New Book Combines Fine Art, Farming

September 15, 2008 - News Release

In an unlikely pairing at the University of Guelph, an agricultural policy professor and the director and curator of the Macdonald Stewart Art Centre (MSAC) have co-authored a new book that combines controversial farm issues and fine art.

The Cultivated Landscape: An Exploration of Art and Agriculture by Prof. Craig Pearson and Judith Nasby explores history and current events in agriculture, including the rise of industrial farming and the environmental impacts of food production. That story is mirrored in the book's reproductions of more than 70 paintings, sculptures, drawings and photographs depicting western agriculture from the Middle Ages to today.

Published by McGill-Queen's University Press, the book will be launched Sept. 23 at 7:30 p.m. at The Bookshelf in downtown Guelph and Sept. 24, at noon at the MSAC on campus.

"It's a powerful way to look at how society has looked at agriculture," said Pearson, referring to the use of artworks to illustrate such controversial topics as genetically modified foods or the globalization of farming.

Among the pieces reproduced in the 294-page volume are works by Pieter Brueghel the Elder, Paul Kane, A.J. Casson, Edward Burtynsky, Charles Demuth and Andy Warhol. The book features several artworks from the University and MSAC collections (including the latter's sculpture park) and pieces from Australia, reflecting Pearson's roots in that country.

The book discusses current issues including global trade, biotechnology, climate change, poverty, pollution, food safety, organic farming and farm economics. It explores what the authors call the "dark corners" of farming practice and policy but ends on a positive note with ideas for better ways to feed the world's 6 billion-plus people, including the need to connect agriculture, biodiversity, landscape design, politics and culture.

Nasby said the book is intended to underline the importance of agriculture not just to feed the world but to preserve the landscape and environment. "I'm interested in art that combines art and social issues," she said.

Formerly dean of the Ontario Agricultural College at U of G, Pearson has written 10 books and more than 100 papers on agricultural and environmental policy and sustainability. Nasby has written 50 publications, including books on artists Irene Avaalaaqiaq and Rolph Scarlett. She is an adjunct professor in the School of Fine Art and Music.

Philip Cercone, executive director and senior editor of McGill-Queen's University Press in Montreal, said the peer-reviewed book contributes to knowledge of both agriculture and art. "It traces the history of agriculture through images found in a variety of artistic media. You often have the written word but you never have the visual picture of what the landscape, which is no longer in existence, was like."

For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs: Lori Bona Hunt, 519-824-4120, Ext. 53338/, or Deirdre Healey, Ext. 56982/

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