When I was first trying to start in adult life, the first months after college, I thought about going into advertising. I read a lot of books by people in advertising. I put together a folder of sample 'creative' writing, my angle on various ads, even of some video and print drawings. But when I went to my first big interview, wearing a business suit (which I wore in response to other advice to into investment banking or international affairs, something 'serious'), I was almost immediately confronted with the question, Do you believe in America?
The questioner, a vice-president for a big Chicago-based agency, was wearing a dark-grey turtleneck. He didn't mean that I was unpatriotic, perhaps, about the us Constitution, but rather that I was not patriotic, not one of the crowd, not accepting and conforming to Consumerism. Particularly consumerism of whatever is also promoted by Pop Art.
This included going to high-rent office on Michigan Avenue looking not like a lawyer, a form of Worker, but looking like a sort of Artist.
I did not understand sufficiently, as did another graduate from my college named Thorstein Veblen, that Advertising is directed to people who would like to live at least somewhat like the Leisure Class, and that if you want to succeed in Advertising you must -- as adman David Olgilvy wrote – believe in the products and lifestyle sought by the Leisure Class. I did not sufficiently believe in most of the products, or attendant lifestyle being offered then by people in Advertising. I was going to that meeting, in 1973, talking about believing in ecology.
Nowadays, maybe, such a meeting would have turned out differently. Now the consuming public, even the Leisure Class, may well want to consume the products and services I promote. But it's too late: I have spent twenty years building up a very large dossier of images and text, even large outdoor sculptures, promoting what I believe to be worthwhile products and services for the public, including the Leisure Class, and I have done so through channels directed usually to people in a leisure condition. People reading the newspaper, watching tv news, going to art galleries or museums, watching talk shows, not usually people reading the financial news, or signing contracts to build industrial structures or housing, or doing scientific research.
The Art World
I am still in advertising. They call it the art world, which means that I am in the advertising of products or services which are not being promoted by conventional advertising, or which do not even exist.
Andy Warhol was successful in promoting products which already existed and which even were almost universally recognized through conventional advertising, products like Marilyn Monroe, or Coca-Cola, or Brillo. He just elevated these advertised goods and images into products solely for consumption by the Ultra Leisure Class.
I have noticed Andy Warhol but have never especially respected him. I did not want to get in a lifestyle directed solely to the Ultra Leisure Class. I did not even want to go to his kind of parties. I wanted to be more serious, more substantial, more engaged in practical questions of art impacting on society like Architecture.
As one who had come from the middle, professional class, I wanted to produce and promote goods and services based on art ideas, and delivered sometimes in the form of 'art', which could be accepted by the General Public. Not the leisure class, certainly not the ultra-leisure class, but more like the professional middle-class from which I came. History has shown this to be the chief decision-making class, even in times of so-called proletarian revolutions.
The question, as Jenny Holzer bluntly phrased it, is Who Makes Taste? And the question for anyone going into advertising, as for anyone going into the art world, is what they are promoting your taste? In one or another arena, can you work with people, and sell to people, and make money in exchange with people, who share your taste? The art world is one realm in which taste is made. The advertising world is another.
For several decades now there has been a profound discontent with the art world, and there have been numerous probes towards changing it. People who think along the lines of art, about a.o. meaningful images and art history, have concluded that the art world is too small, too limited, too marginal, too weak, too bohemian, to have any important effect in the world. How does one get out from the limited art world context into a real-world context, a context in which normal people are addressed by, and tend to believe the messages of news and advertising? Not art people, not intellectuals, not 'the happy few', but everyday people. And not everyday people thinking that what they are seeing with your work product is Art, but that what they are seeing is a Plausible Message.
This was the original function of art. It was the original purpose. Even in the Middle Ages, sculptors and painters were not making works for large, permanent 'installations', as art, or as culture, but as a believable rendition of what people, normal people, all the people, should bear in mind. They were making a form of advertising.
I am prepared to suggest, reflecting on the many years of debate and decisions, even within a coterie of artists like The Offices of Fend, Fitzgibbon, Holzer, Nadin, Prince and Winters, or a milieu of artists showing with Esther Schipper, that the business and practice of Art is a form of Advertising.
The larger national governments, the ones with cultural ministries and cultural attaches, are very aware of this: they carefully screen and select for export, or for high-prestige international exhibition, the artists whose work, and whose overall reputation as personages, seems best to Advertise their worth as a Sovereign State. Any us artist selected to advertise his or her artistic products, under his or her name of course, in a foreign capital, particularly given a backing by, say, the us Information Agency, is acting as an Advertiser for the us.
If, as happened in 1978, a us artist were selected to sell work to the Shah of Iran, you can be sure that the reasons were chiefly political, not 'artistic' or even 'art-historical', and that the artists, being of recognisably international-quality, were selected as they might enhance the political prestige of the us in Iran.
One could describe any presentation or delivery of culture overseas to be simply an elaborate advertising campaign for the sponsoring country. One could see this most acutely on the main prestige street of Belgrade shortly before the war: within 300 meters, on both sides, were the advertising outlets, or what could be called cultural centers, for Germany, France, the us, the uk.
Nowadays the competition among nations is shifting from, Which nation has the best culture, and the best ('name') artists? to, Which nation has the most definitive say on what will be the future of art? Which nation is in a position to define the new direction of art? And, with that, of material culture?
Consciously or unconsciously, a person professing (or being professed) to be an Artist is working as an Advertiser for the values, the products and services, the consumer tastes, of the Buyer. In some cases this Buyer is a major corporation, in some cases (as with the Pop Artists and their successors like Julian Schnabel) it is the Jet Set, or Ultra-Leisure Class, but in an increasing number of cases, in the past several years even, it is one or another Sovereign State.
This relation of State to Art has usually been one-way. Jenny Holzer at the Venice Biennale in 1990 had been suitably diverted, or re-directed, from what she was intending to do in, say, 1980, such that what was coming out in the Biennale, was clearly not at variance with fundamental us interests. In1980, she was trying to find ways of working on the North-South initiatives of Willy Brandt. Not at the American Pavilion, not as the chief funders there would make sure. I would say, knowing what she had been intending, that she had been effectively controlled, even detoured, in her career. But that made her a better advertiser for her Sovereign, in the sovereign's judgment, so she was selected to serve as cultural ambassador.
Once this relation is noticed, and once it is noticed to have a serious modifying effect on the nature of the art produced, the artist can stand back, reflect and offer a response to the State.
The artist can perform what was described to me, also in that first interview, to be the primary function of advertising for established companies or clients: to create an image, a morale, a concept for client itself, including all of its employees or members, and to extend this image, or morale, or social membership, to all those seeking to join by buying a company product.
The artist, conscious of being promoted by the State for State purposes, can turn around and shape his or her released works, his or her public advertisements, to modify, change, or re-define, the identity and moral direction of the State.
Franklin D. Roosevelt had first thought of going into advertising. With phrases like There is nothing to fear but fear itself, he did. He was a shaper of Mass Taste. His main adversary, Adolph Hitler, was also engaged principally in advertising.
Advertisers of the State
So the question after all for an important artist, like that for any other public figure is. What are they Advertising? What values or beliefs or world views or technical scenarios are they promoting? And on whose behalf principally are they speaking or showing their 'ads'? No artist will get very far if the State with which he or she is associated does not want to be represented by him or her. Or, as I have tried to effect, a Them.
I have tried to put forth into the world the concept of an artistic identity being not a single individual, not a certain 'name' person, but a business venture, a profit-making company of individuals with its own name and reputation. So, rather than make advertisements on behalf of a 'Peter Fend', as is normally required of an Artist, I have been working with several others to make advertisements on behalf of a company called Ocean Earth. All the media projects, the tv news projects, the satellite-observation projects, the News Room and other 'truth disclosure' projects, have been undertaken partly for our purposes of knowing but more largely for the purpose, as in any advertising campaign, of building up brand credibility. All the so-called artwork and mediawork of the group of artists, has been conducted in a somewhat adverse art/world climate, and a certainly adverse political climate, for the same purpose of a standard Pepsi campaign: name recognition, and public belief. After that, the task is to make the company be believed by a certain State, or group of States. Choosing which state that will be is the next step of any artist, or group of artists, seeking a position in the evolution of material culture – i.e., art history. Other artists should seriously consider such choices, as well, being advertisers, after all, for someone other than themselves.