Artists: Notes on Art Making

Published in The Modern Review, Vol. CVII. Number 1 to 6, January to June, 1960, pp. 305-307

Display of oneself is an instinct of animality. What, however, distinguishes a man from other animals in this respect is that he has developed it into an art to palm off his wares as well. In other words, from the urge of enhancing his own value, he sets to evaluate his goods for a commercial purpose. The profit motive has evolved into a pattern called advertisement. Advertisement, generally speaking, has come to mean attracting public notice for an enterprise. It is a form of human intercourse whereby the advertiser communicates with the people are large.

In ancient days, when barter was the rule of exchange, the mode of advertisement was rather crude. It was more or less confined to the disposal of surplus commodities.

Signs and Street Criers

The earliest - possibly the earliest - media of publicity are signs and street criers. Before the people were acquainted with newspapers, magazines or any other media, they constituted the only modes of advertisements.

“Signs over shops and stalls seem naturally to have been the first efforts in the direction of advertisement and they go back to the remotest portions of the World’s History.” - (History of Advertising - Henry Sampson).

These early signs were mainly made of either stone or terracotta and they were symbolic in character. As the people could hardly read, the message, the signs carried, had to be expressed in pictures instead of letters. The main function of these signs was to identify a merchant’s place of business. Some thinkers are of opinion that the sign was “in a sense the visual expression of the name and likewise served to identify a seller of goods and services.” To them it was the second step in the evolution of advertising media. They opine that “the earliest function of advertising was to identify”-and that was done by erasing the surname and putting there instead the professional designations such as “John - the blacksmith.” It was no doubt, a very global identity and served also the purpose of publicity. But with the availability of several specialists of the same kind, the name was not adequate enough to serve the purpose of identification and hence the signs.

The street criers supplemented the signs as the first means of advertising media. In ancient Greece and Rome they used to announce the affairs of the State and news of Commercial interest such as the news of outgoing and incoming ships, commodities for sale and the names of the merchants, who owned them or carried their trade.

In later period, announcement through Street criers was more popular in France than in any other country. “The criers had charters from the government and were often organized in a kind of union. Their numbers were usually restricted. In the province of Berry, France, in the year 1141 twelve criers organized a company and obtained a charter from Louis VII giving them the exclusive privilege of town crying in the province.” - (The History and Development of Advertising - Frank Presbrey).

The ruler of land helped these criers enforcing the shopkeepers to employ those criers. But with the growth of printing advertisements the system was totally abolished.


The later development that we find in the realm of advertisement was the display of goods. In by-gone days the cities were walled up and merchants assembled at the gate-ways, which were, by and large, the more conspicuous places with a view to display their commodities. This system of exhibition has not been totally abolished even today, rather we find now-a-days a more refined and artistic window-display. Sometimes, instead of showing actual things for sale display of same symbol was used to catch consumers’ attention easily.

Written Advertisement

The first written advertisement can be dated to 1000 B.C. - preserved in the British Museum. It was written on a papyrus containing an announcement of an Egyptian Slave-owner for the come-back of a runaway slave.

Written advertisement was not popular before the middle of the 15th century, naturally, as the people could not read and write. The invention of printing type paved the way for newspaper advertisement, leaflets, bulletins. These advertisements were mainly devoted to the sale of books. But advertisements for other commodities were not altogether unknown. It is interesting to note that, John Milton’s essays were those of the first books, advertised in London Papers.

The following is the first printed English advertisement written by William Caxton in the year 1477 in a form of a Poster announcement.

“If anyone, cleric or layman, wants to buy some copies of two or three service books arranged according to the usage of Salisbury Cathedral, and printed in the same desirable type in which this ad: is set, let him come to the place in the precincts of Westminister Abbey, where alms are distributed which can be recognized by a shield with a red central strip (from top to bottom) and he shall have those books cheap.

Please don’t tear down this notice.” (Translated into modern English by Dr. Edward Pousland of Worchestor Junior College).

Here are some specimens of advertisements that reveal the peculiar characteristics of early-printing period.

“This is to certify, that my child being almost reduced to the very Grave, from the extreme Agony he underwent by violent Breeding of Teeth, was throx’s God’s Goodness restored to perfect Ease and Safety, upon the use of that truly Nobel Medicine, prepared for those cases, by Mr. Perronet Surgeon in Doyt Street, near Bloomsbury, witness my Hand, S. Warburton Raisormakor in Grays-Inn-Passage, by Red Lyon-Square. This medicine is sold at 2s. 7d. the Vial, by the Author aforesaid Mr. Alcraft at the Blew-Coat-Boy Against the Royal Exchange Cornhill and by Mr. Watkins Tobaconist against the Market, in King-St. West minister.” - (From the Spectator, 1711).

“That excellent and by all Physician approved China Drink, called by the Chinese, Tcha, and by other nations, Tay, alias Tee is sold at the Sultaness Head, a cophee-house in Sweeting Rent by the Royal Exchange, London.” This was printed in September 1658 without display type.

By the middle of the 19th Century the art of advertisement made a great progress both in variety and volume. The main development was made in the field of psychology of advertisement. The mode of presentation and its artistic layouts reacted on the peoples’ mind in such a way that they felt for buying the commodities.

The increased power of advertisement gave impetus to the producers to augment their production and competition was obviously the result. Market expanded and the installation of long distance transport-system helped the producers.

It is quite relevant to think that the transport facilities had a tremendous influence on the growth of widely distributed publications and widely circulated newspapers, magazines helped to increase the volume of advertisement.

In modern period, another development was due to the invention of Radio. The advantage of advertising through Radio over other written advertisements is that the listener does not take the trouble to read. So the appeal is direct and almost personal.

It is quite true that the art was taking a complex shape gradually. The advertisements did not end in an announcement only. Its enlarged volume added to other complications and gave birth to some agencies, whose business it was to deal with the ever-glowing complexities of advertisement. The first advertising agency was established in England in 1800 A.D. In U.S.A. it was organized by Volney B. Palmer in 1840-41.

With the advent of 20th century advertisement has come to be associated with the term science. Advertisement is part of selling and that to be successful all the factors are to be taken into consideration. Right from 1900 A.D., we find two other terms, viz., market research and consumers’ analysis were associated with advertisement. “Not merely is a consideration of the former ‘all-important’ factors of art, copy, layout and typography, but thought must be given to the product to be advertised, the character of the prospective buyer, their purchasing powers, their place of abode.” - (Advertising: Theory and Practice - C. H. Sandage, Ph.D.). These were the criteria of perfect advertisement in the beginning of the modern period.

Published in The Modern Review, Vol. CVII. Number 1 to 6, January to June, 1960, pp. 305-307
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