Art in Advertising

This resource has been generously supported by Optus. Through the Digital Thumbprint program and Kids Helpline @ School, Optus supports digital knowledge and the positive use of technology.

Poster artists working for The Australian National Travel Association (ANTA) had to decide which pictorial styles would best convey Australia’s attractions. At home, a ‘nationalist’ style, represented by the works of Arthur Streeton, Tom Roberts and Hans Heysen, was believed the best to symbolise Australia. But, because travel posters were intended for an international audience—at least, initially—some of the pictorial styles used for them would have been regarded as radically modern by people in Australia.

The appropriation of Aboriginal imagery became a characteristic of postwar modernism within Australian art and culture. To achieve a distinctly Australian look, inspiration for travel posters was drawn from the X-ray art style, from rock paintings and from Aboriginal material culture. Aboriginal motifs, such as the boomerang, were often tempered with non-Aboriginal motifs of Australia such as swimsuit-clad women or sheep.


Explore the process of lithography with students. You may wish to begin by watching the video below, developed for another National Library exhibition—Australian Sketchbook: Colonial Life and the Art of ST Gill, which looks at the basic process of lithography in the mid-nineteenth century.

Compare the techniques used by ST Gill with those used around 60 years later by James Northfield.

Have students research and explain the difference between a lithograph and a chromolithograph.

ST Gill didn’t make his prints for advertising purposes, but Northfield did. What are some elements of the art making process that change when the artist is developing advertising materials, rather than art for art’s sake?

Advertising agencies have Creative Directors and Art Departments. Have students consider the relationship between art and advertising. Organise a small informal debate in the classroom taking the topic ‘Can advertising be considered art?’ The teams should consider advertising campaigns as a whole, as well as the visual elements they contain.

This discussion might lead into an examination of ‘Commercial art’ and vocational options for students of the Visual Arts aside from a career as a fine artist.


Harold Cazneaux and Wolfgang Sievers are two of Australia’s most well-known photographers. Both worked for the advertising industry but presented two very different traditions in their work. Cazneaux’s practice was rooted in pictorialism, while the Bauhaus-trained Sievers was a modernist.

  • What is pictorialism in photography?
  • Define modernism as it relates to art, especially photography.
  • Considering both Cazneaux’s and Sievers’ work, discuss the photographic techniques they might have used to achieve their desired effects. Use Trove to find examples from both photographers.
  • Which elements of pictorialism and modernism lend themselves particularly well to advertising work?
  • How do pictorialism and modernism differ?

Later in his career, Wolfgang Sievers struggled with the ethics of producing hyperreal, sanitised and glamourised portrayals of industry and businesses for commercial purposes. Although some industries impacted on the Australian environment in a negative way, Sievers’ images invariably excluded the true environmental impacts of such industries: I am quite aware of the moral problems confronting a responsible photographer in industry … Should he use his skills to hide the terrible pollution and despoliation of our country—as I have? In creating beautiful images I have glamorised industries which have often been heedless of their sacred trust to use resources wisely and take care in the interest of future generations. In my defence, so far, I have found no valid answer to these problems. (Barry York, oral history interview with Wolfgang Sievers, March 2000, ORAL TRC 4549)

  • Use this quote as a stimulus for further discussion about commercial art. Discuss the concept of ‘selling out’ by artists who work in the commercial sphere. How do artists balance their ethics and integrity with the need to make a living from their work?
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