‘Is Advertising Art?’

I saw this point brought up the other day by Designstein, and it really got me thinking. Having worked in both realms (I currently contract to advertising agencies as a designer / illustrator, and worked full time at one before that) I pondered this question to myself.

A point that came up during this conversation was ‘art & ads are both ultimately made to sell’ – this is true. The lines are blurred.

But my take on the matter, is that advertising is selling someone else’s product or service. In art you are selling yourself. In both art & advertising you are both selling a commodity. That is, you don’t NEED anything that these two things are trying to sell you. The point of difference for me is that the need to make art and be creative is something I have to do much like eating or breathing. Art is a tool used to express an idea that you need to put down, much like a writer pens a story. I’m not sure if people think along the lines of ‘I Need to create a 30sec Advertisement’ or not. If advertising IS art, then it’s not always YOUR art. I know every day when I go home from work, I still have that urge to create. Purely because advertising is not my creative outlet, so my desire to make is not satisfied.

The way I see it, Advertising is a means to generate money for someone’s company, and in turn for the agency. Advertisement’s are meant to further the image of someone’s brand. Then this reflects on your agency – ‘Look how we have made all these other people look good, we therefore must be good’. In advertising, it’s also the selling of ideas that makes it similar to art. But, the constraint of advertising, is that it all depends on other people. Others within the agency, clients, media & budgets which all affect the outcome of your initial idea.

As I mentioned before, with art – it is much more selling yourself. Your ideas, your technique, your style and your process. Unlimited time, and only your budget. It is completely self indulgent. Yes it’s true that your art is somewhat made to sell to a degree – at the end of the day everyone has to eat right? I guess that’s why we’re called ‘starving artists’. I think the key is to find that middle ground, and hopefully you are not jumping on trend bandwagons and popularity of a certain style or technique just because it sells easily. If you are an artist you should be selling your soul. And I don’t mean becoming a sell-out, but you should be selling YOU, and YOUR work. 100% of yourself should go into each work. But you shouldn’t bend over backwards to become popular and sell work. In a perfect world, there would be no reliance on money to survive, and you’d be able to create anything you please without worrying ‘will this sell?’.

Personally, I make ‘art’ for 3 reasons. 1. as a means to escape from briefs driven by others to indulge my own ideas. 2. Purely to advance my skills in a technical sense. And 3. As a way to record things around me, much like a scrapbook of the times. I guess advertising is almost the same. It is very much a record of the times that it was created in, and it can also push the boundaries of technology and skill. The problem that I have with advertising vs art, is that it seems to me like that it’s selling an idea for profit for profit’s sake.

At the end of the day, you should do what you want, and not what the market wants. And I think that’s the difference between advertising & art. Advertising will always have to appeal to the largest crowd possible, otherwise it is worthless and not profitable. Art does not have to be profitable if you don’t want it to. But it’s a bonus!

What are your thoughts on the matter? do you agree? disagree? Leave a comment!

3 Responses to “‘Is Advertising Art?’”

  1. Clag says:

    Hi Sam,
    I read this with great intrigue. To me art is about engaging with the senses, through drawing, photography, theatre – it allows for alternative thinking and therefore different points of view.
    Advertising manipulates you into what to think. There is less flexibility and more generalisation (hence market research). It ensures there are no alternative points of view, because if you think in an alternative way you are less likely to buy in to their messages.
    So to me, art becomes freedom. Not only the freedom for the artist, but freedom for the audience. Art isn’t about persuasion, it is about expression.
    You’re awesome. peace out.

  2. Designstein says:

    Nice one Sam – I agree!

    Our conversation started after I went to a panel discussion on this topic at the Auckland Art Fair in the weekend. On the panel were Hamish Keith, Dick Frizzell and Paul Catmur. It was a really interesting discussion (and sometimes debate!) and lot of these points were brought up, with no definitive outcome.

    I think advertising is a kind of art form in itself, although you could also argue this about any field of work from law to accounting. This however does not actually make it ‘art’ though.

    Hamish talked about the fact that art and ads are both made to sell, weather it be a product or service (advertising) or the artwork itself. And to survive as a full time artist you would need to sell your art to live, so an element of that is creating something that will sell. Therefore artists are almost working to a more open brief from a customer, similar to advertising, where you take a brief from a client. In art the brief often isn’t very clear though and people buying the artwork don’t usually know what they’re looking for until they see it.

    Dick obviously knows both the advertising and art worlds well and what I took from his comments was that the line is blurred.

    I think art is about the freedom to create what you want without all the restrictions you’d have if it were creating an ad. There may be art commissioned for use in an ad, but when that’s done the art then becomes an ad and less of an artwork.

    Great topic – needed more than a brief twitter conversation!

  3. Sam says:

    Agreed Laura!

    Although I feel like the ‘artwork’ used in an advertisement shouldn’t be called ‘art’ – it’s more like an ‘illustration’ as a loose term. I’m also encompassing photography into this.

    Why is it illustration and not art? I feel like illustration is a means to an end. It illustrates and idea, and resolves an issue. Where art is an expression and raises questions, and provokes thought and further engagement.

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