Commercial Art: Definition & Examples

Instructor: Stephanie Przybylek

Stephanie has taught studio art and art history classes to audiences of all ages. She holds a master's degree in Art History.

Think about the colorful logo on your favorite drink bottle or a bold video advertisement for the latest tech gadget. What do they have in common? They're examples of commercial art. In this lesson, learn about commercial art and explore some examples.

What is commercial art?

Have you ever thought about the logo on the wrapper of your favorite candy bar or the advertisements you see on billboards and in magazines? Someone designed those images and labels to help sell products. They are examples of commercial art.

In the most basic sense, commercial art is imagery created for advertising or marketing purposes. Commercial artists create art used to sell products, like advertisements found in magazines, on social media, and other outlets. It's art that's mass-produced and meant to sell things, to raise the visibility of products, or to convey a specific message. Sometimes a book illustration is considered commercial art. Also, you'll sometimes see the term graphic design, which means using words and images to create advertisements, used in reference to commercial art.

Who makes commercial art?

Unlike fine art, where ideas originate in the artist's head and the goal is self-expression or perhaps making a personal statement, commercial art is for external audiences who are often potential consumers of products. Think about things like labels on food products, posters for sporting events or concerts, or the logo for your favorite sportswear or tech company. Commercial artists and graphic designers were hired to come up with those images.

Fine artists and commercial artists often use similar tools and materials. But unlike someone who makes fine art, a commercial artist creates art for paying clients. When the work in completed, it may be seen in many magazines or on many labels, but the artist remains anonymous. You may recognize the bright red and white swoosh on a Coke can or bottle, but can you name the artist who created it?

Examples of commercial art

People have created commercial art for centuries. As soon as someone developed a product, they probably thought about ways to get more people to buy it. Here's an example of an advertising image for a beverage called Selecto.

Advertisement for Selecto, 1889
Selecto ad

Done in 1889 for an Algerian beverage company, it's in French but still easy to understand. With its bright colors and placement of the bottle of Selecto in the middle of the table, the image clearly suggests Selecto as the drink of choice.

Here's another example, an American travel poster from around 1937.

Advertising poster for New York City municipal airports, ca. 1937
NYC Municipal airports 1937

Created under the auspices of the Works Progress Administration, a federal program that helped employ artists during the Great Depression, this poster advertises the ability to travel from two New York City municipal airports. The clear renderings of two types of airplanes, bold wording, and a simple color scheme create a compelling graphic that urged customers to consider NYC as the departure point for their travels.

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