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Plating food beautifully has traditionally been seen as more of an art than a science. However, in recent years, a growing body of research in the field of empirical aesthetics has started to demonstrate that the art of beautiful plating can, in fact, be studied scientifically. What is more, the results of such research are now providing actionable insights concerning how to deliver the most aesthetically pleasing dishes. In fact, there is an intriguing parallel here between the visual aesthetics of painting and plating. It turns out that a number (but by no means all) of the aesthetic rules worked out previously for painting, such as balance, harmony, and the aesthetic oblique effect, also influence people’s judgments of aesthetic plating in much the same way. And while people undoubtedly do generally find larger portions of food more attractive, a number of the preferences that people have been demonstrated to exhibit appear to be “disinterested” (in the Kantian sense), thus qualifying them as genuinely aesthetic judgments. Recent chef/scientist collaborations that have started to deliberately elicit different kinds of affective responses from diners (such as, for example, surprise, “the aesthetic aha,” and perhaps even a sense of awe) are also discussed briefly. While questions concerning the cross-cultural generalizability of many of the findings summarized here remain (awaiting further research), progress is undoubtedly being made in this new and intriguing field of empirical aesthetics.

Original publication





Book title

The Oxford Handbook of Empirical Aesthetics

Publication Date



1027 - 1052