“We make ads not art.” When I began my career the debate whether advertising was (or should be) considered art was a big one. Creative ad schools were few and the craft typically was taught out of a university’s journalism school, a department that is now largely defunct. Many of us came to the profession out of other portals not specifically tied to advertising, such as Creative Writing, Media Studies or the Art school. Perhaps we only saw the word “art” in art director and “writer” in copywriter. Regardless, we were drawn to the possibility of making art-like objects for a living.
At the same time, future account people were coming from a more traditional background: business, finance and economics. These folks took art as an elective. Maybe they audited a journalism class. Regardless, they had few notions about advertising being art. Among other things, this created a storm front between creative and accounts; one, that in my opinion, is just beginning to dissipate.
With the advent of the Web many of these firewalls have collapsed. Advertising and art have blurred in the face of one mandate: Get noticed! We see countless examples of films and posters posing as advertising. And visa versa.* Creating cool art-like objects is now considered the legitimate craft of advertising more than ever before. Whereas in 1984, only a commercial like Apple’s “1984” ever transcended commerce–in 2012 countless propaganda for brands do just that. Granted, few are as seminal as Chiat Day’s epic manifesto but not for lack of trying.
Social media demands that advertising function as art (or entertainment) in order for it to be shared and go viral. If an advertiser chooses to merely block and tackle, lacking human relevance, his message will die a quick death.
Within moments I found examples of advertising that fit an art-like definition. Like them or not, they make you think about the world differently. They make us wonder about the role of brands in art. They challenge us. Historically speaking, few argue that being challenged was ever a good thing for an ad. But it is now.
*Andy Warhol made a career out of mashing advertising into art. He was a rogue. Now he would just be an art director.
Steffan Postaer is Executive Creative Director of gyro San Francisco.
Follow him @Steffan1
He blogs regularly at Gods of Advertising.