From The Toronto Star Jan. 10, 2006.
Anti-advertising campaigners, offended by what they describe as a growing infestation of placards in Toronto buses and subways, want all the ads replaced with art.
In a clear case of wishful thinking, they argue commuters would accept a fare hike for the sake of culture.
Riders may have to swallow a fare increase, in any case, given the Toronto Transit Commission’s projected shortfall of $66 million and the budget crisis confronting all city operations. Under these circumstances, asking the public to pay to have ads replaced by children’s art, or have buses decorated in psychedelic hues, is blatantly unrealistic.
And even if the TTC could afford it, such a change might not be desirable in some cases. Members of the non-profit Toronto Public Space Committee insist that banning ads on the TTC, and tapping commuters for the lost revenue, would add only 4 cents to the cost of a ride. Pennies add up, however. The total bill for the riding public would amount to $13.5 million each year. But more than dollars are at issue in the group’s call to turn TTC vehicles and stations into "North America’s largest indoor art gallery."
The public space committee’s proposed ad ban is also open to challenge on cultural grounds. Some modern art is harder to bear than advertising copy. The artistic avant-garde often aims to break with tradition and shock complacent society. Commuters may not want to endure that every day. But if transit art pulls back, and plays it safe with displays of children’s daubings, does it truly advance the cause of culture?
Moreover, an element of "advertising" is evident even in revered masterpieces, such as Raphael’s Madonna of Foligno. Commissioned by the wealthy and powerful Sigismondo de’ Conti, and destined for the high altar of a church in Rome, the painting depicts the Virgin and Child and assorted saints — with none more prominent than Sigismondo himself, shown in the foreground.
Conversely, pieces of advertising are being increasingly recognized as art. One much-reproduced example would be Henri Toulouse-Lautrec’s bold poster publicizing the Moulin Rouge dance hall. In short, art is sometimes advertising, and advertising is sometimes art. It seems absurd to allow one but not the other to grace the walls of Toronto bus shelters and subway stations.