American advertising, then, represents a peculiar distillation of Dali and Freud, Picasso and Rodchenko. Formally, it borrows heavily from European pictorial modernism. But it takes for granted that unspoken desires and subconscious needs might be used to organize society and even promote social good. What's more, it encourages indulgence in the very desires it seeks to channel. It encourages the viewer to dream of great wealth, and to imagine an re-imagine the American landscape and the American identity. It connects self-creation and nation creation, asserting that what everyone in the culture has most in common is the desire for prosperity.
However, at its deepest levels, American advertising art challenges the ritualization of art and suggests that all art is merely the consecration of a particular culture's most urgent desires at a particular moment in time. At its boldest, American advertising art goes so far as to assert that this space where desire is consecrated, this dreamscape, might be realized in everyday life, that it is precisely through the management and manipulation of desire that we might come to obtain the objects of our desire. It cultivates longing and imagining as if it were itself a commodity, and it is driven by the question "What do the people want?"
The highest concern of American political philosophy has traditionally been that the will of the "people" be done. American advertising art in the 20th century dispels the assumption that we can easily identify that will, and sets about making such an identification its own highest concern. Many discount advertising art as decadent or mercenary or exploitative, and it is certainly that. However, it is also an enterprise born of curiosity and cultural self-exploration. In America, the maturing of graphic design could not have happened without a European artistic inheritance, but in time it evolved into its own kind of art form, the art of turning intuition into action, and desire into capital. It evolved into the art of persuasion.