making a scientific argument I’m unqualified to make. Discourse yes, argument… in time.


When I began teaching I stopped making art. Not completely, if you count doodles I could occasionally be coaxed into making for elementary kiddos.

Last weekend I invited a few people to my place to make dream boards. It was the first time I’d made anything in a year. Suffice to say I was exceptionally rusty. For hours I floundered.

Just drink some wine and call it a night, was the prominent thought.

As happy accidents occur I stumbled onto a solution. I made some marks I was happy with. I stopped.

What would look good with that? I picked a picture and glued it. I hated it.

How could I fix that? Add this. And that would be even better if I did this.

At the end, I had this thing that was nothing like I had originally planned. And I was happy with it.

And it occurred to me the next day as I looked at my board… that’s how my grandmother used to cook. I used to work that way. Most of my childhood and youth.

Then in high school I was introduced to graphing. I found I was exceptionally good at drawing things that looked “real” if I used a formula. For the next fifteen years that’s all I did. And people were impressed, so I ignored the nagging feeling that whenever I looked at my art it seemed sterile. The drawing above I graphed from a photo of the Cleveland Flats. It looks real, and a lot of people marvel. When I made that I acted more like a mathematician than a free spirit. I can copy a photo. But so what?

There are important reasons to think about the “so what?”

So what if a student can make a pretty thing but can’t tell you why.

So what if a student feels love in the process if they learn to use four kinds of pattern in a symmetrical way.

So what if the student is faced with themselves through problem solving, when their parents can decorate their freezer?

So what if my grandmother could make spaghetti for seven hours when we could have Stouffer’s frozen in twenty minutes?

So what…