This is Your Brain on Art

Antidrug crusaders probably made their biggest mass-media splash with their famous television advertisement comparing a cooked egg to a brain fried by drugs, ending with a deadpan voice asking, "Any questions?" Now, a campaign sponsored in part by White House "Drug Czar" Barry R. McCaffrey's Office of National Drug Control Policy emphasizes that parental supervision of young teens--which McCaffrey's office is calling the "antidrug"--can counter the lure of illegal drugs. The new ad series suggests parents help keep their kids off drugs by taking them to activities like soccer games, picnics, movies, aquariums ... and museums.

We're all for preventing drug use among children. But have the ad execs the Drug Czar hired really thought this one through? "Attention parents," reads one ad. "Taking your kid to a museum prevents drug use." Museums are great places for young minds. But are they really such great advertisements for teetotaling and sobriety? Vincent Van Gogh (absinthe drinker), Jackson Pollock (notorious alcoholic), Andy Warhol (who knows)--you get the idea. Many great artists were "great drinkers. They drank like fish, and drugs came in the 1950s," says Columbia University Art History Professor Arthur Danto.

And given that the ad is part of a massive campaign for which Congress approved $195 million, did the ad creators think about the reaction of members of Congress who have tried to slash public funding for the arts? The director of the National Youth Antidrug Media Campaign, Alan Levitt, declined to comment on the relationship between the ad and arts funding. Shona Seifert, who coordinates the cam-paign at the Ogilvy & Mather ad agency, which helped conceive the ad, said its creators never really doubted the benefits of museums. "I can't say we had a long discussion about if museums were wholesome," she said. "We think museums could be extremely educational for families."

So the "antidrug" museum advertisement may end up using public funds to promote art that members of Congress have attacked as decadent, and artists who were notorious substance abusers. Any questions?