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Great Art, Brought to You by Advertising
Great Art, Brought to You by Advertising
Advertising as a patron of the arts

It’s no secret that advertising often gets a bad rap. Granted, Mad Men has added a touch of glamour to the industry more recently, but I’m not sure advertising will ever fully shake off the Bill Hicks rants and the ire of anti-Consumerists. More idealistic artists, writers, and musicians especially love to take shots at advertising. And believe me, I know. I was one.

But for all the grief we love to give advertising, we forget that advertising has served as a patron for some of our favorite artists while they worked to create the art that we know and love them for.

See, I recently traveled to Chicago to check out an exhibit of Rene Magritte’s works at the Art Institute. More about Magritte later, but one of the things that struck me was that a portion of the exhibit was devoted to works Magritte produced as an advertising artist in the 1920s.

Then I thought, “Wait, the Andy Warhol exhibit at the IMA a few years ago also featured Warhol’s early advertising artwork.”

I got to digging around and found that more than a few of my favorite writers and artists slugged it out in advertising at some point in their lives.  So, I thought I’d put together a small celebration of a handful of favorites and their contributions to my favorite line of work.

Dr. Suess
That’s right. The Doctor of Cat in the Hat fame himself drew advertisements for the likes of Ford, GE, Standard Oil, and some lesser known brands like Flit Mosquito Repellent.


Rene Magritte
Possibly my favorite painter of all time, Rene Magritte paid his bills by painting Art Deco style advertisements in Belgium before moving to Paris and finding his Surreal groove, painting pipes that aren’t pipes and lovers and birds.


F. Scott Fitzgerald
Ol’ Fitz didn’t spend too much time in the ad game, but before he penned The Great Gatsby or Tender Is the Night, he wrote streetcar slogans for $35/week.

“We Keep You Clean in Muscatine,” (a slogan he wrote for a steam cleaner in Iowa) doesn’t hold a candle to, “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past,” (the last lines of Gatsby) so when it comes right down to it, I’m glad he quit copywriting to make time for Zelda and carousing around Paris with Papa Hemingway.

Andy Warhol
You know, it really shouldn’t be surprising to learn that Warhol got his start in advertising. Dude loved fame, and selling things, and getting people to buy things. I really don’t know why I was surprised to learn that.


Salman Rushdie
The fact that Salman Rushdie wrote a novel titled The Satanic Verses doesn’t really help my case that advertising isn’t, in fact, the devil’s work. But you know what, I’m not particularly sold on the copywriting that he is most famous for: “Naughty. But nice,” a tagline for a cream cake company, and “Irresistibubble,” a tagline for Aero, a candy bar company.

It’s British advertising, so it might be a cultural divide sort of thing. I mean, both are still culturally relevant in Britain today, so they had staying power. Perhaps to understand why they are so great, “you’ll have to swallow a world.”