|dc.description.abstract||This research proposes a model for the visual analysis of the twelve-inch, 33rpm album cover, and uses the work of pre-eminent rock star David Bowie as its subject. A form of art in its own right, an album cover possesses a unique and inherently ekphrastic relationship with the vinyl recording it houses. The size of a small painting, it has the potential to convey a wealth of information to the viewer about the recording within, about the artist behind the work, and about both the time and the social environment in which the album was created. With such broad communicative power, the album cover is of interest to scholars from many disciplines.
Due to the lack of established methodology to aid in this analytical task, the visual analysis of album covers has too often been superficial, speculative and lacking in rigor. By adopting, adapting, and then applying an established analytical method from art history, however, the information contained within album cover imagery can be more comprehensively revealed and this is the primary goal of the thesis. To this end, and set within a broad-ranging and highly interdisciplinary approach, Erwin Panofsy’s robust and oft-utilised three-tiered method of visual analysis provides the starting point for this task.
David Bowie is widely regarded as an artist who placed great importance upon the visual aspects of his work, drawing upon a broad, interdisciplinary palette to do so. To date, however, his album covers have received surprisingly little scholarly attention. Through the process of applying robust visual analysis to these valuable artefacts, much can be ascertained regarding the artistic raison détre and methodology of one of popular music’s most successful, interesting, and enduring artists. Covering Bowie’s first eight albums, and spanning the years 1967 to 1974, the analysis reveals that Bowie’s manipulation of his cover imagery became significantly more calculated and coherent as his career progressed. Several areas of progression are tracked through the research, including the artist’s increasing investment in artifice, the establishment and then prioritisation of alienation as his dominant central theme, and the withdrawal of personality and self-hood in favour of constructed roles and the promotion of archetypes.
Such findings, it is argued, prove the value of album covers as legitimate and highly valuable historical artifacts and emphatically support the necessity for a robust and rigorous analytical approach such as that used here in order to gain such insights.||