Advertising is everywhere in our society, and it makes up a large part of our visual culture in America. Visual culture includes images from television, movies, magazines, newspapers, music videos, billboards, and food packaging. Advertisements play a huge role in the mass media and shape what we value as a culture and to what extent a product is valued. Marketers know how to advertise their products in such a way as to appeal to the target consumer. They can change people’s perceptions of a product so that the product holds more intangible value (worth that cannot be seen or touched), while the material value (the value of the plastic in a toothbrush, for example) stays the same.
In this way, advertising can make value subjective. Packaging a product is a well thought-out aspect of advertising; package design makes the everyday product extraordinary and exciting so that you want to purchase the item, thus increasing the intangible value. Products have to advertise for themselves on the shelves when shoppers are comparing products, because often shoppers buy based on the aesthetic value of a product, not because of the material value.
Companies hire professionals who use design techniques to advertise their products, but their strategies are also based on psychology. For instance, everyone wants to be happy; so an advertisement is effective when the users of the product are depicted as happy and satisfied with the product, relaying the message that happiness can be purchased. Advertisers also will make a person who isn’t using the product look extremely un-cool, as well as push the notion that ‘everyone is doing it’. You can see how this technique can be extremely manipulative, especially for children and teens. This is why it is important for art educators to include visual culture, namely advertisements, in the curriculum.
Incorporating meaningful discussion and relevant advertising visuals is especially effective for critical inquiry. With the plethora of images out there trying to sell, it is imperative to teach students how to think critically about the images that surround them, especially when marketers know how to advertise to children and teens so well. Educators who think through images out loud with a class in an open discussion format can learn a great deal about their students; where they are coming from, and their beliefs and assumptions about their culture. Students’ ideas are constantly changing as they learn and grow, so it is important that the educator carefully construct meaningful and age-appropriate lessons about visual culture. It is critical to learn to stop, respond, and reflect when viewing advertisements. It is a great way to engage the mind in critical thought rather than just be a passive consumer of today’s advertising images.
Since the visual arts deal mainly with images, I believe strongly that it is the duty of art educators to teach this in their art curriculum. Why not teach kids about what will essentially be the future’s art history? That way they can be educated about the culture within which they live. Every student will be a life-long consumer of goods; it is imperative that they are educated in critical thinking in order to make more informed and conscious decisions.
Katie S. Arnold holds a degree in art education and teaches classes at the Geauga Lyric Theater Art Center. Check out the class she is teaching this summer from June 12-July 17 for 6-11 year olds! http://www.geaugatheater.org/Art_education.htm