Album Cover Art - Past, Present & Future

Album Cover Art - Past, Present & Future

In the history of album cover art there is one man who started it all: Alex Steinweiss, the designer at Columbia Records who in 1939 came up with the crazy idea of replacing the standard labels on album covers with original art. Since then there have been tens of thousands of album covers created throughout the years and there are some that are instantly recognized, while some remain obscure.

One of the leading creators of some of the most memorable album cover is a company called Hipgnosis. This creative group has made pop art album covers for some of rock’s dignitaries, including Pink Floyd, Genesis, Black Sabbath, and Led Zeppelin among many others.

An interesting side note is that the company did not have a set fee for designing artwork for the bands that commissioned them, instead they asked the musicians to pay what they thought it was worth. Most definitely a risky strategy that would be out of place today but they must be commended for their steadfast dedication to viewing their creations as pieces of art.

Many album cover artists go uncredited, working at small labels with even smaller budgets, and many art directors in the age of vinyl had to create something out of almost nothing. Their work might not be in the same league as the greats, but you over the years many of the final products have earned themselves a place in our visual vocabulary. Even as the musicians on these records have faded into obscurity, many of their albums may still provoke curiosity from their outrageous cover art.

As the record album shrank from the LP's 12 inch format to the CD's 5 inch covers, so too did the aspirations of graphic artists. Now, the goal is to simply show the singer's face so consumers know what product they're buying; the marketing men are in control, and it seems as though it’s the artist who sells the CDs not the music.

The best designers were music-lovers themselves, and that affection showed in the final artwork–something we seem to have lost with modern-day record labels' preference for airbrushed photo-shoots. Although it may be harder to find modern day examples of genuine album art there is a great deal waiting to be discovered in amongst pop art canvas art, we just have to look a little harder.


The Canvas Art Shop