Art & Copy: The Allure of Advertising at the Salt Lake Art Center

Art & Copy is a great ad for the advertising world. Watch it and you’ll be ready to give up your day job, no matter how profitable or prestigious, to join the revolutionaries and visionaries who craft the messages that bombard us everyday.

Art & Copy does for advertising what Objectified — screened last month by the Salt Lake Film Center and reviewed in these pages– does for design. Both films are compelling portrayals of their respective fields. They even follow a similar format: a handful of creative, engaging people, successful in their fields, are interviewed individually and speak with great intensity about their careers and the joy of working in their field. They are shot in visually engaging settings, the cuts between speakers and themes eased by transitions filled with lavishly shot images of the inanimate aspects of the field, superimposed with statistical facts about the industry.

In Art & Copy’s version of the advertising industry there is no hint of a Dilbert-like world of cubicles and bosses. Work here is play, whether it be that of a California surfer or a New York revolutionary. Workspaces are wonderfully decorated, open, filled with light and warm surfaces. Indoor basketball courts seem to be de rigeur. And the work you do is always exhilirating and creative, “touching” people and changing their lives.

In these creative individuals, artists will notice a family resemblance; the claim of kinship is made explicit by the advertisers, who compare themselves to the cave painters of France and Haiku poets of Japan. They’ll seem to you like the cousin you dread seeing at family reunions, the one whose financial success, exciting travels, and beautiful family fill you with an envy so painful the only remedy is to remind yourself that you despise them as corporate sellouts. You, at least, do something worthwhile.

The story of Art & Copy is not about slaves of the corporate world; it is about a group of advertisers who, beginning in the late 1950s, created a brave new world of advertising. These are the Creatives, the hired hands that made art and copy for ads, who wrested control of the advertising industry from the Suits, that old boy network of titans of business made sleek and sexy in AMC’s Madmen. This new guard brought us the understated but convincing ads of the Volkswagen bug, the politically charged image of Mohammed Ali as Saint Sebastian and the theatrical vignettes of The Rebel. They’ve continued to entertain us with campaigns like “Where’s the Beef?” inspire us with Nike’s “Just Do It” campaign and soothe us with Reagan’s “It’s Morning in America.” These are the people that have made advertising so dynamic that 51 percent of respondents say they watch the Super Bowl more for the commercials than for the game. We would hardly wish for the return of the boring ads from the 1950s introduced by, “And now a word from our sponsor.”

If ads have become more entertaining and more touching, they have also become more powerful. And more pervasive. We receive five times more ads today than we did thirty years ago. As Jaron Lanier points out in his new book You Are Not a Gadget, internet sites like Google and Facebook are increasingly controlled by ad revenue and are developing ever more complicated ways to cater to, but also create, your wants. Advertising can, as George Lois says in the film, “change our perceptions.” But not always in a good way. Lanier says, “If money is flowing to advertising instead of musicians, journalists and artists, then a society is more concerned with manipulation than with truth or beauty.” When this underside of the advertising world is touched upon in Art & Copy it is only by accident, and any possibly unsettling remarks are smoothed over with cinematic context. When Jeff Goodby describes advertising as “Art in the service of capitalism,” it is said so cheerily and with such conviction, by a guy with long hair and in a t-shirt, that you might forget any idea of Marxist critique you ran into in your college classes. When Rich Silverstein, describing the genesis of the “Got Milk?” campaign, says that “Great advertising starts with something true,” what is left unsaid is that it ends with you buying something. When you hear Mary Wells say, “you can manufacture any feeling you want to manufacture, you can create any feeling you want people to have,” the film’s cuts to a stunning shot of Times Square at night and then to cherry blossoms beneath a New York skyscraper, are so soothing that the unsettling comment glides past your consciousness and you simply find yoursef humming “I . . Love New York.”

The Salt Lake City Film Cente will screen Art & Copy at the Salt Lake Art Center on Friday February 12th at 7 pm. The screening is free. It might be premature to speak of a “15 Bytes bump” but the staff at the Film Center tells us that at the last screening over two hundred people showed up. So you might want to arrive early.
You can also see the film this month in Park City, February 12 – 14, as part of the Park City Film Series. The screening is underwritten by Gallery MAR.


Categories: Film

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