Like I said earlier, I wanted to experiment with longer posts, so I will be counting down my top ten favorite art books.
Why art books? They give us insight into the creative process, they help us understands the trials and tribulations of our favorite artists as they give shape to their visions, and sometimes they’re just nice to keep by your nightstand and flip through.
Each book will get a write-up and while I don’t really have a schedule for them, I wont keep you waiting too long between entries. Also, the list order does not reflect rank or preference.
So without further ado, here’s book #10…
10. Mind Over Matter: The Images of Pink Floyd by Storm Thorgerson
It seems like an alien concept now, but there was a point in time when the music industry was closely entwined with physical media. A song wasn’t just a song floating around the ether, it was an album, housed within a CD or a record, which was housed within a simple cardboard and plastic container that had the mission of visually interpreting the aural into an easy to identify and marketable form. Piece of cake, right?
Mind Over Matter: The Images of Pink Floyd is by Storm Thorgerson, who has been the graphic designer for Pink Floyd for the bulk of their career and designed the album covers for Dark Side of the Moon, Animals, and The Division Bell and many more.
But since this book is told from Storm’s perspective, albums that he didn’t work on are not covered. Namely, The Wall, which used art by Gerald Scarfe, and The Final Cut. Mind does include the work Thorgerson did for the Wall live album, Is There Anybody Out There.
Along with strong and sudden shifts in musical style from Barrett to Waters to Gilmour, Pink Floyd has always had a strong visual identity that continuously altered along with the state of the band. Starting out as Carnaby Street snobs with ruffled jackets on Piper at the Gates of Dawn and morphing into the Freudian nightmare-visions of angst and resentment in The Wall, Pink Floyd has a much layered sound and visuals.
Thorgerson gives a detailed and colorful account of the creative process behind each album cover, and their subsequent CD re-releases. Atom Heart Mother’s simple cover featuring a cow in a field was chosen to contrast with the over-complicated psychedelic images of many albums at the time, while the location of a Hollywood back lot was chosen for Wish You Were Here to reflect artificiality (the album title can reflect genuine longing while also being sarcastic). Storm isn’t afraid to be perfectly honest about happy accidents that resulted from experimentation or laziness, or his own disappointment or pride in each album.
Thorgerson’s aesthetics work almost like simple logos that are actually multi-layered stories told in a single image. The iconic prism on Dark Side of the Moon is probably the most logo-like of any of Pink Floyd’s album covers, yet it is because of that basic simplicity that the simple image of a line being fragmented into colors can be imprinted with so many different meanings by fans and the artists behind it.
One of the interesting parts of Mind is all the little things that ended up on the cutting room floor. The original cover for Animals was going to be a pajama clad boy walking in on two people (presumably his parents) having sex, which is powerful image, but not one that makes a lot of sense for an album about the societal rat race and identity. One of the rejected Atom Heart Mother album covers, a diver suspended over a swimming pool, was re-used for Def Lappard’s 1981 album High ‘n’ Dry.
I have the second edition, circa 2000, though there have been subsequent updates and new books in the series (they’re up to Mind Over Matter 4 now). The book itself is fairly massive, drifting into coffee table territory, but isn’t unwieldy. The images are large and sumptuous and Thorgerson’s writing give them a context and significance other than just looking cool.
The beach covered with beds on Momentary Lapse of Reason and the massive metal heads on Division Bell make you appreciate the hardships of graphic design before computers. Mind Over Matter acts not only as a historical account of Pink Floyd and their style, but also breaks down the importance of graphic design paired with music and how an album’s cover art can feed you information about the music within without you even realizing it.