In 1508, when Pope Julius II asked Michelangelo to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, the famous sculptor did not spend a moment debating whether he was creating an “advertisement” or “art.” At the time, the Catholic Church commissioned artists like Raphael, Michelangelo, da Vinci and Botticelli to advertise its message – not stake claim on some of the greatest works in history.
“Advertising is the truest vernacular art form,” said Charles Sable, curator of the Museum of Advertising & Design in Milwaukee, to AdWeek. “The fine arts represent a rarified strata of American society. Advertising appeals to the average person.”
And it always has. It did in the 16th century, when art as a way to communicate to a widely illiterate public, and it did in the 1960s, when Andy Warhol stepped out of his role as an ad illustrator to explore commercial objects as paintings.
In August, Jay-Z performed his take on Marina Abramovic’s The Artist is Present at the Museum of Modern Art. Both Jay-Z and Abramovic’s pieces are considered performance art, a form that combines visual art with dramatic performance, but hers was spiritual and silent, while Jay-Z’s was spontaneous and uncontrived.
The video below, which captures six hours of energy and interaction between Jay-Z, artists, celebrities and others, is the music video for his song Picasso Baby. It has been praised as “immaterial art” (Spin), as well as criticized for being a “glorified plug for his new album” (LA Times).
Is it art or an advertisement? Couldn’t it be both? Not all art is trying to call the viewer to action, so not all art is advertising. But all advertising, at least what we produce at Stone Ward, is designed with intention, meaning and to communicate a message, which could be said for the work of Michelangelo, Warhol and Jay-Z.
“If advertising is good enough to be hung on a wall, it’s good enough to be considered art,” said Stan Richards, founder of the Richards Group, to AdWeek.
According to the editor of the Harvard Business Review, advertising is where art meets science. Combined with research – an essential element of good marketing – art becomes advertising. He explains that the ad industry is mastering the smartphone market with apps that provide customers with real value, not pretty advertisements.
All this considered, maybe advertising is best defined as an art that reflects and expresses what is happening in society. Whether it’s painted on a ceiling, depicted as a soup can, performed in a music video, viewed through an app or displayed on a billboard, advertising is an artistic expression that forever documents a point in history.