13 January 2012

The Value of Printed Art

I have been thinking a lot lately about the value of design - and art of all kinds - sparked by a gift to a friend last Christmas. In a bid to steer them towards one of our favourite groups, who we thought they would love, we purchased an MP3 album. The reason for buying this digitally, rather than the CD itself, was that they seemed to listen to their music on their iPod, rather than their stereos, so it just made sense. Months later, and they still hadn't listened to a single track from the album - hadn't even put it
on their iPod - and it got me thinking… was it down to the fact that it was an MP3 album, rather than
a physical album?

Similarly, just before Christmas, we got our hands on a beautiful bookcase for our lounge, which we had planned to store not just our many books on, but our DVD's too. As I sifted through our pile of DVD's, I found a blank case, containing a few discs which had lost their covers somehow. And I felt detached from them, like they had lost their worth.

The reoccurring thing here, which I am trying to get at, is the importance of artwork. Without the CD,
with it's cover, putting some kind of message across to my friend - or even a picture of the group
- the music had no identity. Without the DVD covers, with their rich visuals that summed up the films
for what they were, the DVD had no identity, no presence.

Don't get me wrong - I can see the beauty in downloading MP3 albums - they can be played straight away through iTunes, or our MP3 player, and they are a little cheaper than a CD. But we never feel satisfied, so we always seem to buy the CD anyway, regardless. We want to see the artwork, feel the finish, explore the notes, and know the lyrics. Music is an art form all by itself, sure, but the CD takes you to a completely new level with it. A deeper level. You get a sense of the artist within the artwork
- a feel for the music through their eyes. Their notes uncover interesting details about the formation of
the album, and you get to wander around inside their songs, familiarise yourself with every lyric - know
it, understand it, and ultimately understand the music a whole lot more. It is something to treasure.

Photographs of The Alchemy Index, CD album, by Thrice. Probably the most inspirational album I have ever bought; a masterpiece of lyrics from a very much undiscovered group of musicians.

With DVD's, it is a treasure thing in the same way, but here I think it is far more material. There are obviously no producer notes to find, but there is the value of that artwork. How pointless it feels and looks to have a blank case sat on that shelf, regardless of what is inside - I will probably never feel the least bit inclined to watch them, I mean gosh, I forgot we even had them. This is why I can't understand piracy. I mean, yes, you get to watch the film, but the whole viewing experience is never reached, and
I am not even talking about the awful quality of the reproduction (that's another story). You have no artwork to prepare you for the film, to get you interested or excited, or to put you in the right frame of mind for what the film is about. It is like they say about cooking - you enjoy your food far more if you
are around it while it is cooking - to smell the aromas, see it's succulence - which makes you salivate,
thus preparing your body for a meal. There are no visuals related to the film, to help you to get to the place where your mind is prepared for the experience.

It is not just CD's and DVD's that this applies to either. I have opened up a big can of worms here, because my love of music, and my love of film, is equally matched - or more so - with my love of
books. There is nothing I love more than a well-loved book. Well-used, worn-in…aged. Like the age lines on an persons face, I love them, because they tell a story of their own (how ironic that the state of a book can suggest a story entirely separately to that which it contains!). So, in any case, as you can imagine, I felt some despair when Kindle popped up.

We love technology - really, we do, but we value print. It is a medium that we love to work with each
and every day, after all. I get Kindle - I do - it is fantastic for journeys, when the weight of books may
be an issue, and it is just easier to have them electronically stored. But, I absolutely do not feel drawn
in any way, shape, or form to read off a Kindle - I think I would just take less books. You see, as a designer perhaps, but at any rate, I am a self confessed judger of books by their covers. I admit it
fully. I could spend hours in book shops (I have spent hours in bookshops), wandering along the
cases, plucking any book that catches my eye - that inspires me - to find out more. The whole enchanting experience of this, is entirely my preparation for the read. I want the artwork to capture me,
to control me, to take me to the place it wants me to be, to whet my appetite for the show down that waits for me inside. I want to wear the book out with my eagerness, my experience, my pleasure.
I want it to show. I want to keep it on my book shelf and let it tease me into reading it again and again.

Photographs of The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak. The book that captures me every time that I see it on my shelf; the most enchanting of all my books.

Linking back to music now…tickets. Tickets to gigs/shows in particular. We have paid good money for the event, and we feel that we need something to show for it. We need something to prove and reward our interest in it - our love of it. Yet we are suddenly getting sent an electronic 'ticket', which essentially, is white space, with intrusive, thoughtless, lazy black text shoved on it. Where is my prized ticket with it's enthusiasm, pride, and substantial stock? It's carefully chosen shade, and encouraging fonts? Where is the preparation to build my anticipation? Where is my keepsake that I can hold onto and reflect on?
It is all lost, and I feel so deflated and unappreciative of my sad excuse for a ticket, that I may even forget that I am attending.

So you see, this is the way that I look at the art of print - this is how much I value it, in music, books, film and shows. In entertainment. It involves us all in some way - we all have these things around us.
So, even if you don't really catch my drift with how strongly I feel about these things, then at least spare my ideas a little thought, when you next buy MP3s, pick up a DVD or book, or purchase tickets to
a show.

As ever, your thoughts are encouraged - we love them - so get involved in the conversation! Leave your comment freely, below!


  1. I love this post and agree completely - whilst technology is wonderful I do still love to have a book physically in my hand, or a beautifully put together magazine that I can flip through the pages of!

  2. Nicky - thank you so much for taking the time to comment, it is really appreciated. I am so pleased that you enjoyed the post and it is really good to have your thoughts on it. I do wonder exactly how many people feel this way... who value it as much as we do.

  3. I especially agree about books, it just feels a different experience looking at a screen rather than holding a physical book. I feel rested reading a book, love old books and the smell of the paper, the illustrations... But i find i get tired and not so lost in a book if i try to read from a screen. It does not feel so magical somehow. I am a visual person, inspired first by the images so front covers on any items are very important. Great post. Catherine

  4. Thank you for your thoughts Catherine, and taking the time to post them - I completely get what you are saying. It is a very visual thing, and I guess creative people would generally all feel this way, for this very reason. I loved that you referred to physical books as magical - that is a perfect way to describe them, they are really enchanting. Really pleased that you enjoyed this post!

  5. I feel the very same way! It's such a shame people seemed to stop caring about it all. Well, it's just difficult to understand, seeing I (we, actually) love the printed art, the physical copies, etc.
    You also notice people do not have the attention span they used to have. I'm confronted by this daily... (I work as a graphic designer and I write and perform music -under the name Oakfield Drive, if I may advertize myself, haha-)

    But hey, just like vinyl has come back and is still making its rise. I believe one day eyes and ears will once again open up and the appreciation and value will rise again.

    (Btw, I coincidentally put on my (amazing) copy of The Alchemy Index yesterday. It keeps blowing me away!)


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