Salt = Art

A couple years ago I saw a performance by dancer/choreographer/teacher from Houston, Texas that has always stuck with me.  The performance was a structured improvisation based around the story of a king and his daughters.  I can’t find this particular story on the internet (what?  I can’t find something on the internet??? WHAT?) so I’m going to do my best reinvention here…

Once upon a time


ugh, cliche.

There once was a king who had three daughters, and one day he asked his three daughters how much they loved him.


“Oh, father, I love you as much as all the gold in your kingdom.”


“Daughter, I am very rich in gold, so you must love me very much.  I am pleased with you.”


“Oh father, I love you as much as all the jewels in your kingdom.”


“I am also very rich in jewels, you must also love me a great deal.  I am pleased with you.”


“Father, I love you as much as salt.”


His youngest daughter’s answer angered him greatly, and he banished her from his kingdom.


The youngest daughter went searching for someone to take her in and she found a sorceress who could not believe her story.  In an effort to teach the king a lesson and reunite the daughter with her father, she put a spell on his entire kingdom.  Her spell caused all the salt in the kingdom to disappear.  People became very sick throughout the land.  They needed salt to prepare food, without it even the king’s food was not prepared properly, causing the king to become very sick.  He asked his advisors to find someone who could explain what was happening.


One of his advisors found the sorceress and brought her into the palace, with the king’s daughter not far behind. The sorceress explained that, while salt seemed inconsequential to him, it was necessary for his life, for his kingdom’s health, and even for his pleasure.  When the king heard this he realized how much his youngest daughter loved him, and he asked her to come to him so he could ask for her forgiveness.  As soon as he did this the spell was broken, and the king’s health, as well as the rest of his kingdom’s, returned.

In the improvisation, the performer spoke this story, with a few side notes and humorous jokes, and at the end she said “art is like salt.”  It seems like we could live without it, but we need it.  We need it both to make things not so bland, but we also just need it or else we’d all be living in houses with gray walls and gray furniture with gray pillows, and we’d probably have a lot less pillows actually, and we wouldn’t sing in the shower or dance when we made a touchdown or doodle when we’re on hold on the phone.

And we’d wear the same outfit everyday and we’d only watch the news, except there would be no Katie Couric.  There would just be some guy (or girl) just sitting at a desk reading exactly what happened everyday in a monotone voice.  And all our food would taste the same.

And I have a feeling we’d get sick… both of it, but also we’d probably just get sick… a constant glazed over look in our eyes, and everything that makes us human (desire, ambition, compassion, and a whole other slate of emotions) would disappear.

I’m not saying I’m pro-high sodium diet, but I am saying that art is just there a lot of the time, and we don’t even notice it.  And if we keep acting like it’s not there and that we don’t need it– we’re kidding ourselves.

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5 thoughts on “Salt = Art

  1. It's in King Lear, but it originates farther back than that. Many countries have a folk story that runs parallel to this. And the version I heard (shown roughly here) is different than others I've read, most just concentrate on the pleasure of salt, not the need for it.

  2. On a related but side note, in King Lear, the king has divided his kingdom (England) into three parts & is ready to give each of his daughters a portion, saving the best for his youngest daughter whom he loves the most. The youngest daughter is so sickened by her older sisters' flowery and sugary (Will's words) language (who are despicable and only after the “money”) that she basically says, if with their words they show love, then I'll speak hate – because my actions are the opposite of theirs & so likewise should be my words. (Thus the salt reference in the adaptation – salt vs. sugar.) Lear is so embarrassed that he banishes his well-loved daughter & splits her portion between the older daughters. He goes mad, there's a storm and he comes to his sense too late to save her.

  3. The best example of the numerous versions of this story are from here:
    http://www.pitt.edu/~dash/salt.html
    I knew it was in King Lear, but the story that I heard orally is more applicable to my purposes here… you're calling me out on warping a text to suit my purpose! But in my defense, I was introduced to it orally before I ever saw a text.

    Like I said, most of these examples show a king who is just annoyed at not having salt, but the one I heard focused on a need for salt, though it seems unnecessary, which I think is more powerful.

    My guess, though I could be wrong, is that Shakespeare used this folk tale/parable that was common in his culture (and in others throughout Europe, but also India) when he wrote King Lear. Not the other way around. but maybe not. It's not like folk tales come with a copyright date.

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