Art in Advertising

The following article about art in advertising was written in 1922 and discusses the essential role of art in advertising and the ways the two mediums affected one another.


I now come to what I find the more attractive part of my speech, and that is beauty in its relation to salesmanship. The admirable leader in the Times which welcomed the overseas delegates to this convention closed with these sentences: "One of the subjects to be discussed at Wembley is the value of advertising as the creator of public standards in business. . - The delegates' visit will be doubly welcome if they are also moved to consider it as a potential creator of public standards in good taste."

I could not have been furnished with a finer text. The words are salutary in their relation to elements of advertising which have been and still are a great offence against the amenities of our cities, an offence still more in this country against the beauty of the countryside. But they have wider and deeper imPlications. It is necessary to go further; it is necessary to strive toward making the arts of display in all their manifestations instinct with real beauty. The ideal quest is not for truth only, but for truth in beauty. I am sure there will be many people (I hope there will not be many here) who will dismiss these ideas as "highfalutin stuff." I believe them to be simple common sense, and what is more, very good business. An old-fashioned friend said to me not long since that he positively disliked beautiful posters because they meant the prostitution-and that was the word he used-to trade ends of the high powers of the artist. It is quite commonly felt, not perhaps very consciously, that it is rather an oddity, even a disrespectable oddity, that the artist should give of his best to commerce. But I am persuaded that there is no greater hope for the correction of some evil aspects of the industrial revolution than the whole-hearted devotion of art to the service alike of manufacture and salesmanship; and this in the interest both of artist and business man.

We must look to the time when every article shows that beauty which is in fitness for purpose, when we can realize the hope of John Ruskin that we may possess nothing in our homes and indeed nothing in our lives but what we know to be useful and believe to be beautiful.

The Times has said that advertisement has been elevated to something approaching the dignity of a fine art. I look to the time when the arts of display will have achieved a more positive character. They will not approach; they will have arrived;

Nothing will stimulate them more than the employment in the exhibitions, and in all forms of publicity of the future, of the finest minds and hands that the artists of the world can bring to the task.

So best can everyone, manufacturer, merchant, publicity expert, and the great public itself, prove that the artist is not the servant of the few or the creator of the single precious thing, but the alchemist who brings at least seemliness and at best distinction to commerce, and touches to persuasive beauty the thousand things of the common life.

(page 428-429, The Advertising Yearbook for 1924, edited vy John Clyde Oswald, Published by Doubleday, Page and Company for The Associated Advertising Clubs of teh World, 1925.)

Director, Art Institute. Milwaukee

HAPPILY, the burdensome elements of toil are rapidly decreasing as time goes on. Machinery has removed 20 per cent. of the toil of the world within the last twenty years and it seems that the great concern during the coming generation is that of how we can effectively map out a life which shall be profitable, wholesome, constructive, prosperous, and which shall bring content. It is not beyond possibility that the boys and girls now in school will mature into a world where business employment is not more than five or six hours a day.

No one will of necessity be compelled to work hard * And there will come to the whole human-kind the opportunity to contemplate the divine order of existence, the beauties which surround us, just as at one time this was reserved as a privilege for princes and rulers alone.

Every human being, irrespective of class, almost instinctively selects the beautiful instead of the ugly when both are available. It is the constant search of the mind of man to find beauty for replacing ugliness. Only in the last decade American business men have shown a deep interest in art matters because design of their product is an important factor in competitive selling. An automobile parts manufacturer told me recently that he had an Italian sculptor in his plant designing fenders for cheap cars. He recognized the wisdom of paying that man $2,000. He knows that sales will increase as the element of beauty becomes conspicuous in his design.

People have never felt comfortable in " antique furniture." A Louis XIV chair seemed fragile and the Victorian overstuffed things were equally repugnant to many. Then came the era of "mission" furniture. But we Americans react readily and science began developing machinery which produced Jacobean sideboards, Queen Anne bedsteads, Adam period parlor suites, etc. Period furniture is beautiful.

And whatever is designed must be sold. Yet selling is possible to best degree only through advertising. Commodities must be properly packaged, and it is the artist who produces the design, who incorporates the package message of the copywriter into graphic salesmanship. The art equation is the big one in American business at the present time.

And as an advertising medium, our American poster is experiencing wonderfully effective development and refinement. For effectiveness in the past, the poster has depended chiefly upon a flash of color and an abundance of lettering. But fortunately the lettering is constantly being reduced. A painting needs no inscription; a great work of art, in music, or poetry, or painting, or architecture, needs no caption. The finest movies ten the story through picture exclusively, and posters are no place to exploit literature. It is the medium for the artist. There is something in the psychology of line and tone and color and mass that is amazingly convincing. Japanese, French, and German posters well represent the emphasis of art and the minimizing of caption. On some Japanese posters advertising dramatic plays not a word of lettering appears. A group of French rail- way posters with its powerful balance and mass of colors in vigorous contrast presents a most insidious invitation to travel to Algiers. But it performs its purpose without a single word or letter.

Arouse the imagination with a poster, and you have performed a master stroke of salesmanship. Eliminate lettering on outdoor advertising except what is vitally necessary, and that should be an incorporate part of the design. Make the poster panel a manifestation of good art, and objections to it will vanish -- even from those who are most militant in raising the cry against the "billboard."

(p 259-261, The Advertising Yearbook for 1922, Edited by Noble T. Praigg, 1923.)

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