Friday, April 17, 2015

Cover Art Gone the Way of the Dodo

Cover art used to be covert art. Humble and creative. Now it is rarely art and never covert. Sad how things have changed. Several people I know like to buy old books not simply from a store, but used items from eBay or Amazon, and not just for the low prices. Today’s cover art leaves a lot to be desired. Am I making a lot of noise over nothing?

There is a reason why people still like to read books on paper despite Kindle taking over a big chunk of reading space. This is the same reason why tablet interfaces for books tend to mimic pages of a real book- the layout, the little dog-ear when you turn the page, the sound it makes and so on. There is a mysterious and timeless quality to a page.

Getting back to cover art, take for instance the following contemporary covers of perennial favorites- PG Wodehouse and Enid Blyton.


This degeneration of a magnificent, if self-effacing form of art is reflective of our attitude towards literature in general- impatient, ill-willed, indecent and mercenary, instead of reflective, inspiring, principled and holding in balance the experience of reading and the edification from the source material to our knowledge or skills. We have lost the art of listening, and along with it the ageless art of reading. Cover art is meant to capture moments, themes and attitudes the reader will encounter in the book. I believe cover art began degenerating in the 80s and it has been downhill ever since. In my view it achieved its peak in the 60s and 70s. Here are some examples to prove it. And don’t talk to me about pulp fiction paperbacks- these are not representative of the best cover art, and should be relegated to the recesses of the mind in order to make a fair comparison.








This applies to covers of LPs, singles and other music publications as well. We all know the high art in Pinkfloyd covers. Take also for instance the following cover art for a collection of George Melachrino compositions:

Granted, it is mostly a photograph, but isn't the picture and the layout so much more appealing than the appalling contemporary Carrie Underwood album below?

QED, I think!

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