FRAMING -- calling attention to itself

-- Bill Blass ad. The frame around the chair pulls the viewer to look into the frame. Notice that the chair inside the frame has blue sky inside it, and as the eye is drawn further into the picture we see the jacket on the chair, and the window on the fabric of the chair. Now, if one looks at the window, the eye is drawn through the window by the blue sky and clouds. It's really amazing when you realize the depth. It's as if Blass is saying, "I can take you beyond your thoughts and beyond the flat surface of consumption and advertising."

If we look as closely at the detail on the jacket we also see an image of a flattened interior space. Within this interior is a chair (probably not unlike the one on which the coat hangs) and off and up a bit to the right on the black wall of the interior is a window framed by a filmy gossamer curtain. And what is outside of that window? Why it is the same blue sky duplicating the background of our living piece of art. Frame upon frame upon frame. At what depth does reality lie? (Yup you could interpret that two ways -- "end" or "tell falsehood").

The art frame motif has been used before. We all recognize the significance of a thick ornate frame. Such a technique can be seen each week during the opening credits of In Living Color, the Keenan Ivory Wayans show on Fox. Yet this frame is at a slant. This isn't just any piece of art. This one you could step into as it steps out to you. This is exalted to the realm of art and the surreal, and yet attainable by you. Express the obscurity of life and make your friends think you are uncommonly deep.

This is a dramatic use of framing in ads -- dramatic because it calls attention to the framing device itself, making it part of the advertising narrative. Within the metastructural frame of the ad (determined by the borders of the page) is the large painting frame within which the jacket frames an even smaller frame. What is interesting about this ad is its explicit use of the actual picture frame as a border. This is deceiving in part because we are not likely to see advertisers using this literal picture frame device, as it diverts our attention away from advertisings characteristic use of frames (as we discuss them here). This ad reveals some of the roles frames are given and how they function in ads.

A frame limits and bounds meanings to that which it frames and the jacket becomes a piece of art by its mere presence within a picture frame. The picture frame without the logo/mortise of Bill Blass carries the meaning of "Art," but Bill Blass alone on a page would not so meaningful as a signifier of fine clothes. Through the framing of meanings, Bill Blass constructs its desired attitude. In this case, the ad crafts an attitude defined by a self-reflexive awareness of frames.

Typically, ad frames (like those in this Aspen ad) are presumed to be perfectly transparent and natural. Frames exist in every ad, but the Bill Blass ad is different in its self-reflexivity about the canons of framing. A picture frame whose subject matter gets outside the limits of its own framing. This must be a splendid subject indeed.

The real effect of framing is the fact that borders confine and delimit in order to direct meanings. By having the leg extend out of the picture frame, Bill Blass can claim to stand out from the crowd, always willing to violate convention for the same of artistic expression. And yet the frame of the magazine page and the magazine itself confines the whole image to the very advertising world of derived and contrived meanings that this ad seeks to distance itself from -- an, oh-so-vulgar commodity culture reduced to little more than frames and formulas.

ARJAN, edited with COMMENTS FROM PACER FORUM on Bill Blass