Art & Advertising

Walking along Hosier Lane with the street artist, CDH who was half-heartedly tearing off the advertising posters. CDH was talking about making Hosier Lane an advertising free space (a worth while ambition). CDH wants to distinguish between art and advertising but I’m not sure that such a distinction can be made because the nexus between art and advertising means that there is no necessary feature to create a clear distinction. CDH and I have been discussing an article from The Atlantic Cities about Los Angels attempt to restrict mural adverting (“The Convoluted Path to Ending Los Angeles’s Mural Ban” by Nate Berg, March 22, 2012).

Advertising for the play "Optimism", 2009

Advertising for the play “Optimism”, 2009

I have written about the relationship between street art and advertising in an earlier post. Aside from the propaganda element of advertising that has always been important in art and thinking only about avant-garde visual art and mass-market advertising it is clear that there is an increasing relationship in the 20th Century.

The use of advertising material in the visual arts started with collages by the Dadaists and Kurt Schwitters. Was the word “Dada” taken from an advertisement for Dada brand shampoo rather than from the mythic random dictionary search? Almost anticipating Pop Art, Charles Sheeler’s “I Saw The Figure 5 in Gold” from 1928 used the bright colours and images of American cigarette packaging. American cigarette advertising was the start of modern advertising. In 1949 Raymond Hains and Jacques de la Mahé Villeglé used layers of torn advertising posters in a process they called “décollage”. In the 1960s many Pop artists used advertising material, Roy Lichtenstein used images from magazine advertising as the subject for his art although Andy Warhol concentrated on packaging design rather than advertising. In the 1980s many artists influenced by Pop Art used advertising material, most notably Jeff Koons and Barbara Kruger. Koons reproduced magazine advertising and made magazine advertising for himself that were printed in art magazines. Koons marketed himself as a brand. Kruger uses the same visual techniques as advertising in her art.

Advertising has had a close relationship with the visual arts; not surprising since both the artists working in the advertising art department and artists not working in adverting have the same art education. In 1888 Pears Soap first used John Everett Millais painting “Bubbles” 1886 as advertising; Pears was another early innovator in mass market adverting. Also created in the 1880s Toulouse Lautrec’s posters advertising cabaret acts have now entered the art cannon (currently on exhibition at the National Gallery of Australia). Since then advertising has used notable artists to create images for advertising, like Absolut Vodka (see their art collection) or to endorse products, Dali and Lavin chocolate in 1968 (see the video).

Given the increasingly close relationship between avant-garde arts and advertising it is likely that advanced art in the future will have more references to advertising. For more on this subject read Joan Gibbons Art and Advertising (I.B. Tauris, 2005).


About Mark Holsworth

Writer and artist Mark Holsworth is the author of two books, The Picasso Ransom and Sculptures of Melbourne. View all posts by Mark Holsworth

4 responses to “Art & Advertising

  • CDH

    Advertising and art are the same thing? I don’t think the majority of your readers will be convinced by this case. Perhaps design and advertising are similar.
    But ultimately art is about aesthetic, composition, concept and an understanding of the history of art. Advertising is about broad persuasion for a commercial interest. Yes, you can find artists that blur the lines like Koons and Warhol and that’s why they’re perpetually criticized as people who debased art when everyone else was trying to elevate it. Shepard Fairey is endlessly defending his practice- he talks about it in every interview. It’s a question that won’t go away because his answers are pretty inadequate. These are artists who are notorious for manipulating the mechanisms around art to advance themselves. It speaks to a problem with the commercial systems of art, not art itself. These are never issues in inspirational modes of art.
    But I don’t understand how your argument can move past this contextual element. I know that a McDonald’s billboard exists to try to persuade me. I know that Frederick McCubbin’s The Pioneer in the NGV exists to move me and inform me on my heritage and other things. Yep, that’s all the same thing… no one believes that. That context changes it entirely. Everyone already innately understands this.
    Also, you cite the decollage of the Letterists and Situations as an example of a blurring of advertising and art. But ironically, I think they’d definitely make a distinction between the two. Advertising recuperates art into the spectacle. Art is a radical gesture.

  • CDH

    Also, I secretly suspect you’re trolling me here. Good things to think about though! I might think more about it and post again.

    • Mark Holsworth

      Of course, it is such an interesting subject to annoy you with and I can’t think of a clear cut distinction.

  • Footprints of history « Black Mark

    […] advertising, like stencils, there wouldn’t be street art. (See my post for more on the nexus of  Art & Advertising). The footprint of advertising is still on […]

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