I love a good photo. And cards and great photos have gone hand in hand for quite some time.
But the addition of art to the card landscape has made for some very unique cards over the years. I don't know that there can be any debate - the work of Dick Perez is unquestionably the beginning and end of any serious conversation over card art. Perez's Diamond King cards made some otherwise drab 80's and 90's Donruss sets exciting.
The Perez cards seemed to really transition the pieces from simply common cards to pieces of art.
Sure, the artwork ranged from phenomenal to less than impressive. But the cards were something different, something sharp.
It seemed like the hobby lost interest in art-based cards by the mid-late 90's, as inserts, game used, autographs, and any number of other diversions took over the hobby. I love those cards, so I'm not necessarily complaining.
But the lack of fun and exciting art definitely took something from the hobby.
Fortunately by the early 2000's art returned to card sets. The Topps Gallery sets may be my favorite of all the art releases, and really seemed to deliver quality, lifelike artwork in each and every card. I can't begin to fathom how much Topps spent on the individual pieces of artwork (though I believe most were auctioned off, probably covering all or most of the cost of the pieces). But I imagine there is a reason companies have stayed away from large, full art sets, instead churning out year after year of photoshopped crap like A&G.
I'd love to see more artwork make its way into current sets. But I'm not sure how likely that is in a one company marketplace. I'd love to be wrong, but I just don't see the incentive being there for a company like Topps to put put out a costly art-driven set, when they can continue repackaging the same products with sustainable profit margins. And Panini has never done an art set, to the best of my knowledge, since buying the Donruss brand.
Hopefully that changes at some point in the near future. These cards are simply too eye-catching and unique to be phased out of the hobby.