[albums]Cruising the aisles of Best Buy, music lovers are instantly drawn to the bright colors, flashing chains, and beautiful faces staring back at them. The album covers on display immediately grab our attention and leave us wanting more. How is it possible to turn away from Nick Lachey and his bulging biceps?
Such polished images and poses are the result of modern technology and the ability to manipulate images to perfection. Although resulting in powerful products that fly off of shelves, it is undetermined if such technological advances are moving the art of album covers forward or negatively impacting the creativity involved.
“I don’t think that what musical artists are trying to portray has changed, but the technology available definitely has. Digital images and special effects that are used today make it possible to create more professional looking covers than the basic photographs and hand paintings of the past,” CD Warehouse manager Rick Pniewski said.
With the emergence of the infinite technology, the creative process has changed a bit. “Ever since records were put into albums in 1978, photographs and original artwork have been placed on the covers. Artists such as Salvador Dali and Matisse created art to be used on vinyl,” Dick Rosemont, the Flat, Black, and Circular co-owner, said.
The avid record collector opened the store to share his love of music with the people of East Lansing. He believes that the changing methods of album production have enhanced creative possibilities in recording and artwork but have also presented limitations. “The CD is a smaller and more limited palette than the record,\” Rosemont said. \”Records used to have movable parts on the covers and were very creative. People used to buy records to collect them and save the artwork, whereas today it is more likely to be thrown away. The artwork on the front cover has become superfluous to most college students and how they consume music.\”
Although artwork is readily available with each purchase from the iTunes music store, it isn’t properly appreciated when only viewed on iPod screens. Students walking to class with earbuds in place are more focused on the busy streets around them than the tiny picture in the corner of their nearly invisible nano. “The 3-D optical illusions that Aerosmith used on album covers were really cool, but today it’s just someone’s name and their face on the front. The art really isn’t as important anymore,” social work junior Brooke Hall said.
This trend has been fueled by changes in the way that we discover and listen to music. Although unearthing inspiring cover art in music stores still plays a part in discovering new favorites, exploration through the shelves may take a backseat to convenience and the rising popularity of digital music downloading. “I can’t even remember the last time I bought a CD, but I think that Radiohead has a few great covers. They’re full of different colors and words that really express who they are and what their music is all about,” history junior Johna Willis said.
Despite the changing technology, it is obvious many students and faculty members continue to value the album covers of their favorite musical artists. Art history teaching assistant Brynn Juranek is inspired by the contributions that musicians of the past and present have made to both the art world and society as a whole. “What I love about this kind of art is the ability to express visually what artists are feeling but can’t easily put into words. What I especially love about album cover art is that it’s something that everyone has at home and is so common but also considered high art, especially album covers of the 1960s and \’70s. Art is not just sculpture, painting, and museums. It’s everything,” Juranek said.
Many collectors choose to display their art in homes or offices. Record frames sold at stores such as Restoration Hardware and Urban Outfitters provide collectors a chance to showcase covers for nostalgia and inspiration. “The art on album covers allows us to see visual representations of musical artists and not just as people. For example, when I think of The Velvet Underground, I don’t exactly think of the faces of the band members. I think of the banana on the front of the album [the iconic image designed by Andy Warhol],” she said.[banana]
MSU students can be seen purchasing the banana and other Warhol pieces on a daily basis at stores such as Beyond the Wall on Grand River Ave. These images add class and culture to any living space. However, his artwork is valued most when the history behind it is revealed.
Another historical and influential album cover is the 1967 Beatles hit Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. It was created with input by all of the band members and was designed by Jann Haworth and Peter Blake, who won a \”Best Album Cover\” Grammy for the album in 1968. It features the Beatles dressed in colorful suits while surrounded by an array of famous faces including Marilyn Monroe, Bob Dylan and Gandhi.
“There are also albums where the art is so minimalist that it’s awesome,\” Juranek said. \”One of my favorites is David Bowie’s ‘Ziggy Stardust.’ On the cover he’s sitting on a stoop in London. His persona is very grandiose but he’s just sitting there. There could be a very simple cover for something absolutely amazing.\”
Although true that art has enjoyed a greater presence in the music scene of past eras, it has not completely vanished. Artists like Regina Spektor, Mates of State and Of Montreal are among those striving to break ground not only through their lyrics, but through their album cover designs as well. These musicians have blended elements of color, space and heritage to invent art that is truly unique.
Of Montreal has been catching eyes with a retro and psychedelic style reminiscent of The Beatles. Flashy neon colored stars and thunderbolts are trademarks of the group, which hails from Athens, Ga. While from the US, the group has obviously implemented styles from various areas of the world as part of their persona. “Of Montreal’s style and cover art is almost art deco. It’s very eclectic and the lines are in your face. I feel like there’s a little bit of Asian and European influence to the look, and it’s all very dynamic,” child development sophomore Tracey Robina said.
The band also utilizes the use of caricatures in their artwork. Artist David Barnes has worked with Of Montreal and designs covers for any musical artists interested in his work. Simply send him a description of the cover you want and he will work out a price and an original design based upon it for you or your band. He maintains the website www.thebeewithwheels.com/main.htm. Although his portraits and designs are progressive, they have not yet reached their maximum audience.
“I believe that a lot of original artwork is still present on album covers, but most of it goes unnoticed,” Pniewski said.
As these artists and others gain more exposure in the mainstream music scene, their ambitions to further all aspects of the arts will be recognized. While sparkling white teeth and a flawless figure may be attractive, the substance of the album is ultimately what is most significant. Sometimes beauty is only insert deep.

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