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Hi Heather, and thanks for the excellent question. There are several reasons why I personally feel a work of art would be "better" than an advert:
In my eyes, "better" would be defined as "thought-provoking". We've spent some time here discussing the merits of a blank sheet in place of an advertising hording. However the original idea of ANA was to stimulate people's minds by replacing intrusive advertising. Adverts aren't primarily intended to stimulate the little grey cells. Some do, of course, but that's always secondary to their main motivation: to get you to spend your money with the sponsor.
All adverts have this as their driving motivation. The message is repetitive, even given the frequent ingenuity of advertisers: BUY OUR PRODUCT, repeated ad nauseam. This doesn't seem to be a "view" or an "idea". Very little advertising - if any - is there to sell a new perspective. It's there to sell a product. And it certainly isn't there to benefit the public, it's there to benefit the private concern that funds it.
A work of art, on the other hand, is more often than not an attempt to present a point of view, an idea. It is there to stimulate and provoke. You are welcome to love it or loathe it, to talk about it, to find it beautiful or disgusting. Any reaction is fine, and you don't have to spend a single penny.
You're not being told what to think, you're being asked what you think.
Any comments or questions, please post them here or to firstname.lastname@example.org
I'll be posting a few thoughts on related matters at the ANA blog:
www.ArtNotAds.com/blog/Austin Plunkett, 15 years ago.