I just stumbled across this presentation comparing venerable magazine titles’ early 20th century covers with contemporary versions. Contrast these classic covers, with minimal copy and lovingly-crafted illustrations or arresting graphics, with the style that unfortunately predominates today, with ubiquitous airbrushed, smiling celebrities overlaid by maniacally cacophonous headlines, badges, starbursts, and banners.
Look to opinion magazines like The Nation and the New Republic for a cool drink of water amid this aesthetic desert — they still manage to churn out dramatic and elegant cover art with regularity.
And even the cash-strapped American Conservative manages to present interesting and sometimes witty artwork, like this one lampooning the neoconservatives.
(I wish I could find a higher-res version of this one. It’s not an eye-popping composition, but at a larger size you could better see the pudgy pasty faces, taped-up eyeglasses, and the sexy Sarah Palin pinup.)
Of course, opinion magazines are sure-fire money-losers, and they’re less dependent on impulse supermarket buys, so the for-profit magazine world might not be looking in their direction for aesthetic inspiration. But still, is a downmarket cover art renaissance too much too hope for?