Commercial Art, artwork in a variety of forms created to foster the sale of a product, service, or idea. Commercial art is used in many fields, such as advertising, packaging, publishing, cinema, television, and fashion, textile, interior, and industrial design. Commercial artists use painting, drawing, calligraphy, photography, typography, and most graphic-arts techniques. Their work is often reproduced in print, and many commercial artists are trained in printing techniques.
Commercial art is as old as recorded history; signs and painted walls that advertised shops and inns, for example, have been unearthed in the ancient Roman cities of Herculaneum and Pompeii. In the centuries before the development of printing, the vast majority of the public could not read; hence, unmistakable images were created to indicate the nature of the services offered. For example, a pig in effigy adorned a pork butcher’s shop, and three gilded balls (derived from the escutcheon of the Florentine Medici banking family) denoted a pawnbroker. As commerce increased under the stimulus of the Industrial Revolution in the late 18th and 19th centuries, commercial art followed suit, especially in printed matter. Advertising illustration in copperplate and wood engraving appeared on coach posters, tradesmen’s cards, flyers, and newspaper advertisements. The constant developments and improvements in lithography and photoengraving produced a flood of advertising—calendars, billboard posters, and catalogues. Late in the 19th century, improved colour reproduction and other advances increased the importance of commercial art and raised its standards. Advertising posters achieved the status of fine art at the hands of such art nouveau artists as Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec and Alphonse Mucha.
In the 20th century, commercial art proliferated at an enormous rate. Specialists emerged in all fields; advertising agencies were established, offering an infinite variety of commercial art services. The results range from high art to unrelieved vulgarity. In industrial design and the graphic arts, however, commercial art has had its finest accomplishments in bringing the outstanding design to the attention of the public. In fact, in the last half of the 20th century, commercial art has not followed established styles as in the past, but rather has often created and popularized new styles.