Don’t Overseason Your Art

Continuing along the lines of cooking as a metaphor to making art, it’s important not to clutter your creativity with a proliferation of details, platitudes and those little darlings you think you can’t live without. 

Let me step deeply into this metaphor by talking about an Alton Brown recipe I recently tried (Yes, I’m one of those who sometimes slavishly adhere to the cult of Mr. Brown). It was from a fairly recent episode of Good Eats reloaded (Use Your Noodle) and the recipe in question was for Cacio e Pepe (translated: cheese and pepper). I loved the idea that the sauce could be made from just oil, cheese and pasta water, with the pepper for seasoning. 

The recipe called for, I believe, two tablespoons of pepper. I felt a little hitch in my throat when I saw that this emptied nearly all of my pepper container. So I decided to try half that amount. The sauce came together splendidly. And then I fed it to my family. My daughter had one bite. My wife got through two or three. I was stubborn. You see there was this scrumptious cheesy flavor there. But the pepper! It felt like swallowing red hot coals. It burned my tongue and throat. In the end, I muscled through half the bowl before throwing in the towel.

What does any of this have to do with art? (And why the heck did I include a picture of salt if I’m going to ramble on about pepper?) The answer to both questions is in the seasoning. A little goes a long way.

Too much seasoning can ruin a dish, either by overpowering it (in the case of cacio e pepe) or making things taste all the same. Salt, when used moderately, actually magnifies the taste of what you’re eating. I’m not lying, look it up. But too much salt wears out your tastebuds and makes food taste bland.

You came to each the actual dish, not the seasoning. 

The same goes for works of art, whether it be a drawing or a song or a piece of writing. Too many details can smother your initial idea. When you get the concept of the drawing down, don’t belabor it with extra flourishes. Even the Beatles wrote some of their best songs with only three chords. Clear and concise writing always wins out. It’s your initial idea, that passionate spark, that enticed you to create in the first place.

Remember, a little bit of detail goes a long way.

And Mr. Brown, what is up with your tastebuds? I expect that dish would be fine for circus fire breathers, but for the rest of us normal folk, tone it down. I did go back and recreate the dish (with only a teaspoon of pepper) and it came out perfect. The flavor of the cheese and the bite of the pasta all came through. Now I was tasting the actual idea of the dish, not the seasoning. 

Tim

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