Is advertising art?

September 5, 2010

I recently watched a brilliant series called Modern Masters on BBC 2. Each episode featured the work of four artists: Dali, Matisse, Warhol and Picasso. Presented by art critic, Alastair Sooke, he demonstrates how each artist’s work has influenced modern society and continues to this day to saturate our everyday world; from fashion design to product design, architecture to, advertising.

The more you look, the more you realise that modern art is everywhere. Take for example, the work of Matisse. Matisse exerted great influence beyond the world of fine art, and towards the end of his life, he developed a new technique known as the paper cut-out, characterised by bold, simplified shapes and pure, bright colours. Over the following decades, his late compositions influenced a number of different fields, including advertising, interior design, fashion and even children’s picture books.

Think of the recent Apple iPod advertisements that featured silhouettes of sinuous dancers against blocks of vivid colour.

Apple iPod

They are extraordinarily similar to some of Matisse’s cut-outs, such as Icarus (1947).

Henri Matisse, Icarus 1947

Now let’s move onto Salvador Dali and surrealism. Dali was an international celebrity. He was one of art’s great showmen, with a genius for publicity. He created his own distinctive persona and frequently staged his own stunts. Today, his fame is such that TV shows such as The Simpsons and Sesame Street have parodied his work.

The Persistence of Memory (1931)

Sesame Street

During the Thirties, Dali created a number of Surreal objects that would change the nature of product design. The most famous of these is the Lobster Telephone. These sculptures were designed to provoke a reaction by combining unexpected and bizarre things, while being sexually provocative.

Dali, Lobster Telephone

Dali understood that objects, the things we interact with on a daily basis, could have a meaning that exceeded their function. Today we are surrounded by objects that are the legacy of Dali’s vision, such as, his much-copied Mae West’s Lipssofa, with versions of the latter found everywhere from hip bars to the Big Brother set.

Dali, Mae West's Lipsofa

In 1969 Dali was approached by Spanish confectioners Chupa Chups to design a new logo, and the result became as instantly recognisable as his melting clocks. Dali incorporated the Chupa Chups name into a brightly coloured daisy shape. Always keenly aware of branding, Dali suggested that the logo be placed on top of the lolly instead of the side so that it could always be seen intact.

Dali, Chupa Chups Logo

Eye-catching, bold and deceptively simple, the logo has barely changed since Dali created it.

Today, advertising incorporates surrealism in my opinion to create impact.

..whether it’s by featuring oddball characters and scenes:

..or by connecting things that don’t belong together to dramatise a benefit:

Ikea Print Ad

..or just downright unusual, yet brilliantly profound:

What are you favourite surreal ads?

Now away with you, whilst I finish eating this wellington boot.

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2 Responses to “Is advertising art?”

  1. Mo Says:

    ‘surreal’ ads i find interesting are the
    Orangina Animal Lust Ad

    Bensons & Hedgsons Iguana

    Oh and the Guiness ad with the horses is tops

  2. lexibrown Says:

    Love the Guniess Horse Surfer Ad. Anyone else got any good examples?


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