Posts Tagged ‘Visual arts’

Judging A Book By Its Cover — Buy Me!

In design, Media on June 18, 2010 at 8:02 am
Soft drinks on shelves in a Woolworths superma...

Image via Wikipedia

I’m finishing my second non-fiction book this month, probably next week. I’ve seen its cover, sent to me in a few iterations. Unless you’re A Very Big Name, you get — in your contract — cover consultation, but not cover approval. Covers matter!

Yet it’s authors who get all the attention, more rarely the designers whose interpretation of what it is we’re really saying, is meant to get you, our desired audience, to reach eagerly for our work. It’s a bitter irony that a book that can take an author many years to complete gets mere seconds to try to grab readers away from all those other books, or TV or radio or a movie or…

Like cans of soft drink on a grocery store shelf, every book cover is competing for buyers’ brief and distracted attention.

If you — like me — care about design, you might enjoy this post, from Elle magazine’s new blog LitLife interview with illustrator Michael Kirkham.

When you’re browsing the bookstore shelves, what kinds of covers do you gravitate to? I circle the illustrated ones. Being in a bookshop is just like being in an art gallery. There are so many different approaches to art, so many different ideas. I like quite blocky, maybe a bit retro book designs, but a good design could look like anything. And I won’t turn my nose at a good bit of photography.

What illustrators inspire you? I think that pictures can tell stories, so artists like David Hockney are a big inspiration. His etchings of Brothers Grimm fairytales really got me interested in illustration, because I saw that pictures could tell stories in a completely different way than words. That’s why book jackets have pictures on them—they tell a story and then the words inside continue telling that story.

Picture Of A Stump Sells For $3,510,000; Canada's Second-Highest Art Price Ever

In art on November 27, 2009 at 9:30 pm
That’s one hell of a stump — $3,510,000 worth, the second highest amount ever paid for a Canadian work of art. The Group of Seven were Canada’s equivalent of the Impressionists who painted scenes of Canada’s landscapes in the early 20th century. The stump sketch is an early version of  painting by Lawren Harris; the panting hangs in the National Gallery in Ottawa. Those who enjoy the Group of Seven (and I’m one of them) love the mythic quality of these paintings. If you ever visit Toronto, make time to visit the McMichael Collection, which groups many of these in a gorgeous setting on the outskirts of the city. The Art Gallery of Ontario also has some great Group of Seven works. One of favorites is J.E.H. Mcdonald’s Tangled Garden.

Why Success Is Like an Iceberg

In art, entertainment on July 10, 2009 at 12:27 am
Museum of Modern Art, New York City, USA

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I went to the Museum of Modern Art today. I live near New York City and, for my mental health, try to take a hooky day once a week to surgically detach from the computer so my brain doesn’t just feel like a cow at the milking machine. I don’t really love MOMA: I’m not wild about much modern art, there are always way too many tourists, and people race through the galleries rushing toward…the bathroom? the store? So many people don’t even look at the art.

But a show of theatrical drawings and paintings left a powerful impression — as so many of them were for productions that, de facto, were not productions because they were never produced. No one, other than those who commissioned them, saw them. The cynic may say, “So what? The artists got paid.” But the point of art, or creation, is to share it with an audience, isn’t it?

And what amazing talent was devoted to the backdrops and sets for these unsung, unseen plays and musicals and ballets: Marc Chagall, Ben Shahn, Georg Grosz, Robert Delaunay. I wonder if they went home fed up and worn out from being hired to work on things no one ever got the chance to appreciate. Or, as working artists, if it paid the rent or bought some new clothes, it was just one more bit of welcome income.

It made me see these legendary artists in a whole new light. They, too, (as I have and many of my friends and colleagues have, in various media) worked hard on some projects that died a premature death, only now brought to light thanks to a curator’s decision to share them with a wider public.

I think success, whatever the medium, is like an iceberg. We focus all our attention, our praise or scorn, only on the visible, gleaming final 10 percent — never the invisible 90 percent, the efforts that didn’t work, the ideas that didn’t sell, lying beneath it, as much as part of the mass as that which we do know about. We only see a tiny bit of what anyone really produces. It may not be their best, or most innovative work, just what sold at that moment.

I recently attended a conference where graphic designer Michael Bierut explained the development of signage for a children’s museum. He projected photos of his sketchbooks so we could watch the progression and refinement of his ideas. It was so lovely, and so unusual, to share the intimacy of process. Writer Anne Hull, a much admired feature writer at The Washington Post, once shared early drafts of a story with some of us attending the Nieman writers’ conference, a brave move. It was helpful and inspiring to see how many self-flagellating drafts she put her copy through. By the time most of us read it, who knew?

I always want to peer behind the curtain. I used to write a lot about ballet, and have sat in on class for the Royal Danish Ballet and the National Ballet of Canada. I’ve seen, and appreciated seeing, the underlying sweat and effort, not just the spotlit perfection of opening night. I want to see and hear about the ideas that didn’t make it, and why not. Failure is relative, and success is impossible without it. Our failures are crucial to our success(es), no matter how quickly they come. No one never fails.

But we often keep our failures hidden, discussion of them taboo.


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