I have a love-hate relationship with advertising. I hate feeling like I’m being pressured to buy something I don’t really need but then I’ll see a commercial that is so incredibly brilliant I love it and I feel pressured then to buy something I don’t even want and I really hate that. I also think everybody’s gotta make a living and if an artist can’t make it selling their own art then a job in advertising can provide them with both a paycheck and an outlet. There was a time when a lot of artists thought of selling out as a bad thing, and some still do, but there’s a long history of artists being supported by patrons, and advertising reaches the masses. That’s better than a commissioned painting that would be locked away in some duke’s castle or a minuet that, at the time it was composed, would only be heard by a handful of people in a drawing room. Neither Mozart nor his masters imagined the Victrola, let alone MP3s, but that’s another story.
Some ad campaigns even evolve beyond just selling and become part of our culture and I love when that happens. Those who paid the piper may have called the tune but they can’t stop the tune from taking on a life of its own.
And sometimes art itself gets turned into advertising and scholars and critics may wring their hands over that, but I think it’s groovy that art can be pulled out of its ivory tower, even if it’s being used to sell us Ivory soap.
All this swirled around in my head when I was sitting in a Greek restaurant watching a soap opera in Farsi—it goes without saying that the convergence of cultures is a whole other rabbit hole—and a commercial for Discover Badya came on. Badya is a planned community—a little too planned for my tastes, and I hated that the commercial kind of made me want to live there, but I also loved its clever nods to various artists.
I especially like the appearance by Frida Kahlo whose self-portraits are as strong and uncompromising as the artist herself. Some may call this Fridolatry, but, again, there’s nothing wrong with mass appeal. If it inspires just a few to find out who Kahlo was and study her art more deeply that’s a good thing. Art isn’t, or shouldn’t be, a walled garden that’s only available to the rarefied few.
And now here’s something not intended to sell you anything.