Wait. Is Advertising...Art?

Wait. Is Advertising…Art?

Fighting over the definition of “art” is as ancient as the human subjectivity that makes the fight impossible to resolve. It is the opinion of this advertising artist that the endless argument about what constitutes art is, in itself, an art form. But I digress.

The crux of the debate about art, and whether advertising can be considered “art,” seems to boil down to virtue, or rather the perception of virtue. Advertising is about money. Money is not virtuous. While we don’t deny the artistic merit of people like Leonardo da Vinci, whose #content was funded and directed by patrons, we pause when someone is paid to utilize their artistic skill to make an incredibly beautiful plastic cheeseburger. While art has been tied to commerce since commerce began, they seem to have antithetical values, so when art is used to drive commerce, there’s a cultural inclination to dismiss it. But if you’re reading this, you’re participating in modern capitalist society, and I humbly ask you to take a seat and hear me out: Advertising is Art.

1. Artists Apply Creative Skill With a Sense of Purpose

When an artist sits down with their medium, they’re moved to engage their creative minds, manual dexterity, and human insight to do something. That something could be making a comment about society, creating something beautiful, illustrating a mood, paying off their student loans by empowering people to save 15% or more by switching to Geico, or a combination of all of the above. While merit is subjective, the application of creative skill and the human impetus to connect with others via that skill, is an objective human instinct. That objective instinct is art.

2. Art is Impactful

One enduring consideration that is fairly universal is that good art makes an impact. We tend to measure the impact of artists in advertising in terms of increasing revenue for clients, but that impact is indirect. The direct impact artists in advertising make is on people themselves. We can debate the ethics of convincing someone to spend money, but that would minimize the broader cultural impact advertisements have. They make us laugh. They make us cry. They’re the subjects of think pieces. They become defining moments in history. Advertisements are not only impactful because of the skill of their creators, but because they are the most widely accessible form of art. We don’t have to pay to see advertisements. Perhaps it is the broadness of our audience and the scale of our impact that draws ire from the art world’s elite. 

3. Art is Language

From early cave drawings to Chicagoland’s iconic Eagle Insurance commercial, humans have employed creative expression to communicate. Art’s most essential function is communication. It’s our most compelling and enduring form of language. The function of language is connection. The type of connection advertising breeds isn’t simply between consumer and seller. Let’s take that Eagle Man commercial, for example. The ad is cheesy, the acting is… well… you know. It would be easy to look at that and say “this is not art.” But when two people meet at say, a wedding or at college, and discover they’re both from the greater Chicagoland area, odds are one will say “I’ve got something for yoooooou” and the other will reply, “look at those looooow raaates.” They’ll sing the phone number for Empire Carpet and bond at the open bar. Another win for art.

Make Art with Bullseye Media

Any time we debate what art is, what we’re actually doing is debating whether or not we think a work of art is good. But art is simply a fundamental human instinct, a language we use for all manner of communication. The family portrait on your fridge that your toddler drew is art. The Mona Lisa is art. Advertising is art. Advertising has long been one of the nation’s leading employers of artists, enabling artists to eat things like “food” and pay things like “rent.” When the artists employed by Bullseye Media meet with a new or existing client, we set out to use our artistic skill to create something that will impact their audience. We delight in our ambitiously creative work as we collaborate across disciplines to inform, entertain, inspire, and yes, to compel people to seek goods and services we believe in. Do our clients see an increase in revenue? Yes. Do their audiences feel a sense of connection? Yes. Do we wear berets? Of course we do. We’re artists.