art: artists respecting artists

Here’s the cover of Paul McCartney’s 2013 album New:

cover of Paul McCartney's "New" album, an arrangement of fluorescent tubes suggesting 'N E W'.

I saw it and immediately knew the cover’s designers were riffing on Dan Flavin‘s neon fluorescent tube sculptures. Dan Flavin was “an American minimalist artist famous for creating sculptural objects and installations from commercially available fluorescent light fixtures.” He doesn’t own the idea of arranging neon tubes, and this is suggesting ‘N E W’ typography, and so has a different intent than Flavin’s austere minimalism. So Paul McCartney and the people who worked on the cover (“Logo and cover concept by Rebecca and Mike. Consultancy and design by YES. Cover image by Ben Ib“) don’t owe Dan Flavin anything.

Yet in the liner notes:

Cover: Inspired by Dan Flavin, with special thanks to Stephen Flavin.

It’s just basic respect. Let people know who directly inspired you, don’t pretend a thunderbolt of creativity struck you out of nowhere.

(The cover is actually not a photograph of a physical installation, instead Ben Ib rendered it; a Beatles blog has more details. Knowing that takes away the physicality of it; it does seem suspiciously over-saturated, whereas Dan Flavin sculptures suggest a more ghostly presence.)

Speaking of ghosts… Here’s the cover of Elvis Costello and The Roots’ album Wise Up Ghost, also from 2013:

cover of "Wise Up Ghost", very clean design of text on white background

The spread type and layout (by creative director Nicole Frantz and art director Coco Shinomiya) reminded me of some mid-20th Century graphics style, but I wasn’t sure what it is. In the liner notes:

The cover design of Wise Up Ghost is inspired by the design of the City Lights Pocket Poets Series, which was conceived by poet and publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti. In particular, we are making an homage to the cover of Howl & Other Poems by Allen Ginsberg (Pocket Poets Series Number Four), published by Ferlinghetti in 1956. We’re grateful to City Lights for giving us the permission to use their design, and we encourage you to investigate the Pocket Poets Series, and the rest of the excellent catalog on offer from City Lights Booksellers & Publishers, 261 Columbus Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94133.

Pure class.

Maybe these artists could afford do the right thing because they have the lawyers and financial heft to make an offer that the artist’s representative couldn’t refuse, so there was little risk of getting their artistic vision shot down. But I prefer to think they made contact, asked how the artist wanted to be credited, and worked it out.

Of course it helps to have physical media in which you can read the liner notes. If you bought the digital album or just stream it, you would never see the credit in the liner notes and would never learn whence the inspiration arose.

#respectArtists !

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