Dr. Manash Pratim Goswami

Associate Professor, Dept. of Media and Communication, Central University of Tamil Nadu
([email protected])

Dr. Soubhagya Ranjan Padhi

Professor, Dept. of Sociology & Social Anthropology, Indira Gandhi National Tribal University
([email protected])


Although art and advertising are ideologically distant apart, yet they share a close and entwined relationship. Art imitates life and advertising imitates art to persuade. Advertising connects diverse and disconnected pieces of art to create semantic meaning in a message. The magic of an image with dots and lines can create powerful impact in an advertising message with a potential to influence people. The idea of appropriation of art or elements of art have been in practice for a long time. Advertising campaigns often re-contextualise popular imageries to influence people. The re-contextualization and representation of art, culture, motifs, patterns and designs of painting often help communicating advertising message effectively and lucidly. The current study focuses on investigating the appropriation of cultural characteristics and elements of folk-art and paintings to re-contextualise the creative expression of artists to communicate advertising messages. The study makes a qualitative analysis of ‘GE Works’- the advertising campaign of General Electric (GE) launched a decade ago, which recontextualised and represented four distinct and colourful Indian folk-art forms.

Keywords : Appropriation, Recontextualization, Representation, Folk-art and Painting, Advertising.


Art and advertising, although separated by ideological notions, share a close and intertwined relationship. Art is a commentary presented to be appreciated for its beauty or emotional power (Oxford University Press, n.d.) and advertising persuades, influences and convinces the individual for something. If art imitates life, advertising imitates art to persuade and influence people. Art creates emotional response in audience. Advertising puts together the diverse and disconnected pieces of art to create semantic meaning in a message. Art, as integral part of advertising, acts as an inspiration. It also helps in the execution of the persuasion process through advertisements. Harnessing the influence of various forms of art, advertising can unite people together in thoughts and passions. But unlike art, advertising is not meant to be open to interpretation; it is intended to have a clear message that generates a specific outcome (Art in the age of advertising, n.d.). There are several examples of advertising campaigns that blend with folk performing art. However, the instances of advertising messages conceived and prepared with appropriation, re-contextualization and representation with folk paintings are minimal.

Until the 20th century, when fine art closed the gap between art and advertising, the relationship between art and advertising was often portrayed as antagonistic and even exploitative. With the passing of time, the images of dot, lines and hues of paintings have caused magic through advertisement. While the words can act just as poetry or a musical lyric that pulls at our heartstrings, the images hit us instantaneously before we even have a chance to process the strategic prose written on any ad (Margolin, 2018).

The concept and practice of art in advertising is often viewed as contradicting and opposing each other. But in reality, both can co-exist and mutually benefit each other. They contribute to the formation of attitudes, the acquisition of knowledge, and the adoption of aesthetic values and beliefs (Duncum, 2002). Although the subject of art and advertising are two different worlds, the creative and marketing strategists have successfully integrated them together for commercial gains and benefits.

Advertising, being a means of visual communication, can present a message in explicit manner. While persuading and influencing people, advertisement often transfers the value associated with creative manifestation of painting to the advertising message of product or service. In contemporary culture, advertisements make up some of the public’s most salient visual experiences (Goldman & Papson, 1996).

Scholarly discussions on the subject of collaboration between advertising and art has been limited in the past. One of the possible reasons could be due to the fact that both have distinctly different audience. Art critics have contended that, in comparison with fine art, advertising is ephemeral further, that featuring works of art in a commercial context spoils the pure nature of art (Efrat, 1976).

In regards to the role of an advertisement creating a new semantic meaning, the disconnection between the advertised product or service and the visual illustration is made up by audience’s knowledge and beforehand or else the advertisement may fail to convey the intended message.

The practice of the appropriation of art in advertising is nothing new. There are ample examples of creative works of advertising campaigns being borrowed or appropriated from previously existing images or artwork. The term ‘appropriation’ denotes usually the practice of using pre-existing objects or images in an artwork without altering the originals. Appropriation refers to the act of borrowing or reusing existing elements within a new work (Rowe, 2011). The act of ‘appropriation of art’ includes borrowing imagery or reusing elements of image in new way. The deliberate ‘borrowing’ of an image or elements of an image and moulding it for a new context is a process of ‘re-contextualization’. Several post-modern artists remarked borrowing of existing imagery or elements of imagery lead to appropriating and re-contextualising the original imagery or its elements. They believe that the act of appropriation allows viewers to renegotiate the meaning of the original more appropriate, timely or relevant to current framework. A strategy that has been used by artists for millennia, it took on new significance in the mid-20th century with the rise of consumerism and the proliferation of images through mass media outlets from magazines to television (MoMA Learning, n.d.)

The art in the advertising makes sense only when audience draws some meaning from the joining of the two. Hence, to make a successful advertisement with the use of art, marketing strategists often apply creative skills and techniques for the right and meaningful appropriation of art.

Marcel Duchamp, a renowned French-American painter, sculptor and writer, broke the boundaries between works of art and objects of everyday life. His irreverence for conventional aesthetic standards led him to devise his famous ‘ready-mades’ and heralded an artistic revolution (Lebel, 2019). He theoretically legitimised the common art practice of appropriation that was approved later by post-modern theory of cultural studies. “Appropriation can only be understood as a set of historical reactions to the determining events of social, industrial, and political modernity; that its shadow is cast well beyond Duchamp and the ready-made….” (Welchman, 2001)

Duchamp’s theory of ‘readymade’ is more than just picking anything random. He described every object that he liked with his theory of ‘readymade’. He said that he did deliberately choose ordinary, functional and ‘rather dull’ objects. He claimed to have picked ordinary objects“..…based on a reaction of visual indifference, with at the same time a total absence of good or bad taste”. (Duchamp as quoted in The Art of Assemblage: A Symposium, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, October 19, 1961).

The appropriation of art for advertising has a history of several success stories. The advertisers and marketers use appropriated imagery to make a connection with audiences (McCartney, 2020). The act of appropriating imagery or elements of an image for advertising message helps the advertiser to provide audience a reference. The appropriation of fine art in advertisement in particular can have an effective advantage in selling the product for the company through the use of the prestige effect if the artwork is instantaneously recognizable and the product being sold has an understandable connection to the art piece (Garcia, n.d.)

The marketing strategist, designer and advertiser want the viewers to identify the image or image elements they borrowed. The advertiser expects that the viewers will remember the original image or the elements of the image to the new context as portrayed in the advertisement. It can be said that today advertisers look to the art world as a constant reference just like they did in the past, when it was a common practice in the advertising industry to commission recognized artists for the creation of pieces (Walzer, 2010). It supports people to understand the advertising message with ease.

Cultural appropriation-the adoption of an element or elements of a culture, has been part of recontextualisation or reappropriation of art for preparing creatives in advertising. The concept and practice of cultural appropriation is quite diverse. It involves adopting cultural products of one culture by another. This form of appropriation is related to stylistic appropriation of art. Sometimes artists are influenced by the art of a culture other than their own without creating works in the same style (Young and Brunk, 2012).

The cultural appropriations of motif, pattern or design of painting are often visible in advertising. However, the folk paintings featuring in Indian advertising campaigns are minimal. The soft drink giant Coke in its ‘Come home on Deepawali’ experimented with the re-contextualization and representation of ‘Warli’ art for its highly visible campaign in 2010. The advertising campaign ‘GE Works’ of General Electric (GE), conceived and prepared by advertising agency BBDO, delivered its messages with a few Indian folk paintings in 2012.

This research paper makes an attempt to study the representation and re-contextualization of traditional Indian folk paintings to convey the selling idea of the advertising message. The objectives of the paper include the following:

(a)  To understand the appropriation of cultural and design elements of folk paintings in advertisement.

(b)  To study the re-contextualization of folk art to communicate the advertising message.

(c)  To examine the relationship between traditional folk painting and advertising message.

‘GE Works’- the advertising campaign of General Electric (GE) launched nearly a decade ago while blending advertising message with Indian folk art, has been chosen to meet the objectives of the present study.

The technique of ‘purposive sampling’ has been selected for the study. The study is based on qualitative analysis of the advertising campaign of General Electric (GE) launched a decade ago, which was blended with four distinct and colourful Indian folk-art forms. With ‘GE Works’ as a case, the study attempts to analyse appropriation of culture, tradition and elements of folk paintings such subject, object, colour, motif, pattern, design, etc. to re-contextualise the Indian folk art to communicate the advertising messages.

GE Works campaign


Assorted Madhubani art

Source: pinterest.com, en.wikipedia.org & culturalindia.net

General Electric (GE), an American multinational conglomerate incorporated in New York City, offers services and manufacture products in diverse sectors. The majority of GE’s businesses namely aircraft engines, broadcasting, capital services, lighting, health care, industrial systems, plastics, power systems and transportation systems, have strong presence in India. Despite GE’s century old legacy in India, its enduring presence and efforts to touch the hearts of millions of Indians with their works are less known to majority of the Indians.

The global positioning of ‘GE Works’ for the brand was first conceived and launched in the United States to showcase how the technology and employees of the company work in tandem to impact the lives of people, customers, communities and the world in positive ways. In fact, India was the first country after the US, where the campaign of ‘GE Works’ was launched, which reflects the importance of Indian market for the company. As a part of General Electric’s worldwide campaign ‘GE Works’, it conceived and launched a campaign in India in association with Indian office of World’s leading advertising agency Batten, Barton, Durtine & Osborn (BBDO). GE’s focus on developing localised products and solutions was the key behind co-creating the brand’s message using Indian folk art for the campaign.

The core concept of the campaign was to depict GE’s contribution to ‘change’ the ecosystem. The main objective of the campaign was to help craft in print advertisement the different ways that GE has brought changes in the lives of Indians. The agency prepared eye captivating campaign of ‘change’ in ecosystem while reconceptualising, re-contextualising and representing the idea with traditional Indian folk paintings- Patchwork art, Saura painting, Madhubani painting and Kalamkari painting. Each form of these painting was aligned to depict the four major GE’s business attributes- ‘Curing, Moving, Powering and Building’ to improve the quality of life in the country.

Madhubani art and GE Works


Madhubani painting in GE Works

Madhubani painting, also known as Mithila painting, is a traditional folk painting of Mithila region of Bihar. The artists of the painting use fingers, twigs, brushes, nib-pens and matchsticks with natural dyes and pigments for colourful and creative expression of lives during birth or marriage and festivals such as Holi, Diwali, Kali Puja, Durga Puja, Upanayana, etc.

In the campaign of GE Works, the effort of the multinational giant to break down the barriers of cost, quality and access to healthcare and the invention to make life healthier, safe and more productive was re-contextualised by the cultural expressions and elements of Madhubani paintings. The painting depicts how GE healthcare has been working dedicatedly towards saving the lives of millions of new born babies through technologies like Lullaby Warmer. The artwork reflects how Lullaby Warmer help to keep premature babies warm during few initial critical moments of life.


Assorted Saura art

Source: ribesindia.com, flipkart.com & artsofthe earthindia.in

Like the traditional Madhubani painting, which is painted to decorate the freshly plastered mud walls and floors of huts, the artwork of the campaign re-contextualises the cultural and creative elements of the paining to convey the message of GE’s efforts towards better healthcare for mankind. While representation of the core idea of ‘Curing’, the traditional geometrical shape and patterns such as tringle, squares and circles with motifs of flowers, birds, human, sun, tree and leaves were made the part of the painting used for GE print campaign. The colours of

traditional Madhubani painting – pink, yellow, green, lemon, blue, black and deep red; and with the characteristic feature of leaving no space empty and blank, helped in relating the idea of the advertising campaign with the folk painting of Bihar. The headline and body copy have been presented with traditional and distinctive colours of Madhubani painting to enhance the context and concept.

Saura art and GE Works


Saura painting in GE Works

The Saura painting, a tribal painting associated with the culture of Sauda tribes of Odisha, has religious significance. The paintings of the tribe have lot of similarities with Warli tribal paintings of Maharashtra. Even though, both Warli and Saura painters use geometrical shapes, they differ in their style and treatment of subjects. These paintings of Sauda tribes usually made on walls, traditionally known as italons or ikons (or ekons) are dedicated to the main deity of the tribe called Idital (also edital).


Assorted Patchwork art

Source: pinterest.com delhievents.com thesoftcopy.in

The global giant GE chose these paintings, based on the tribal folklore and sacred subjects to showcase the GE90-115B engine fitted to an aircraft. The features such as safe, comfortable and smooth travel experience and efficient transport facility of the GE’s aircraft engine have been appropriated with cultural and artistic elements of Saura painting to present GE’s core idea of ‘Moving.’ The advertisement with facets of happy lives of people in natural surroundings, the plane and motifs filled with white colours and sporadic use of yellow colours is a beautiful example of appropriation of art, motif, culture for the advertising message. The text in the form of headline and body copy in the distinctive shades of Saura painting help in re-contextualization of the culture of the tribe to communicate the advertising message.

Patchwork art and GE Works


Assorted Kalamkari art

Source: pixels.com, alibaba.com & wovensouls.com



Patchwork art painting in GE Works

GE’s idea of ‘Powering’ is represented with Patchwork art or ‘pieced work’. This is a popular Indian artwork usually made with repeating patterns and built up with different shape of fabric or colours. Probably, this art form is derived from stitching blanket or quilt using small pieces of cloth. The Lambadi tribe or the Banjara tribe of Andhra, Telangana and Karnataka, who are known as nomadic tribe, who may have originated from Afghanistan or Marwar region of Rajasthan, are known for their beautiful patchwork of sewing blanket or painting with patterns of patchwork. With the help of the carefully measured and cut pieces in geometrical shapes, GE’s core idea of ‘Powering’ is depicted with traditional patchwork of India. GE’s expertise in designing and building wind turbines as reflected through contextualisation of the elements of the artwork articulated the advertising message with precision. In fact, the small story of lighting a bulb in a remote village that helps a little girl study in her house as depicted with the characteristic colours, fabric shapes and patterns of Patchwork help in re-contextualization of the traditional art to communicate the core idea of GE’s campaign. The headline and body copy additionally help to highlight the advertising message.

Kalamkari art and GE Works


Kalamkari art in GE’s campaign

The term Kalamkari consists of two words – ‘kalam and ‘kari’, where ‘kalam’ means pen and ‘kari’ refers to craftmanship. The painters of Kalamkari art create magic by narrating the legendary tales inspired from the folklore, scriptures and sacred texts with pen and natural colours. This traditional style of painting is believed to be born out of the tradition of storytelling. The stories and characters of epics such as Ramayana and Mahabharata get special importance in Kalamkari art. This folk art of nearly 3000 years old has originated from Machilipatnam and Chittor of Indian state of Andhra Pradesh.

General Electric (GE) re-contextualised the traditional art of pen and natural dyes to communicate the core idea of ‘Building’. The colours, motifs and design patterns of a traditional Kalamkari painting smoothly appropriate the visual depiction of GE’s efforts to build financial services, creating jobs and empowering business through GE Capital. The presentation of traditional motifs-peacocks, trees, flowers, paisleys, horses, men and women in ancient outfits with precision and selection of colours help in re-contextualising and representing the advertising message with the paintings’ basic aesthetic essence. The painting with a group of women welcoming a king on chariot, currency notes flying on air, peacock on tree, chimney of industry, buildings, etc. in green, black and golden yellow colour has a blend of traditional essence with modernity.  The text message-headline and body copy effectively explains the visual message in short.

The analysis and interpretation of the ‘GE Works’ paintings, with core ideas of ‘GE Works’ i.e. ‘Curing’, ‘Moving’, ‘Powering’ and ‘Building’ suggest that the campaign was a significant milestone in Indian advertising history for its courageous attempt to recontextualise and represent folk paintings to communicate the message of the campaign successfully.


The concept and practice of the appropriation of folk art in advertising have not been tried much in India. However, the success of ‘GE Works’ campaign prepared with recontextualisation of Indian folk art and paintings establishes the fact that appropriation of folk art can penetrate through the emotional chords of people with ease.

The cultural appropriation of imageries, subjects, characters, narratives, objects, motifs, patterns, colours of Indian folk paintings in ‘GE Works’ made the campaign more of an array of beautiful traditional folk paintings than advertisements. The case study and analysis of GE campaign suggest that basic essence of the folk-art and paintings in the series of print advertisements of the multinational company helped to communicate its contributions to the betterment of the lives of Indians and the growth of the country effectively.

The present study of recontextualisation and representation of folk-art carried out in the light of ‘GE Works’ campaign enabled to establish the fact that appropriation of folk art can communicate advertising message with success if strategically integrated. The factors like popularity of the art form, prevalent narratives, characteristic colours, characters, motifs, pattern and design appropriated for the advertisement play crucial roles in the success of such attempts.

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About Drishti: the Sight

Drishti:the Sight is a National refereed Bi-annual Research Journal in the disciplines of Arts and Humanities founded in the year 2012 publishing articles in the subjects of English Literature, Assamese Literature, Folklore, Culture.The journal has been enlisted in the UGC-CARE list (Sr.No. 42) in Arts and Humanities section.The journal is dedicated to the cause of young upcoming scholars of the nation.The journal publishes only authentic research articles. It tries to follow the research ethics to the core.