The evolution of styles in American advertising art is the broad theme of this exhibit. William G. Gabler, an authority on popular American art, conceived and developed the exhibit, and selected the examples shown from the resources in various departments of the University of Minnesota Libraries. The items displayed have been selected mainly from popular periodical publications which range in time from colonial newspapers to the magazines of today.
The exhibit is on display June 1 through August 31, 1977. Special Collections Dept., 0. Meredith Wilson Library, University of Minnesota, West Bank Campus.
The earliest illustrated advertisements in colonial periodical publications were little images of ships, houses, and farms. They were placed in the upper left corner of the brief advertisements that appeared in the columns of eighteenth century newspapers, and the same cut was used over and over for different advertisers. The artistic style is characterized by primitive simplicity and economy of means. They are line drawings of single objects that appear flattened to the page, and they do not show a naturalistic representation of volume and perspective. The purpose of the illustrations was simply to identity basic categories of commerce. They represent the earliest phase of a growing commercial capacity whose success produced, and was a product of, high quality advertising.
MARCH 24, 1792
Boston Columbian Centinel
In the period between the Revolution and the Civil War illustrated advertisements increased in size, complexity, and technical precision. Most of them continued to represent a single object, but by1851 a few advertisements showed naturalistic scenes, partially combined with novel lettering schemes. In these pictures the flat simplicity of the early style had changed to a more realistic representation of detail and volume, and the entire scene is integrated by normal perspective.
JULY 26, 1851
Hartford Daily Courant
In the most progressive advertisements of the 1880s the picture occupied most of the available space. Lettering was designed into the picture in very intriguing ways that defied the spatial logic of the picture, but nevertheless word and picture finally were integrated in an artful and entertaining manner. By this time product sales had already begun to depend upon popularity as much as utility. It was no longer sufficient simply to get the reader's attention in order to announce the availability of a product, so the advertiser began to show his product in use in a pleasant social environment.
Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper
In the 1890s further license was taken with the picture logic of the advertisements, and the name of the product was introduced into the picture as though it were a part of the material reality of the scene. The Electra Carbons name apparently is radiated forth by the carbon points, but actually there is no logical sense to the picture. The name dramatizes the power of the product for its own sake rather than showing its use or function. This expressionistic phase marked the end of a long tradition of generally sober and reserved engraved advertisements, whose appeal was more often to reason than to the senses. Such advertisements prepared the way for the less rational and more emotive type of ad in the twentieth century.
JUNE 16, 1898
The Electrical Engineer
Near the turn of the century the hand-crafted engraving process gave way to versatile, fast lithographic processes,as a largepredominantly urban society shifted from an economy based on coal and iron to an economy based on oil andsteel. Someadvertisements sharedqualities typical of both the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The Ralston design has the black and white linear look of the earlier engravings, but
it also has the large bold outlines and flat value areas of the twentieth century styles.
Reprinted by permission of the Ralston Purina Company.
MAY 24, 1902
Collier's Illustrated Weekly
In the years between 1900 and World War I advertisements assumed as prominent a position in magazines, both in terms of their size and the number of pages devoted to them, as the articles and features in them. The full-page advertisement became common. The large pages of the general magazines of the time made them a suitable medium for styles derived from European poster art, as well as for large photographs which evoked a realistic sense of personal presence which had not been readily attainable from wood engravings. Color became a regular part of the best designs. It was employed first with a subtle reserve to enhance black and white photographs. Gold Medal Flour used the technique especially effectively by causing the orange of the "gold medal" to appear bright and glowing, because it was the only saturated color on the otherwise conservatively tinted page. Straight color photography was also introduced about this time but did not become commonly used for another thirty years.
Reprinted by permission of General Mills,Inc.
Following World War I American culture experienced a period of sophisticated affluence which was expressed in advertisements that appealed to the public's interest in sex, sports, entertainment,and the sensualism and mysticism of the East. The trend away from the reasoned control of the nineteenth century and toward the sensuous pursuit of emotional experience was accelerated as American society shifted away from its rural foundations and looked for satisfying ways to spend the greater leisure time of city life. The desire for vicarious experience and the need for glamorous ideals stimulated the movie industries and the development of the movie star, whose product endorsements contributed a new, and in the mind of the reader, a more personal reason for attending to the advertisements.
Poster art styles began to be used in the 1890s and continued to appear with some frequency into the1930s.They were, perhaps, the advertising art form most resembling the progressive fine art styles of their day. The graphic style of Aubrey Beardsley, the decorative Art Nouveau of Alphonse Mucha, and the simple shapes and flat color areas of Bonnard and Vuillard all found their way into commercial illustration. The bold, radiating, and vibrating design of the Orange Crush advertisement, with its de-emphasis on verbal content seems to be more similar to Op Art of the 1960s than to the recognized styles of the 1920s.
Reprinted by permission of Crush International. Inc." Crush" is a registered trademark of Crush International, Inc.
In the 1930s American life seemed to lose still more of its old formal unity and composure. Luxury and indulgent extravagance existed along with severe depression and unprecedented organized crime. The advertisements of the time frequently were as dramatic and fragmented as the life that produced them. They were often assemblages of styles and mediums in a collage display, which were spread completely across the page without frame, centrality, or integrating perspective. Dramatic newspaper techniques were used, such as banner headlines plastered across the page. The comic strip was utilized also to create a new sense of immediacy and emotional involvement with the reader, as were photo sequences which gave the advertisement a sense of development through time similar to a short movie. The difficulties and uncertainties of the 1930s were also reflected in advertisements that showed people in emotional extremes and dangerous or awkward situations. The embarrassment of unpleasant breath, the loss of a loved one. and fear of accidents were subjects that were dwelt upon in the 1930s more than in any other decade, in an effort to show the consumer that his sense of security could be increased by purchasing the product advertised.
Reprinted by permission of B. F. Goodrich Company.
JULY 7, 1934
World War II swept away the uncertainties of the 1930s by imposing very serious purpose and direction upon the industrial capacity of the nation. Heavy industry was almost completely converted to war production. Its advertisements were used to explain and depict a company's contribution to the war effort in dynamic battle scenes as well as in heartfelt human scenes that made only an indirect reference to the company or the product. Some standardization in picture-to-print proportions occurred, and relatively little artistic originality or technical innovation developed during the 1940s, but the general content and attitude became purposefully positive, in contrast to the somewhat aimless sensationalism of the 1930s.
Reprinted by permission of Westinghouse Electric Corporation.
OCTOBER 2, 1943
The victory in World War II seemed more than ever to confirm the essential rectitude of the American way of life and the economy and industry that enabled it to prosper. The general tone of advertisements in the late 1940s and in the 1950s was one of happy and carefree affirmation of the urban and suburban life that was based upon an abundant supply of the material goods and appliances of modern life. As the conveniences of life became accepted and commonplace an interest in recreation, entertainment,and luxury, similar to that of the 1920s, again developed. In advertisements these desires were complimented by the use of sophisticated color photography, which went beyond naturalism to give an impression of heightened realism. Photographs like the Nestle's advertisement seem infused with sensible flavor, texture, scent, tangible moisture, and warmth. Such advertisements are frequently enhanced by using dark backgrounds which tend to isolate the implied sensation or intimate experience from the rest of the world, so that the ad itself becomes a vicarious sensual experience.
Reprinted by permission of the Nestle Company, Inc.
AUGUST 16, 1968
Advertising styles in the United States have evolved from the elemental identification of the product, to the naturalistic depiction of the product integrated into a social environment, to the sophisticated conveyance of a vicarious experience of the product. These styles have corresponded to a progression of economic levels which rose from subsistence, to success and expansion, to affluence. At each step along the way advertisements were done in high quality popular styles that have preserved the vitality of the general public's concerns, values, and pleasures with an immediate intensity and freshness that fine art rarely approaches.
William G. Gabler
Original booklet design: Brooke Kenney
Original booklet typography: Dahl & Cuny, Inc.
Original booklet printing: Litho Specialties, Inc.
Reformatted for web presentation by Tim Johnson