Peter Mendelsund

From the August 2014 issue of Details magazine, the piece “The Cover Artist” by Timothy Hodler:

You may not know his name, but chances are you already own some of Peter Mendelsund’s work. The 46-year-old designer of iconic book jackets for top-shelf authors both living (Martin Amis) and dead (James Joyce) is celebrated in this month’s Cover (powerHouse, $60; out August 5), a retrospective of his greatest hits. He’s also publishing his first book, What We See When We Read (Vintage, $17; out August 5), a philosophical exploration of the literary imagination. Here, he shares the stories behind some of his standouts.

An example of Mendelsund’s work, the cover for The Flame Alphabet by Ben Marcus:

Despite the title of the Details piece, the creators of book covers are not referred to as artists, at least in art circles, where they are designers or illustrators. They provide artwork (art for short) — designs or illustrations — for commercial purposes and so they are normally outside the world of art criticism and art exhibits (“Art art”, you might say), except on special occasions, when applied (as opposed to fine) art, craftwork, folk art, street art, outsider art, etc. are granted attention in shows, catalogs, and the like.

This is a familiar theme on this blog, having to do with the way the (unmodified) term art is used in artistic circles. Consider this posting of 6/6/14 on Ralph Steadman, referred to as a cartoonist, illustrator, graphic designer, and caricaturist. but almost never simply as an artist. And a series of recent “But is it art?” postings on the expansion of fine (as opposed to applied) art to new domains over the years:

6/28/14: “What’s art and what’s not on the High Line”, on various sorts of conceptual art

6/28/14: “But is it art? More Jeff Koons”, on Koons’s neo-pop

6/28/14: “But is it art? At MoMA”, on two exhibitions at MoMA

6/29/14: “But is it art? Abstraction”, on Morris Louis and other abstract artists

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