Cover Art Review: George Bataille's Story of the Eye / by Neal Auch


Following my recent discussion of the importance of cover art for books, music albums, etc, I've decided to start a new series of blog posts where I "critique" various examples of cover art, both good and bad.  The same caveat applies to both my cover art critiques and my book reviews: these posts are just my personal feeling about the work under consideration, they should not be construed as anything more substantive than that, and they are certainly not meant as scholarly academic criticism.

Since this is going to be my inaugural cover art review, I suppose it makes sense to try to establish some ground rules for what makes a "good" piece of cover art.  I think it makes sense to ask that the image on the cover be meet the following three criteria.

  1. Relevance: The cover art should make some kind of sense in the context of the book.  While I certainly wouldn't argue that the art piece should be a literal representation of something from the narrative, I do think that it should at least be relatively straightforward for somebody who's read the book to understand why this image is meant to accompany the text.
  2. Consistency: The general mood of cover art should match the tone and atmosphere of the story, so that a reasonable reader stumbling across this title on a book shelf could make a sensible educated guess about what kind of novel they're picking up.
  3. Quality: The cover image should be strong enough to stand on its own as an art piece, even when stripped of context and copy.

I would argue that this cover of Story of the Eye, designed and shot by Gent Sturgeon and Rex Ray, succeeds on all three counts.  First let's consider relevance.  An image of an eyeball is an obvious choice for this novella, of course.  But I'd argue that the relevance of this photograph goes deeper than just "behold an eyeball".  The eye on the cover seems to be floating in some kind of admixture of fluids (perhaps two different paint colours?).  It's not entirely clear what's going on there but, to me at least, the swirling background of the image suggests a mixture of bodily fluids, while the yellowish colour palate suggests urine.  This is certainly in keeping with the contents of Bataille's infamous work of erotica; the story involves quite a few scenes involving play involving urine and semen.

Next we come to the question of tonal consistency.  I think that's also a dead match here.  The novel is dark and surreal and nasty at times, and this is exactly the kind of tale that the cover art suggests we should expect.  I love the fact that it's not entirely clear what's going on with the out-of-focus background that the eyeball is floating in.  The mystery of this image is perfectly in keeping with the somewhat inscrutable nature of Bataille's narrative.

Finally, we have the question of whether this image is strong enough to work as a stand-alone piece of art.  For me, again, the answer is an enthusiastic yes.  I love this image; I'd happily buy a print and hang it on my wall if I could.  So...  Win, win, and win!