Art, Aesthetics, Agriculture?

In case some of you were wondering why a pair of urban intellectuals such as ourselves ever became interested in farming, I have found a wonderful visual aid. The agricultural publication Dairy Today has, for the duration of its time in print, subscribed to the norm in its appearance. Most agricultural publications, or really any “blue collar” interest magazine wears a nondescript face:dairy-today-1.png  In this cover from 2005 we see a very straightforward design. No bells, no whistles. Really no design whatsoever. There are a few choice words on the cover that might, or might not entice you to buy this magazine. If you did want it, your reasoning would be purely cerebral. The image chosen is really what gets me: the dirty cows and insane perspective of filthy face-first bovine really peaks interest in the field of dairying, doesn’t it. I mean, come on! He looks like he’s ready keel over and die in a wasteland of mud and stink. Who’s for ice cream?! This kind of cover represents the standard of farming magazines, and to a large extent, farming in general. Ask the average person what farming is, ask what it looks like, what kind of work it is, and this is what you’ll hear: hard, drudgery, dirty, laborious, and gruelling with little reward. Indeed. And most farmers will tell you that that is not far from reality. There is, in farming, a kind of glorification of a lifestyle of self-induced poverty and satisfaction with the mediocre. I say self-induced because I do not believe that poverty and mediocrity are inherent traits of agriculture. Someone chose the image on Dairy Today, someone chose that typeface and those colours, someone chose to make it look so uninviting you would have to be desperate to want to take any interest in it. Worse still, this magazine’s appearance is either appealing enough or (more likely) totally irrelevant to the farmers who keep the magazine in publication. Ok, fine, maybe the articles are really good and that’s the attraction. But the point here is not the content of the magazine but rather, the content of an image presented of a dying and essential practice. The assumption of this cover is that one would not actively choose to farm unless it was the only option presented to you, or at best, there was some familial link that you take pride in. The point is that farmers are content to think of their profession as lowly. There is no desire to make it attractive, no desire to make it interesting to the average person, who, by the way, cannot live, that is live: breathe, work, play, make art, write songs, save lives, study aerodynamics or medicine, or literature, invent calculus and do all manner of worldly pursuits without farmers and farming. And farmers think of themselves as lowly, mediocre, humble? Can you imagine the panic if farmers were to go on strike? And you thought having to go without fresh episodes of SNL or Lost is rough. How can we ask people in this modern world, who take almost all of their food, sustenance, and means of survival for granted, to take pause and consider where their food came from and how it tastes when the farmers take themselves for granted?

Well, it seems that Dairy Today has caught on:

dairy-today-2.png  Hello, and welcome to the 21st century. Welcome to a world that has the ability to appreciate art and aesthetics, which, by the way, farming has a stake in. Look at this cow! She’s beautiful, she’s got personality, she’s got her tongue in her nose! And check out that typeface and setting. Wow. I love that the dot on the I of Dairy is the dot in the dot com of the website. How very edgy. Hell, I would pick up this magazine regardless of the articles. What do you see in this cover? Whimsy, maybe. There’s something about the baby blue here with the cow and the big Dairy at the top that makes me think ice cream cone. Plainly, this cover is sexy. It plays on eros: our desires. I desire this cow. I desire dairy products. I desire food. I desire to slip off the cover of this magazine and see just what’s inside. And hopefully, just maybe, I desire to look under the skirt of agriculture and see just where and how food is made. I mean, how different is it to ask how babies are made? Everything in agriculture is sexy. Come on, udders? How do you think those udders got so big and full of milk? Well, little Johnny, when a mommy cow and a daddy cow love each other very much. . . you catch my drift? Farming is all about reproduction, regeneration, and recreation. There is such joy in being a party to that process, such joy in being in a position to assist in and engender that process. Farming is not inherently unattractive, it is inherently attractive. This new cover is more telling of what farming actually is than the old one. And why not bring the inherent sexiness of farming into the bright light of day? We’ve been doing it with cooking for a good while now. Hell, my copy of Nigella Lawson’s cookbook Forever Summer depicts the author, beautiful and busty offering up a gorgeous clutch of round, red, ripe tomatoes. Food, not sexy? Huh? If there is an art of cooking and an art of eating, God Almighty, why not an art of farming? Look at that tongue!

And so, I return to my question. Why would a pair of urban intellectuals want to go into farming? It’s self-evident.

For more on Dairy Today's new look and an awesome video of how to art direct a cow, check it out.