Cover as Content

The saying goes, don’t judge a book by it’s cover.  Now in theory this saying has a good sentiment, but if taken literally I have to say it’s not always true. There is something special about opening a very beautiful book, even if it’s contents don’t live up to it’s gilded edges, leather binding and beautiful paper. People, myself included, will buy books that they cannot or will not ever read purely for the beauty of the object.

A cover of a book can reveal a lot, after all this is the advertising chosen by the publisher to tempt us to purchase, and this must appeal to the select audience that will appreciate the book. A Science Fiction book may portray another world, a romance will tempt the reader with a handsome man, a work of classic literature will often have an image from classical art to draw our attention. Design works in the same way. The design of our furniture, buildings and industry says a lot about ourselves, and on a grander scale about our nation.  In the Victorian Era this was especially apparent in England where, faced by stiff competition in design and industry from the rest of Europe, England found itself gravely lacking. The founding of the National Art Library and the Victoria and Albert Museum were part of a long term solution to this problem. Now, 150 years on, an exhibition celebrating this achievement has come to the State Library of Victoria.

Stepping through the scaffolding and into the grand halls of the State Library of Victoria I cannot help having high expectations. The Library has had some great hits recently, including Boheimian Melbourne, Rome: Pirenesi’s Vision, and Love and Devotion. Inspiration by Design: Word and Image from the Victoria and Albert Museum is their most recent release.  As a survey celebrating 150 years of collecting by the National Art Library it is a very diverse exhibition. It is both fascinating and overwhelming to have such a broad range of works included, from stunning illuminated manuscripts, to photography, political propaganda, to artists books, fashion sketches and children’s books. Through this diversity it shows the importance and potential of design to depict both a personal and national identity to the world. Inspiration by Design follows the ideals of the National Art Library, and the V&A itself, as an inspiration for artists and designers.

During the Victorian period there was a movement to open up the arts to the working classes through the creation of museums and therefore create a catalyst for new arts, craft and design. Today this exhibition is continuing this tradition, free for all to wonder in, and in it’s diversity it is truly a democratic exhibition with something for everyone. It also upholds the ideals of a total work of art, where not only the words and images in the books, but the books themselves are a work of art.  By encompassing all forms of art, Inspiration by Design highlights and juxtaposes art, design and literature, and points the way to the future, proving that in some cases you can judge a book by it’s cover.

Inspiration and Design: Word and Image from the Victoria and Albert Museum

State Library of Victoria

20 March – 14 June 2015

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