An Appreciation of Art in Print Ads

NEW YORK When Barry Hoffman, Young & Rubicam’s managing partner and executive creative director, used George Rodrigue’s Blue Dog painting for a Xerox campaign in 2000, a thought struck him: how are other agencies using fine art in ads?

Three years of research and writing later, Hoffman answers that question in The Fine Art of Advertising (Stewart, Tabori & Chang) out this month, an eclectic survey of the uses and misuses of fine art in print ads.

Hoffman and a picture researcher scoured libraries and advertising awards books, among other resources, for examples of art in advertising. “Google is a wonderful thing,” Hoffman said. “We went to flea markets and Ebay and stuff like that and gathered what there was.”

The book, with chapters on “The Naked Truth,” ironic and straightforward uses of art in ads, and how advertising can sometimes act as a patron to the arts, is arranged according to topic but follows a broad chronological sweep.

Examples of art in advertising range from ads for Pears soap that use classical paintings, created at the turn of the century, to work by contemporary artists commissioned for Absolut ads in the 1990s.

In a way, the book allowed Hoffman to put his business in perspective, he said. “We all kind of live in the middle of [advertising]. You know the old saw, ‘I don’t know who discovered water, but it wasn’t a fish’?” he said. “This book clarifies the tremendous force of commercialism that invests all of our lives.”