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The role played by the art of sculpture, coinage and portraiture in the ancient world to celebrate the power of rulers has been taken up by advertising in our present time. Through public media like television, images of wealth, status and success are used to enhance ideas like honesty, courage, and common sense. Whether in a political advertisement or a staged “photo-opportunity,” politicians, policies and events are packaged to represent the good intentions and skills of those who propose to lead us. In fact, all advertising is built around the creation of an image which can be understood as both a picture of something and an ideal representing some personal or social good thing: This or that politician tells the truth and is on your side. This product will make you beautiful and popular, the envy of everyone else. In fact, contemporary advertising often equates democratic ideals about the freedom to vote and express opinion with the consumer’s choices about the quality, price and benefits of competing products. To be free is to make choices about the relative merits of products and leaders, life styles and laws.

The following activities incorporate the analysis of images and their accompanying text as used in print advertisements, the design of an advertising campaign for a commonplace object, and the invention of a fictitious political candidate and the development of his or her campaign theme, image, and logo, etc. The activities are not sequential and can be addressed individually.

Learning Objectives
Students will:

  • Analyze images using several perspectives or entry points
  • Create images and develop accompanying texts that support a specific purpose or function
  • Assess the effectiveness of collected images and those of their own creation

Estimated Time
Homework; 1 classroom period


  • Advertisement collected from magazines
  • Drawing materials and paper
  • Access to photocopier
  • Tape

Grades 9-12

National Standards for Arts Education

  • Using knowledge of structures and functions.
  • Students demonstrate the ability to form and defend judgments about the characteristics and structures to accomplish commercial, personal, communal, or other purposes of art.
  • Making connections between visual arts and other disciplines.
  • Students compare the materials, technologies, media, and processes of the visual arts with those of other arts disciplines as they are used in creation and other types of analysis.


View images of Persian reliefs, the tomb of Philip of Macedon, and Augustus included in the Gallery, and discuss how they reflect the ideas described above and relate to contemporary advertising. (See Image Galleries)

Classroom Activities

    Have students bring magazine advertisements to class. Discuss the basic elements in an advertisement: picture, captions, description, logos, intended audience. How does the advertisement makes its case? What does it ask the viewer or consumer to believe or care about? What words does the advertisement use, how do they explain or emphasize the picture and vice versa? After this discussion, have students describe the design and messages in their ads.

    While a material like gold used in ancient sculpture was both scarce and beautiful, products that advertising asks us to buy are not always hard to find or unusual. Sometimes they are not even things we really need. It is advertising’s goal to get us to believe in their value as things we might enjoy and need to have. Divide the class into groups, and assign each an everyday object, i.e. a spoon, toothbrush, rubber duck, pencil. The goal of each group is to create an ad campaign that will present their common object as something--whether rare, essential, glamorous or magical--that will change the lives of those that own it.

    What would you say about a political candidate to make him or her seem important, honest, intelligent, practical, brave, on your side? Divide the class into groups and assign each an ideal candidate represented by a photograph from a book or magazine. Each group should then name the candidate, and his or her party, and then imagine a campaign theme with ideas, slogans and a representative picture or logo. What does the politician promise and how will he or she accomplish their goals?

    Once they have developed their approach, each student group should create two campaign posters: One picturing the candidate and campaign slogan, the other presenting his or her ideas. These should be photocopied and posted around school. Have students ask others at school for their response and then discuss in class the overall success or failure of the campaigns.

    Student may wish to view again the images of Augustus included in the Gallery, noting how his image was developed and refined.

Online Resources

About the Authors

Toby Tannenbaum is currently the Director of Education, at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. She was previously Associate Director of Education at The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (MOCA). Tannenbaum has served as part-time faculty in the School of Critical Studies, California Institute of the Arts, as adjunct faculty in the School of Fine Arts and the School of Education at the University of Southern California, and as an assistant professor of art education at California State University, Los Angeles.

Paul Zelevansky is an artist and writer living in Los Angeles. He has published widely on the use of text and image, web art, popular culture and educational and aesthetic theory and has taught at several schools in the Los Angeles area on visual culture, artists books, design and art history. His website is a collection of flash animation loops which explore language, philosophy, and storytelling.