Is Art More Powerful Than Photography?

As an artist who has always had an interest on the progression of photography and printing and how it has developed I thought it was interesting to recently read about the increase in fine art on magazine covers rather than the traditional photographs. Fashion magazines have obviously been featuring photographs on their covers for decades and the link with advertising and posters is close to this form of art in my mind. The same can be said about advertising, newspapers and even family portraits: everything is of course easily documented with cameras – but can art do it better?

The evoloution of Vogue’s magazine covers can be found in their online archive. From their first in December 1892, as black and white drawings, the covers are iconic, giving us a taste of what was fashionable every year since their first copy.

As covers moved away from their hand drawn aesthetic, photography came more into play. Models would pose dressed and painted in the world’s most fashionable clothes, hair and makeup at the time of the issue, and less and less covers were hand made.

Special issues are still printed with covers designed by commissioned artists, and I think these are great. From Salvador Dalí to John Currin, these rare editions pay homage to Vogue’s history and stand out on magazine stands amongst a sea of photography.

Salvador Dalí’s 1939 cover for Vogue © Artists Rights Society, 2020, © Salvador Dalí Museum
Salvador Dalí’s 1939 cover for Vogue © Artists Rights Society, 2020, © Salvador Dalí Museum
John Currin’s 2017 cover for Vogue, Untitled, 2017. ©John Currin. Vogue, 2017
John Currin’s 2017 cover for Vogue, Untitled, 2017. ©John Currin. Vogue, 2017















An interesting result of the world’s recent lockdown restrictions and COVID-19 is that big profit fashion shoots have been difficult to organise, giving artists the opportunity to showcase their work on the covers of high-profile magazines. This has given artists a chance to create a new vocabulary within publishing, allowing them to exhibit their artwork during a time when galleries have been inaccessible.

I have painted many portraits and they are perhaps some of my strongest work so I can relate to how well these work as covers. That’s not to say I don’t admire and absolutely enjoy the masters of photography and their work as magazine covers.

Acrylic on canvas. When I saw this composition I knew I simply had to paint it. A romantic image which reminds me of the pre-raphaelites, not in technique but the staging of the wistful, solo female.

The recent magazine editions featuring fine art portraits rather than photography will perhaps remind people of the potential impact art can have on magazine covers, not as a new idea but as a way of making us think about portraits, perhaps fine art portraits can make us look with a little more depth at the images of the people and the messages their portraits may be sending.

In my mind, the artistic photographer uses their personal aesthetic to record a particular composition that appeals to them and reflects their particular way of looking at the world. The artist can enhance that composition because they have the ability to remove detail from the scene that detracts from the composition. They can also choose to enhance various aspects of the image, sharpening up shadows for example or simplifying the range of colours. So there is room for us both and most of my paintings are based on photographs but not in a photorealistic way.

Follow Brian on Social Media