Friday, August 3, 2018

Is It Advertising or Is It Art?

This post originally appeared in 2012

Interesting article by Curtis Gilbert at the Minnesota Public Radio site yesterday. Minnesota's Twin Cities are again trying to define where the line is between art and advertising.The cities have laws that prohibit signs from being excessively large, but such measurement restrictions do not apply to art.

The law became a problem when the store Creative Kidstuff wanted to install two giant cat images on the two sides of their entrance. Clearly the art is informing people where the Kidstuff store entrance is located. This violates the advertising signage rules.

But it's more than simply size restrictions. The anti-advertising advocates really don't want any promotion going on in public spaces.

You can read the article here: Cities debate art vs. advertising.

ST. PAUL Minn. — Minnesota's two largest cities are considering where to draw the line between art and advertising. Later this year, Minneapolis may relax the definition of "mural" to allow for pictures of products. And tonight, the St. Paul City Council will decide whether two cartoon cats count as signs or sculptures.

"Everywhere you look, advertisers are finding a place to put something, to sell you something you don't need," the executive director of the anti-billboard group Scenic Minnesota, Ossian Or, is quoted as saying. The implication is that outdoor advertising is a form of crime that ought to be outlawed.

But advertising has many more functions than just to sell. In the case of these giant cats it's simply wants to tell, in a wordless but entertaining way, that this is where our store is. How else are you going to find these places if you can't announce, "We're here!"?

For Scenic Minnesota billboards, too, are a blight. But many a weary traveller has found comfort in knowing that a there's a motel up ahead in the next thirty miles, or a place to grab a bite to eat.

I think part of the problem with advertising is the bad rap it gets from people who tar it by misrepresentation. Here is a typical anti-advertising quote, this one by Carrie Snow. "Advertising degrades the people it appeals to; it deprives them of their will to choose." O.K. please tell me how those two giant cats are depriving people of their will to choose? How about the T-shirt with a Lund Boats logo on it? Does this somehow force people against their will to buy boats and become fishermen? Yet advertising continues to be treated as if it were almighty and omnipotent.

* * * *
According to the 2012 NPR article, "Since 2001, Minneapolis has banned murals that "advertise or promote any business, product, activity, service, interest or entertainment." If that law still stands on the books, it seems to me that the spectacular six-story high Dylan mural on Hennepin is a violation. Rock stars, like Pet Rocks, are a product. Like politicians. Like pottery. I mean, aren't the faces of celebrities a form of a branding? Jim Morrisons iconic face was his logo.

In fact, there's a sense in which the buildings in downtown Minneapolis are a form of advertising. Each is distinctive for a reason. No two are a like so that people associate the structure with the brand it represents. Do we really hate capitalism so much that we so dislike the color its advertising adds to a cityscape?

Disclaimer: The author of this blog is an artist who made a living in advertising.


LEWagner said...

There was a guy on old Hwy 53 just north of what used to be the LeGrande, on the same side of the road as the LeGrande, who sharpened saws in his garage.
He put up a sign that said "Saw Sharpening", but was told that he had to take it down because he was living in a residential area and didn't have the right to run a business there.
So he painted a saw blade bright red and hung it up above his garage door.
He still sharpened saws in his garage as before (only less of them) but now the neighbors were happy because he didn't have the offending sign up anymore.
That was at least 20 years ago, in the Land of the Free.

Ed Newman said...

Yep. In the "Land of the Free"...
Thanks for the anecdote.