MHC Seminar 1, Professor Casey Henry

Category: Art and Commerce (Page 1 of 2)

I recently re-watched the  1998 film The Truman Show, in which a man’s life is unknowingly filmed and broadcast to the world with no interruptions. His entire life is built around this show – his town is just a large set, his wife and friends are actors, and, of course, the items he uses are paid product placements. The premise of the film itself raises questions about what constitutes art, and those questions can be turned to current reality TV and its celebrities. The television show that the film is about airs without commercials, so its only revenue comes from scenes like the following, where characters suggest that Truman try a mundane project that is sure to be better than what he had before.

In this clip (up to 0:40), we see a point where the show could be meaningful art – Truman attempts to have a serious conversation with his wife, something that is real to him, and this substance could help viewers reevaluate their own lives, consider new perspectives, have the difficult conversations the’re dreading because if Truman can do it, anyone can. But this potential is undermined by the wife’s refusal to approach this conversation – she is only an actress, unwilling to discuss her show marriage with any seriousness – so she does what she does best, point a product label at the camera and say a slogan with as much conviction as she can muster.

I do think art can be effectively used in advertising, lending beauty to a price tag, but it is common to a failure at this, with advertising and cheap attempts at making money getting in the way of anything meaningful.

The Tumblr Aesthetic: Marketing and Fashion

One thing that was running through my mind as I read the articles on advertisement was the connection between Tumblr and various cheap fashion websites throughout the internet. A certain popular wing of tumblr takes on this sort of grungy, high-fashion kind of vibe that embodies each individual user’s “aesthetic,” and they all try to reblog as many things as they can adherent to their personal aesthetic motif. In terms of fashion blogs, this usually means a very polished yet rustic aesthetic, kind of like an article of clothing you’d buy at a thrift shop but a lot more polished and maybe even a little snootier.

One thing that accompanies this aesthetic, though, is promotions from various different tumblr users for sites like Romwe and Shein, which offer the clothes shown in pictures like these for an absurdly affordable price. Although it seems very individualistic and edgy, it instead acts as a direct pipeline between what’s thought of as “edgy” and “different” in terms of fashion and common people on tumblr. The result is generally a large group of people taking pictures in the same shirt and uploading them to their blogs, which could be as much of a blessing as it is a curse.

Advertising as a New Art

One could say fashion and art is half complete without the advertising component. To the creator it may be a masterpiece, but to the general audience it could just be another item that their eye glances over without the notion to stop and stare.

I was particularly fond of O’Brien’s remark, “The fusion of advertising and art is adding another dimension to culture,” because it rang true of our contemporary society today. I think that in earlier times, people appreciated art and fashion more because it was just becoming popular in its new and raw form. Today, art and fashion have lost this sense of tradition because people have lost it too. Thus what appeals to younger generations today, is not the same as from what did of years ago.

Much like these ads from Urban Decay

The one on the left with Gwen Stefani, is an earlier ad and is in no doubt a stunning portrayal of the model, but it is simple and traditional. Her blond hair, deep red lipstick, and her apparel, reminds me of a doll type of look: simple, elegant, and clean, much like the makeup presented. There is nothing out of the ordinary being advertised.

The more recent ad on the right by Urban Decay featuring Ruby Rose,  (known for pushing the boundaries of gender stereotypes in Orange is the New Black), embodies a more dramatic and dangerous look, which pars well together with the company’s new lipstick collection of bold and unique colors.  Her tattoos and shorter hair cut stray away from the conventional manner of portraying women in makeup ads but in a way that would attract a diverse group of youngsters. The unzipped leather jacket to me spoke out as liberated and carefree, not to mention how her mouth is slightly opened and the model is holding an eyeshadow brush in her mouth like a cigarette, which all contribute to this rebellious ambiance.

Overall, the ad on the left speaks to me as, look beautiful and play it safe today, whereas the ad on the right says, look sexy and be dangerous tonight.

These two types of ads portray two different types of women, as well as two different styles of makeup, and will therefore attract two different followings when viewed.

From the first article, Abloh’s statement “We’re all individuals; we’re all critics; we all look at things from a discerning eye,” coincides with the idea that a piece of art/fashion can not satisfy everyone because we all see things differently. Thus advertisements help lure those stragglers who are not enticed by first glance, or are unsure of what they are truly looking at.

Art and Commerce

When talking about possible career choices , people would ask, “What are you interested in? What are your hobbies?” Depending on the person, I would either shrug or tell them I like art mainly drawing. When I chose to say the latter, the person I’m talking about would say, “Have you thought about Graphic Design? Or going into advertising?” These would be the most practical  paths to go to with art when thinking about a future with a job besides architecture. It is difficult to find a stable job much less make a name for yourself. To Glenn O’Brien, advertising wasn’t what he imagined to be the career that will connect him to art yet it is through this line of work that he was able to feel the recognition as an artist and as a member of society. But to get yourself a name in the art world is tough unless you have connection and influences. Kanye West and Virgil Abloh both state how they wouldn’t have been acknowledged as they are now if they didn’t have these connections with other famous people, if there line of work didn’t appeal to famous icons in  the media that promoted their work. I learned that art is considered art by three agencies: the artist, the audience/viewer, and the critic/curator. Thanks to the influence of famous celebrities wearing fashion products or praising  works is then caught by the media/critic which then impacts the artists’ brand name which leads to a desire for these brands, products are distributed and so forth.

When I was thinking of a connection between art, fashion, advertising, and commerce, I remembered a scene from the movie, Medianeras, where the artist who worked as a window shop designer and it showed one of the designs she had made where the outfit’s artistic sense was brought out more in a creative way. It caught my interest and I would most likely go in the shop and possibly buy clothes. The use of color, as Kanye West stated in his article, is important.




I was also reminded of the late Harvey Ball who was a graphic artist that created the smiley icon which became an international symbol of happiness and goodwill incorporated in countless products. He was a freelance artist when he created the symbol and never asked for it to be trademarked or copyrighted which was interesting considering the significance of one’s name and work being recognized as discussed in the three articles.

The Intersection of Art and Commerce

Perhaps not surprisingly, art and commerce have been intertwined for a long time. Kanye West and Virgil Abloh are both self-proclaimed modern examples of artists and businessmen, but are actually celebrities using their fame (or infamy) to popularize their brands or friends’ brands.

One of the earliest and best artists to combine art and commerce was Irving Penn. Irving Penn was an American photographer known for his fashion photography done for Vogue. Penn used his fashion photography and came up with beautiful magazine covers that highlighted the art of fashion, as shown below.

However, he was also very established in the photography community for his Modernist still lifes of everyday objects, portraits of creative magnates, and photograph of peoples from around the world. He was undoubtedly a great artist.

Still, Penn also used his art for advertising, beyond Vogue.  He did a lot of freelance advertising for companies like Clinique, Chanel, and L’oreal. My favorite of his ads was actually for L’oreal and I believe that it truly highlights Penn’s phenomenal synthesis of art and advertising. It is clearly art, but it is also selling a product, lipstick.

The Met actually did an exhibit showcasing Penn’s work this past summer. It included all types of photographs by him, showing his extreme versatility. For more works by Penn, check out!?perPage=20&offset=180.

Art and Commerce

One of the definitions of art according to the Merriam Webster dictionary is “the conscious use of skill and creative imagination especially in the production of aesthetic objects.” If we look at history, at most of those who produced art the “classical way” as defined above (such as paintings), they did not make a living from it. Instead, they lived in complete poverty. Many of those artists only became famous after their deaths, such as Vincent Van Gogh.

I never thought about the relation of art and commerce but with the above in mind it makes sense that they are closely related. Practically, everyone needs to earn a living one way or another to survive. Therefore, those who are creative take their skill and choose to apply it in an area that still will reach the public and earn them a living. Advertising and fashion are two main fields where the above can be accomplished.

However, what I find sad is that celebrity endorsements are the “big thing” today and basically the only way to make something popular.  Virgil Abloh understands the “modern necessity of having influential allies”  to shape his brand. Because of that it is hard for him to accomplish his goal of creating for kids of his demographics; he would need to leave his celebrity friends since he will not be creating products form them.  It is sad that people are only subjecting themselves to the tastes and views of celebrities regardless of quality, design, functionality and many other factors.  Today there are many ads that show the celebrity and not the actual product.  This actually hinders creativity because what becomes the focus is the celebrity and not the actual item.

On a different note, what was especially interesting to me was the way others use their creativity. I especially loved Warhol’s idea of using “leftovers” to create art. When I read that, crayon art came to mind. Instead of throwing out the old and broken crayons no one wants to use, they can be glued on a piece of cardboard and melted with a blowdryer to create art.

Art and Commerce

After reading the assigned articles, it became clear to me that the authors view commerce, advertising, and fashion as a distinct for of art. In the article “Like Art,” O’Brien writes about his journey in finding the right career for himself. His passion was set on art early in his life, but soon he realized that making a living solely as an artist would be a difficult task. O’Brien noticed that to make it as an artist, he had to learn to work with advertising, a practice in society that had gained momentum with the evolution of technology. Over the years, advertising became a new form of art in which artist are required to learn and bring a creative mindset into their working environment. O’Brien points to the fact that advertising opened the doors to aspiring artist seeking working opportunities in society today. In the second article, “On Business,” the author refers to a commerce as a form of art. The process of learning how to run a business and how to work with people to help it improve overtime takes both time and effort. These skills are not learned overnight and this is part of the real why he believes business is a form of art. A person seeking to start a business and make it a successful one starts off with a blank canvas that is later filled until the final product is reached.

From the Interview with Virgil Abloh and Kanye West Excerpts, one of the prominent ideas expressed by the authors is that fashion is heavily influenced by celebrities. social media has become an important tool in dissipating information to the public, and many fashion designers have become icons due to their connections to these celebrities or even because of their own celebrity status. An example in this case is Kanye West, who when asked if fame makes being a successful fashion designer easier replied “you need fame to sell your shit, that’s why people pay for advertisers.” In the interview with Virgil Abloh, the author defends this claim by writing that “celebrity is influence, influence is power, and the digital realm provides an ever-expanding series of platforms from which to wield it.” To some extent, I do agree with these authors. In our society, people tend to lean towards the trends of the time which are usually set by celebrities. A few examples can be seen in the business of cosmetics with Kyle, KKW and FENTI products being amongst the most popular due to the celebrities behind their launch.


In the article “ Like Art” Glenn O’Brien addresses the problem that strikes most up and coming artists: job prospects. Realistically speaking, finding a job in the fine-arts is simply not practical. Most students fresh out of college aspire to find jobs that will showcase their talents, while simultaneously providing for a sustainable salary. This is rarely occurs. O’Brien describes how he himself, although reluctant at first, ended up channeling his creativity and talent into advertising. Now, can advertising be seen as an art form? O’Brien addresses the revolution that took place during the 1960s, where fine art was being transformed intro commercial advertisement. Andy Warhol was one of the first titans of this new era, starting out with show advertisements, and eventually, moving up to designing the Campbell’s Soup can.


Stan Freberg was one of the first to display advertisement on television and radio platforms. It wasn’t long until celebrities began to become involved in the advertising industry. One of the earliest cases of this can be seen in the following Rice Krispies advertisement made by the Rolling Stones.

A modern example of using celebrities to promote products can be seen in the array of Pepsi commercials, ranging from Britney Spears to Beyonce. O’Brien suggest that advertising has indeed become an art form, and art, has become increasingly like advertising. The only difference is the logo.


Art and Commerce

How do you actually define “Art”? When we say the word “art”, many usually identify it with a person holding a paint brush and producing a beautiful masterpiece that may be worth a lot of money. However, in reality, the definition of art is so broad that it can be just about anything we associate it with. For example, science also comes in art form, as well as food, advertisement, fashion, and even business according to Andy Warhol. We all may value different types of art form higher than others. For Warhol, it is business and for Kanye West, it’s fashion.

In “On Business”, Warhol mentions that, “if you get things when you really want them, you go crazy. Everything becomes distorted when something you really want is sitting in your lap”. As a result of that interpretation, Warhol believes that good things will happen once we stop wanting them. This is actually ironic considering his desire to be an “art businessman”. The logical assumption of most businesses and their purpose is to maximize their profits. And large companies achieve that through promoting and advertising their products, to get consumers to want those products. Consider this ad that I have seen multiple times throughout the city:

This juice companies in many ways is successful in making that product really appealing and desirable: it tastes delicious and is extremely healthy (only 5 calories and naturally sweetened!). Because of that, we now probably want that beverage more than the other choices. There’s no doubt of the “art” in that advertisement. The varying colors and images on the bottle make it visually appealing to consumers, and can be seen in a similar way as a pencil shaded drawing:

Again, after all, art is extremely broad and not limited by our imaginations. These different forms of art are all interconnected in many aspects, such as its creativity, colorings, and more. The only difference, as mentioned by Glenn O’Brien, is its “logo”. In other words, the purposes and meanings and behind them.

Art and Commerce in America

As a capitalist country, the American marketplace revolves heavily on money and influence. Both Glenn O’Brien, in “Like Art,” and Virgil Abloh, in his interview, speak upon the intersection between art, commerce, fashion, and advertising. This interplay is quite obvious to me as advertisements use art for fashion to make commerce. However, what was interesting was the idea that this network of success is most greatly achieved by members of influence and power. More so than authentic designers or artists, the American royalty that has become our celebrities have taken over this industry.  Rather than a professional or educated designer, consumers today would rather purchase overpriced products made by their favorite celebrities. Rihanna just recently launched her own makeup brand called, “Fenty Beauty by Rihanna.” What makes these products powerful is not the special qualities of the makeup itself, but the name attached to them. Rihanna purposefully puts her name in the brand title because that is what is really appealing to consumers. A small travel sized tube of foundation with Rihanna’s name on it costs $40 and already has 1400 reviews on her website.

This idea of celebrity brand name culture is not new. In the past, the interplay existed for certain designer brands. Today, this interplay has evolved to American celebrities, making them royalty for America like the nation has never seen before. This all stems of consumer’s yearning and aspirations to these celebrities. The biggest example of this is the Kardashian-Jenner family who have created a dynasty on that very belief. Each of the girls have their toes dipped into some sort of fashion business, from clothing to makeup, which they market entirely through their own selves. Here is a promo video of an upcoming collaboration between Kim Kardashian’s makeup brand and Kylies. In the video, they don’t even show any makeup at all, rather they show themselves, which is enough advertisement for the product.

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