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The rural idyll is a powerful force in the British national imagination. This highly original and vibrant study will examine how key moments in art history have shaped the concept of the idyll and how contemporary artists continue to access and often challenge this concept. From High Art to propaganda, garden centres to air fresheners, contemporary art to computer games – a constellation of powerful images and ideas contribute to our understandings of the rural. This publication offers new ways of thinking about the rural idyll and the countryside more broadly, through the innovative integration of a wide range of art and visual cultures. These include classic landscapes by artists such as Blake, Claude, Constable and Turner, works of modern British art, and contemporary works by artists who present new perspectives on the rural idyll. Crucially, this volume will enter these familiar and unfamiliar art works into a productive dialogue with an extensive range of visual cultures which populate everyday life now and in the past, for instance Frank Newbould’s iconic wartime recruitment posters of 1942-44 and rural-themed video games. In the contemporary art world the rural is seriously under-represented as an arena of critical inquiry and artistic production. This publication will make a significant contribution towards redressing this situation. In addition to the new scholarship on the rural idyll – by academic experts from a wide range of disciplines, encompassing the spheres of art history, contemporary art, poetry, literature, rural history, agriculture, and everyday life – it will include interviews with ten key contemporary artists who are working with the rural in innovative ways. It will also contain newly commissioned material from leading artists and writers which articulate the themes of the publication in ways that differ from the traditional catalogue essay. It will include a specially commissioned visual essay by Jeremy Deller. Deller will select a series of images from the exhibition and elsewhere and combine them with short pieces of text that develop the questions and themes discussed throughout the book in creative and open-ended visual dialogue. There will also be a new commission from the Scottish poet and writer Kathleen Jamie, whose moving observations on the relationships between nature and everyday life, articulate the embeddedness of the rural idyll into the mundane and the quotidian.
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