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What Is The Relationship Between Art And Advertising?

When Nike used the Beatle’s song “Revolution” in an ad campaign, the Beatles sued. Their lawyer released a statement: “The Beatles’ position is that they don’t sing jingles to peddle sneakers, beer, pantyhose or anything else.” 

The relationship between art and advertising is usually portrayed as antagonistic, even exploitative. But then, fine art of the 20th Century has been closing the gap between art and advertising. In the 1940s, Norman Rockwell drew illustrations for Jell-O and Orange Crush. And, of course, Andy Warhol's Campbell Soup paintings irrevocably changed the art and ad world. What is the relationship between art and advertising?  

“As marketing and art merged for me, [my work] became more about communicating a message and making sure that when someone viewed it, they had something to take away and consider,” DaveAlsobrooks said in an interview on the State of Things.

Alsobrooks is a celebrated local artist and a partner at The PARAGRAPH Project, a market research and strategy firm in downtown Durham.

The PARAGRAPH Project’s clientele ranges from national brands, like Google and Best Buy, to local ventures such as Daylight Books in Hillsborough.  How do they bring creativity into an ad campaign?

Alsobrooks cites a project a few years ago, when the company worked with one of the nation’s largest mattress manufacturer. 

“It became clear to us that it wasn’t just about the mattress.  Folks that had a bad night’s sleep were hesitant to blame the mattress…  So the dog barking, the train, it was too hot, et cetera,” Alsobrooks said. 

In their research, the PARAGRAPH project consulted an “expert panel” including a dream artist and an interior designer.  They commissioned stories from professional screenwriters and looked at database analyitics on sleep. 

“It became apparent to us that this particular brand needed to sell a good night’s sleep, rather than just a mattress.  And I mention they made better ads at that point, or more effective ads, let’s say.  But they also ended up changing their entire retail strategy as a result of this new insight that they got.  It became less about a sea of mattresses in a store,” said Alsobrooks.

And just as Dave Alsobrooks approaches advertising with playfulness, in turn, his art has been changed by his advertising experience. 

“Having a designer’s point of view helps me create better art.  In my mind, better art.  Art that is more communicative, it provides a message, is aesthetically pleasing in the way it presents this idea, or is at least thought-provoking,” said Alsobrooks. 

Alsobrooks identifies as a conceptual artist.  His work touches on politics, race, and regional identity. 

His project-based style began with a series called Culture of Corruption.  In 2006, Alsobrooks began a portrait series of political figures, using materials that tied into each politician’s legacy.  He painted a portrait of former President George W. Bush in motor oil.  He used telephone wire to create a likeness of former Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez, an defender of the nation’s secret wiretapping program. Alsobrooks also created a portrait of Karl Rove out of shredded emails

“There was allegedly a lot of email that transpired over an alternate server, rather than the public one that [Rove] should have been using.  I was able, through some research, to find four or five images of specific emails…actual emails that had occurred on that server,” said Alsobrooks.

In his interview with the State of Things, Alsobrooks also discussed his projects Heritage, Not Hate?, an investigation into the Confederate Flag; Highway 01, an installation that documents the state road running through South Carolina; and Bayou Rescue, a nonprofit organization he co-founded, which focuses on helping people and animals in times of disaster.

Shawn Wen joined the staff of The State of Things in March 2012 and served as associate producer until February 2014.
Longtime NPR correspondent Frank Stasio was named permanent host of The State of Things in June 2006. A native of Buffalo, Frank has been in radio since the age of 19. He began his public radio career at WOI in Ames, Iowa, where he was a magazine show anchor and the station's News Director.
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