Start watching
Tending Nature poster 2021

Tending Nature

Start watching

Southland Sessions

Start watching

Earth Focus

Start watching

Reporter Roundup

Start watching

City Rising

Start watching

Lost LA

Start watching
Your donation supports our high-quality, inspiring and commercial-free programming.
Support Icon
Learn about the many ways to support KCET.
Support Icon
Contact our Leadership, Advancement, Membership and Special Events teams.

Art or Advertising: The Commercial Game


In partnership with FreewavesFreewaves is dedicated to the creative exhibition of the most innovative and culturally relevant independent new media art from around the world.

By Anne Bray

Los Angeles offers more contrasts within minutes and yards than other cities' hours and miles. L.A. opinions vary as widely. In this urban L.A. column, refreshed every 2 weeks, I will compare 2 short videos seeking your retorts. Two points of view side by side imply a question: which is right?

I start our dialogue with 3 French artists' [Stephane Degoutin, Marika Dermineur & Gwenola Wagon] web site which generates random pairs of images of identity to gauge how much mass media affects who you are. While you view, contemplate 2 facts: the advertising industry's profits in USA total $23 billion a year and we each absorb 5,000 ads a day. Do we form our own opinions and occasionally know who we are?

Differentiating between commerce and art plays a large role in the definition of culture for a city. To paraphrase myself from MAK Center's HOW MANY BILLBOARDS, Los Angeles city's lawyers just spent two years working on the signage ordinance to offer clear guidelines to distinguish between murals and billboards.

Last year, there were also 20 lawsuits issued by billboard companies versus the City of Los Angeles regarding zoning's determination of why one neighborhood can have free speech in advertising while another neighborhood's ads are restricted.

Can viewers even tell the difference between ads and art? Freewaves has been showing artists videos on L.A. Metro buses and asking the one million daily riders a pointed question about each video. In Lisa Marr's "Ad or Art, Anuncio o Arte" she asks viewers whether they would differentiate whited-out signs versus abstract painting versus the backside of a billboard; a hand-painted sign versus a hand-modified corporate ad; slices of the graffiti-ed Berlin wall on Wilshire Blvd and a flag mural; and painted pictures of sale items and stenciled icons. The most impassioned viewer on the bus responded by attacking the question.

Half of the bus riders say they see art in the bus; half say they don't in the same 2000 buses! About 91% like art, yet don't distinguish between art and ads. If things are so muddled, how do we categorize graffiti? Poetry posters? Tattoos? or Stickers? Or, those special hairdos and outfits on some of Metro's more flamboyant riders? Are all visuals under the same rubric?

For me, the contrast couldn't be greater. Art sends me to new places in the universe, while ads try to lure me to the mini mall. Art asks me to think. Ads tell me what to do. Ad's imperative voice often sounds like a sweet dictator, butter this, wash that, swig, swallow, munch, pour, sweep but most of all, purchase. Art asks me if I'm sensitive or aloof, informed or blasé, balanced or off kilter. Whatever my answer, it tries to lend a hand. As augmented reality, QR codes and Google goggles enter our personal lives and public space, let's learn how to decide. For more, see Adbusters.org or go to our website of videos on buses.

Dig this story? Vote by hitting the Facebook like button above and tweet it out, and it could be turned into a short video documentary. Also, follow Artbound on Facebook and Twitter.

Support Provided By
Support Provided By
Read More
Pacific Division Officer Hoskins tries to pry open the door of a truck involved in a accident that left the driver and passenger locked in the overturned vehicle. | Joseph Rodriguez

'90s Photos of LAPD Reveal a City in Pain

Joseph Rodriguez’s photographs of the LAPD in 1994 is a deeply personal, political act that still resonates in today’s political climate.
Carla Jay Harris "Sphinx," 2019. Archival pigment print. Two panels, 40 x 30 in. each. The work features a beautiful Black woman wearing a dark blue dress kneeling down in a golden meadow under a starry sky and bright orange sun. | Courtesy the artist

Now More Than Ever: The Need for Alternative Cultural Spaces

Learn more about the spaces filling the holes left behind by the historically white-centric L.A. art world.
Aerial view of Watts Towers Arts Center | Still from "Watts Towers Arts Center" ab s11

Stretching Out into the Community: Five Key Watts Artists Who Helped Shape American Art

Meet the core artists who were the vanguards of the West Coast edition of the Black Arts Movement: Betye Saar, Noah Purifoy, John Outterbridge and Jayne Cortez.