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Posts Tagged ‘design’

Cover Art

August 29, 2014 | by

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Looking at this pretty slideshow of circa-1900 book covers, one is struck by a couple of things. First, the beauty and elegance of the design. And, second, the fact that the titles are all unfamiliar. Of course, beautiful, striking covers are produced every day: talented art departments work hard to accommodate an ever-changing market and far more cooks (so to speak) than designers of old ever had to please. One imagines in the old days, the author would take his Art-Nouveau swags and like it; agents rarely figured in the picture, and if you’d envisioned, say, a pine rather than a stylized laurel tree on your novel—well, forget it.

It’s also a change in tastes, or of standards; like so many old buildings, whose standard-issue marble work and penny tiling now seem like models of beauty and lost workmanship, these ornate covers were the rule, not the exception. If comedy equals tragedy plus time, well, that sort of works for beauty, too. Maybe not the tragedy part. As to the titles’ relative obscurity? That's also modern hindsight. And who knows what hopes the publishers had for The Story of Ab: A Tale of the Time of the Cave Man? One thing’s for sure: these were not disposable objects.

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Menu Planning

June 4, 2014 | by

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Carl Bloch, In a Roman Osteria, 1866

The other day, having traveled to a midsize American city that shall remain nameless, my dining companion and I encountered the following description on an online restaurant menu:

Tender day boat scallops, lightly cajuned, pan seared with pancetta, caramelized leeks, sweet roasted red peppers, mint and pickled lentil medley, drizzled with a fava bean puree and organic pea shoots.

I was thrilled. I don’t mean that I wanted to eat it; there were like thirteen different components that I wouldn’t have wanted alone, let alone in combination. But I loved that the dish existed, in this moment in the world, in this place, and that, like a perfectly crafted poem, it managed to illuminate the human condition in a few deft strokes.

As the late Maya Angelou wrote, “The desire to reach for the stars is ambitious. The desire to reach hearts is wise.” Certainly, this dish was ambition incarnate—it was like the Macbeth of restaurant dishes—and certainly that was a big part of its appeal. There were seven parts (not counting seasonings) used, some ten different techniques employed, with more adjectives than you’d find in an Elizabeth Bishop poem. Read More »

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The Mail Room

November 25, 2013 | by

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When the United States Postal Service finally expires, what will you remember? When the last ornate post office is sold off for “mixed-used development” and all postage is reduced to digital printouts, what will you tell future generations about the way it was? If all philately disappeared into private collections, what would you want your grandkids to know about the strange pockets of paper we called letters and the tiny stick-on paintings we used to send them?

Bill Gross—one of America’s wealthiest bond traders and the only stamp collector with a net worth of two billion dollars—hopes you’ll make a visit to the new William H. Gross Stamp Gallery in Washington, D.C., which he funded with a portion of his fortune. The grand opening of the gallery, on September 22, was intended as a celebration of the depth and splendor of philatelic culture at a time when the postal service is facing certain extinction. It was probably the biggest party anyone has ever thrown for the American postage stamp. It was also, undoubtedly, its first memorial. Read More »

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A Life in Matches

September 19, 2013 | by

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A Life in Matches: Marineland Restaurant, Marineland, California. Photograph by Ben Stott.

How does one document his or her life? Do you track the minute details of each and every day in a diary, like Ned Rorem, or measure it out with coffee spoons, as J. Alfred Prufrock declared? When digging through the last boxes and cases from his grandfather’s home, Justin Bairamian found an old suitcase, full to the brim with thousands of matchbooks. They were from the Savoy in London to the Marineland Restaurant in California, and many had his grandfather’s own scribbles noting the location and year on the inside cover. Bairamian had discovered a beautiful record of a life well lived.

Bairamian has allowed designer Ben Stott to catalogue a sample of the collection, one day at a time, on the blog A Life in Matches. It is a brilliant tribute to one man’s life, as well as insight into the evolution of graphic design.

 

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Damned Spot

August 27, 2013 | by

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We urge you to check out this gallery of alternative Shakespeare covers

 

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Too Good to Succeed

July 23, 2013 | by

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Very often you have to be a lone nut to come up with a really original idea.… People are very insular … even [in] a great city like New York … people are like fish swimming around in aquariums and all they know is the water in the aquarium.
—Francis Ford Coppola

In the summer of 1938, when the first issue of Action Comics introduced the world to Superman, its cover featured the Man of Steel lifting a steel-framed Chrysler Airflow, “the first sincere and authentic streamlined car,”1 above his head. It was the 1937 model, down to its rounded, beetle-brow hood and tapered rear, its grooved speed lines and triangular back “opera” window, its whitewall tires and condensed, newly horizontal grille. The following year, when Universal Pictures decided to make a film version of the popular radio serial The Green Hornet, the screenplay called for the hero to drive a car with “ultramodern lines,” something that looked fast. (“That thing travels faster than the bullets I send after it,” notes a patrol officer during a chase scene.) But by then, the Airflow—a vehicle vastly superior in speed, safety, and comfort to anything on America’s roads—had been so maligned in the public’s imagination, thanks in part to a competitor’s expensive smear campaign, that, decades later, it would still be spoken of as the greatest failure in automotive history. Instead, Universal chose a 1937 Ford Lincoln Zephyr. The name was meant to evoke the Burlington Zephyr, a 1934 streamlined train (featured in the 1935 film The Silver Streak). When The Green Hornet returned as a TV series in 1966, the Black Beauty returned as a Chrysler Imperial, modified to fire rockets as the 200-mph Black Beauty, the Green Hornet’s signature transport, its speedster “look” augmented with stylized lightning bolts painted on the fender skirts and a “Flight of the Bumblebee” soundtrack.

Chrysler’s 1929 coupe had been inspired, claimed company ad men, by “the canons of ancient classic art … authentic forms of beauty which have come down the centuries unsurpassed and unchallenged,” its radiator with cowl molding suggested the repetition motif in a Parthenon frieze, its front elevation replicated the Egyptian lotus leaf pattern. “This patient pursuit of beauty will doubtless prove a revelation to those who have probably accepted Chrysler symmetry and charm as fortunate but more or less accidental.” The following year, the new models were said to be “as distinctive and charming” as the Parisian couture of Paquin and Worth. But the focus soon shifted from ancient history and European aesthetics to what was taking shape in the New World’s own backyard. Walter P. Chrysler was a self-made man who understood the importance of tenacity and vision. In 1905, he had borrowed a considerable amount of money to buy a car that caught his eye for the sole purpose of dismantling it to see how it worked. A few years later, he was General Motors’s first vice president, and not long after that, he quit to start a rival company that was now riding high. In 1933, despite a debilitating economy—wages nationwide had dropped sixty percent, more than twelve million Americans were unemployed, and business as a whole was running at a net loss exceeding five billion dollars—Chrysler turned a considerable profit, the only company to produce more cars that year than it had in its Parthenon-Egyptian Lotus phase, just prior to the crash. Read More »

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