Image. One of the most often used words nowadays still has a vague significance for many of us. Maybe because we hear it every day in politics, economy, music, but also in less important fields like cooking contests, x factors or football.
In order to search for the original use we all know that we should check art history.
And – this is my aim here – in order to trace the real roots of the concept our path should go towards history of philosophy. Image is an ancient invention, like democracy, astronomy or philosophy itself. It comes from Greece. Plato is the highest authority in this matter, as his philosophy relies heavily on the idea of appearance.
In order to establish a clear idea about the concept of image in philosophy, I will try to investigate a line of thought emerging from Plato and Aristotle and followed – later – by Kant.
One of the most well-known of Aristotle’s’ ideas is that a thing, in order to exist, must be a combination of Matter and Form. A chair exists because it is made of wood, that is its Matter, and it exists as a chair and not something else because it has incorporated the Form of a chair. A Form, that is to say its essence.
Things exist because of their essences. There is an essence for horse, passion, MTV, camembert and Arsenal London. And, of course, for chair.
In addition to what Plato and Aristotle stated about image, Kant thought that in order to draw a chair, you must visualize its essence. He also thought that human mind possesses an intuition that enables it to see the essence of the chair. This intuition is the image of the chair. It is the idea that a sculptor would follow in order to create an art-chair. It is also the idea that the painter Raphael was speaking about in his letters about painting a Madonna.
The point I’m trying to make is that in order to create a solution for a brief in advertising you must somehow establish contact with the essence of the thing. You shouldn’t get to have knowledge of it, because you would be than a philosopher, but you should still use artistic thinking as your guide.
Of course, this intuition may be – as usually all intuitions are – vague. Art is concerned with Forms. But advertising, as Roland Barthes put it, is about intention. When it comes to intention, you are not an artist anymore, you are an advertiser. An artist is concerned with Forms. Art is not intention. Intention is Madonna, but the form is Grace. So advertisers use different images than artists do, while the essence remains the same.
This essence may have nothing to do with the contour of the chair. I once worked for a tea producer in order to define his brand. We started brainstorming different ideas and incidentally came up with “grandma”. Following this concept, we made some layouts that stressed visuals suggesting “a visit to grandma”. And the fun part in advertising is that once the starting intuition is right, the brand becomes popular, because ads verbalize some ineffable knowledge we have. How many times, reading a novel, have you not imagined the action taking place in your own neighborhood?
And how many times, tasting a good cup of tea, have you not said: “Mm. This reminds me of my grandmother.”…