This tweet popped up in my Stellar feed last night. It's interesting and provocative. Provocative enough to make me wonder when the last time was when a generation got more non-advertising images than ad based ones. Best I can figure it was sometime in the middle ages - when most people got their images in church.
Obviously, this is a total reckon based on some wild assumptions (we're talking about 'the west', advertisments includes movie trailers and retail signage but not packaging, 'images' isn't just the real world, it implies some sort of reproduction.)
Working backwards - TV has always been ad-dominated (except for some occasional enlightened outposts of public broadcasting), radio doesn't have images, magazine and newspapers - always been full of ads, books - varies - sometimes ads, sometimes not. Cities have always been full of ads and signage - it's just we forget that because the old ones either disappear or look lovely when they're faded so we don't think of them as ads. The countryside - no ads, but no other images. Postcards - some ads, probably not the majority, cigarette cards - mostly ads, flyers/pamphlets - lots of ads. Have I missed anything? Probably.
That leaves - as potential sources of images - museums, art galleries and churches. I suspect, as mass phenomenon, they don't outweigh the impact of lots of ads.
So - for as long as there's been a lot of images around, for most people to see - the age of mechanical reproduction - most of the images have been ads.
There has never been a golden age when a generation of lucky people have been wondering around looking at lovely images uninterrupted by commercial intent.
If we're lucky that's something we could build. We could invent that. But this is why it's a hard thing to invent - it's never existed before.