Blast from the Past: Ignorance, Expertise, and Asses
Between trying to schedule a follow-up biopsy for the Bugger-cat so the oncologists will prescribe kitty-chemo and the normal chaos around Haus Paulk, I have no brain with which to offer pearls of wisdom (and really, a pearl is a bit of trash coated with layers of hardened mucus that just happens to look pretty), so instead, I’ll offer a blast from the past which – sadly – never seems to get old.
Namely, some musings about expertise not being particularly transferrable, leading to people making asses of themselves with impressive displays of ignorance.
Every so often someone who has deep expertise in one field (say, an artist or photographer) will make a complete ass of him or herself (or itself, let’s not be binary-genderist here) pontificating or offering advice in another field where they don’t have any expertise. Sometimes the field is related, sometimes not. Say… book covers.
So why, you say, would an artist not know anything about book covers? They’re art, aren’t they?
Well, no. They contain art, but they’re not primarily art. They’re primarily a marketing tool. That marketing tool has to communicate several pieces of information: who wrote the book, what genre (and in some cases subgenre) it is, the title, and something about the feel of the book. That’s a crapload of information to pack into a smallish rectangle that needs to attract potential buyers from several feet away (or the other side of a screen anything from phone sized up).
What this means is that everything on a cover has to multitask. Everything. Including font size, the font itself (do not ever use fonts that are hard to read. And if you have words like “flick” in your title choose your font very, very carefully indeed. It might not look like “flick” when you read it from five feet away (I know whereof I speak, here. There was a – much laughed about – public obscenity case in Australia over a bumper sticker that read “FLICK OFF”. In a font that… well… Let’s just say that with more spacing between the L and the I it wouldn’t have been quite such a problem)).
The first way to make the right links in a casual viewer’s mind is for the cover to have an appearance that more or less fits with similar books. This is why if you look at say, historical romance covers, they have a similar kind of feel to them. More than that, these conventions change. Rapidly.
If you have a large enough collection gathered over a long enough time frame, take a look at 1960s SF covers. Then 1970s. Then 80s. 90s. 2K-ish, 05-ish, 10-ish and nowish (do not include Baen covers in any grouping. They’re a category unto themselves, for Reasons). They change quite a lot, in terms of dominant theming, preferred fonts, embossing, chroming, assorted effects… as well as the kind of art used, color saturation and a ton of other things. Notice too, how changes are happening more rapidly lately – which makes it much more difficult to keep up with what’s current.
Trends in art are different than trends in covers. Trends in each genre are different, and different subgenres have their own trends. I said in a recent comment over on According To Hoyt that
good covers can be totally shitty art. They can look like someone crapped on your computer after ODing on rainbow glitter, as long as they fit with the norm for covers of that genre.
If you doubt, go and look at the 60s and 70s covers again. Many of the new age covers did look exactly like that – and for the time frame and genre they were perfectly good covers. They signaled that these were not traditional SF books, and they had a look that distinguished them from the traditional covers of their time.
Of course, the “artist” (I think he’s a photographer, actually) on that thread got all offended and gave a world-class performance of the epic dummy spit, and at the time I’m writing this has yet to figure out that nobody is slamming his tastes or his abilities. People are being remarkably polite in the face of a toddler tantrum, at least so far (okay, okay, it’s amusing me to play at being polite while seeing how much of an ass he can make of himself. I never said I was nice).
The point being, of course, that he’s forgotten or never knew that his abilities in his field do not transfer automatically to book covers, because while there are some similarities and you could say the fields are related, they aren’t close enough for an artist or photographer to be a good cover designer without training or study. So, of course, instead of listening to the people who have studied, he made an ass of himself.
It’s common. Physicists have done it when talking about climate. Movie stars do it all the time (especially when talking about politics or economics). The solution is that you don’t just bloody assume because you know a lot about one thing you automatically know about some other thing that looks kind of like the thing you do know.