This summer, we went to the Art Institute of Chicago to see the Van Gogh exhibit. It was fabulous. We were dazzled by more than seventy-five paintings and drawings by master artists Vincent van Gogh, as well as Georges Seurat, Paul Signac, Emile Bernard, and Charles Angrand.
While we were enjoying the paintings, we saw a book on one of the benches. It was the exhibit’s catalog. “Look at the cover!” I said. It was disappointing, to say the least, giving no hint of the beautiful content within. Don’t most of us judge a book by its cover? Yes. This cover would not entice me to open the book.
I found the black sanserif title typography to be very large and garish. The bright blue-turquoise background wrapped around the front and back covers overpowered the cover painting. I wondered why the designer chose this particular color, which did not complement the painting,
Covers attract customers
Should an art book cover be appealing? Yes. The cover image is a big selling point. As a book designer, I know that covers are the first thing the target audience sees. A great cover attracts customers. It sets expectations for the content.
My personal opinion:
In my opinion, art books should look sophisticated and artsy. I’ve seen many art books with wonderful covers. I prefer a design that features a full bleed image with the title, subtitle, and author’s name strategically placed. An example is a painting’s sky, it’s an area that is perfect for typography. Another book design cover had an extreme enlarged portion of a Vemeer painting—it was very powerful and used a san serif, all caps title.
By the way, Amazon has a copy of the same book for sale on its website with a slightly different cover. The painting is much smaller, and the text is clunky — awkwardly arranged. The background color looks washed out compared to the Art Institute’s cover.
The museum’s shop had the catalog and posters for sale. The exhibit’s poster was really lovely. Its typography was a classic serif font, and the color complemented the Van Gogh painting. Too bad the book didn’t look as nice.
Did I purchase this exhibit catalog? No. A book cover is a work of art, something you would want to look at many times. The exhibit’s official catalog cover neither met that standard nor did justice to Van Gogh’s lovely painting.