In the days before photography, when members of the gentry commissioned portraitists to commit their wealth and beauty to canvas, it wasn't uncommon for the household's sheep and cows to get their pictures painted too.
The heyday of agricultural art is long over, although animals still appear in paintings -- sometimes smoking cigars and playing poker. But Jodi Sterle, an associate professor at Texas A&M University and the state's extension swine specialist, has discovered livestock art's an effective way to stimulate her students' creativity.
"It's not necessarily art getting shoved down your throat," Sterle says of her course on the "Art and Heritage of Livestock...These are agricultural students."
Students this semester were asked to produce modern interpretations of classic works of art featuring animals. The results are now being displayed at the university.
One of Sterle's students re-imagined an ivory sculpture of the Chinese Zodiac, swapping out fantastical creatures for farm animals. Bulls took the place of dragons and rats, which -- as Sterle readily admits -- can be found in most barns.
"But we don't consider them livestock," Sterle explains. "We don't want to manage them."
Many of Sterle's students are more riveted by accuracy than aesthetics.
"We talk a lot about whether the artist was out of his comfort zone," Sterle says. "The students are very critical when something isn't anatomically correct. If the hind legs are off, they'll notice. They live and breathe it."
"Reframing the Farm" will be on exhibit at the the university's Benz Gallery through November 24.
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