Abstract The aim of this paper is to explore the politics of land tenure in the high country of Aotearoa New Zealand. In the mid-1990s the New Zealand government inaugurated a process of tenure review, under which the ownership of 2.37 million hectares of Crown pastoral lease land will be reordered, with around half of the land eventually becoming freehold and the other half transferred into the conservation estate. In the mid-2000s a media debate erupted between high country farmers and conservation and recreation groups about the appropriate ownership of the high country. The story of tenure review is a story of a moment of challenge to farmer control (symbolic and actual) of the high country, a moment in which conservation and recreation values seriously contested those of agricultural production. The question I seek to explain is the mobilisation of discourses of stewardship by farmers to promote and defend their interests in this debate. Drawing on the work of Pierre Bourdieu, I argue that the deployment of discourses of stewardship can be analysed in terms of transformations in the value of capitals of pastoral farming and productivist agriculture in relation to the capitals of environmentalism and conservation in the New Zealand political field at the time. Such a discursive strategy was available to farmers, I suggest, because of the way in which the high country is represented in art and other visual media as largely untouched nature. The ways in which the high country is represented is formative of high country farmer subjectivity, or habitus, and as such generative of their strategies. What the analysis suggests is that in particular places, at particular times, visual representations of those places may be key actors in how those places are made and remade. The paper thus attests to the potential agency of art in production of ruralities.