What Is An Artist?

We had a lively discussion at home recently over Subway calling their counter people Sandwich Artists.

My son contends that they are artists. The best of them, he argued, assemble sandwiches in a way that expresses great skill and creativity — and the really good Sandwich Artists bring transcendent quality to their work. There are, of course, also some hacks.

I take the position that the Sandwich Artists might more accurately be described as sandwich technicians or sandwich engineers. After all, they are making the sandwich based on my set of specifications. I’m the one who decides that cucumbers and jalapenos would go well on my oven roasted chicken sub. It’s in Choosing these combinations of ingredients is the art, therefore I am the Sandwich Artist, not them.

If they were artists they’d decide what to do independently. You’d walk into Subway and instead of ordering,  just say, “Make me a sandwich!” The sandwich artist would then follow his muse and present me with something new and original, like in this funny piece from McSweeney’s.

So who is the artist? It’s well-known that Andy Warhol used assistants to create his art. These crews followed his instructions to churn out work that sells today for millions of dollars — and you’ll never see their name on it. It was his creative vision, not theirs. They were sandwich makers, not Sandwich Artists.

As always, thanks for visiting. And don’t spend too much time reading stuff like this at work, or you too could find yourself a Sandwich Artist.

10 thoughts on “What Is An Artist?

  1. I’m pretty sure a “Sandwich Engineer” would need a license and certification from NYS Department of Education. When the term “Software Engineer” was used in an IT RFP at the Department a couple years ago, they went positively apesh*t until the term was removed.

    1. Several ‘engineers’ took ‘artistic license’ with the project deliverables, which from my standpoint was poetic justice.

  2. For what it’s worth, my first job, at the tender age of 15, was as a “Sandwich Artist” at Subway. And being 15, I took it VERY seriously. I was careful and calculating when assembling sandwiches, both considering the beauty of stacking ingredients and the sub’s ability to remain cohesive while being ingested. On my breaks, I created my own interesting (as interesting as you can get with the ingredients on hand) unique subs outside of the written menu. To this day, I take great pride in my at-home sandwich making, although, everything I create now makes all my prior Subway work look like that of a lowly apprentice.

      1. That is a thing of beauty! What kind of roll did you use? If you like curried mayo, have you tried that with chicken salad, raisins and nuts (if you’re not one of those people who think raisins are the devil).

        1. That’s actually one of those crispy Price Chopper baguettes — of the variety that don’t fit in the bag. I hollowed it out a little to make a crispy bread canoe for the filling. For some reason, these sandwiches always taste better when you eat them outside. I always wrap them up tightly in Saran Wrap, so they hold together very nicely, too.

          Chicken salad, exactly like the one you describe, is one of my favorite things in the world. I’ve used raisins as well as other dried fruits in it, like cranberries and figs.

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