Last summer, I wrote a blog post about my favorite book cover designs. I spoke about how, despite the saying, covers are extremely important. I believe that the same idea can be applied to album covers. Although I pay less attention to album covers than I do book covers, I’ve begun to realize that they serve a purpose. They give you insight into the message of the album, a sneak peak at the songs you’ll hear. So, as I sat scrolling through my “liked songs” on Spotify, I started to pay more attention to the album covers I was seeing, and I noticed something even more interesting: art history. In each and every album cover, I found a piece I learned about in one of my four art history classes I’ve taken. I’m constantly in awe of how connected the art world is, seeing how the past continues to influence the present and looking for glimpses of the future in celebrated works of art. Today, I’ll be sharing three of the album covers I felt most drawn to along with the piece that I was reminded of. I’ll be sure to share some favorite songs along the way, too!
This first comparison pairs the EP I Was Starting To Wonder (2018) by The Mowgli’s with Georges Seurat’s A Sunday on La Grande Jatte (1884-86). Visually, they are very similar. In both, we see a community enjoying a sunny day by the water. Seurat uses dots of color to create a soft composition that elicits feelings of serenity. Viewers understand that the figures, despite being well-dressed, are relaxing and spending quality time with friends. It is almost carefree, as animals run and children play. The album cover from The Mowgli’s conveys the same emotions in an effort to invite you to partake in their joy. This is then reflected in the music on the EP with songs like “I Feel Good About This” and “Kansas City“. The EP sparks ideas of summer drives to the beach and impulsive decisions that become long-lasting memories. I believe that the album cover captures this well, with various groups of people swimming, sunbathing, and walking together.
* Album Art (photograph) for I Was Starting to Wonder taken by band member Josh Hogan.
Next, I’ll look at AJR’s OK Orchestra (2021) and Annibale Carracci’s The Choice of Heracles (1596). The greatest visual comparison is the inclusion of three figures, with the one in the middle looking out at the viewer. Aside from this, the two appear to be stylistically different. However, I believe they embody the same message. Carracci’s painting depicts the Greek hero Heracles, or Hercules, being faced with a decision between vice and virtue. Should he give in to temptation and venture to his left (viewer’s right), or pursue the clear path guided by good virtues? We see a similar choice being faced in AJR’s cover, with the three brothers deciding on which path would bring them the greatest happiness, shown by the dark, monochromatic side on their left juxtaposed with the bright, whimsical forest on their right. This album was written and recorded during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. The three brothers were faced with a lot of uncertainty, as was the rest of the world. The album marks their effort to persevere through mental health struggles, navigate social injustices, and seek happiness. Some of the songs that best describe this are “Adventure is Out There” and “3 O’Clock Things“. This entire album is a window into the psyche of someone juggling several things at once to determine the best path for them, and I think the album art delivers that message beautifully.
This last comparison is probably the least visually obvious (best for last!). Here, I’m looking at Jon Bellion’s The Human Condition (2016) and Raphael’s School of Athens (1509-11). While the architecture in School of Athens is much more intricate than the simplistic structures found in Bellion’s cover art, the composition is strikingly alike. Both feature at least one main figure as the focal point walking towards the viewer. The position of the central figure(s) also draws attention to the sky in the background. School of Athens is a fresco painting that depicts history’s great thinkers, including Aristotle and Plato at the forefront and others, like Pythagoras and Socrates, surrounding them. As a representation of the Reconnaissance, this was meant to embody the four branches of knowledge – theology, literature, justice, and philosophy. In all, this piece was about humanity and how we use various forms of knowledge to understand the world around us. Jon Bellion’s album The Human Condition is very much about finding one’s way and trying to grasp the complexities of life. We see this in the song “Maybe IDK“, where Bellion struggles with accepting the unknown, and in “Morning in America“, where he demonstrates the impacts of the pressures put on both children and adults in American society. Bellion uses these songs to share his search for answers. The album cover helps us to understand this. Whereas Raphael paints all of these great thinkers together to show that knowledge builds upon itself, Bellion stands alone to indicate that he is looking for answers within himself. The vegetation in front of him grows as he walks, suggesting that he is continuously learning. Compared to Raphael’s fresco, Bellion appears to take the position of Aristotle, looking to his right in search of more knowledge. This characterizes him as the student rather than as the teacher, so viewers understand that his journey towards self-discovery is not yet over. The album cover sets this album up as a series of Bellion’s inner thoughts and experiences, giving us a glimpse at his attempts to learn from the world around him.
* Album Art for The Human Condition created by David Ardinaryas Lojaya.