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Video clip synopsis – Powered by a funding boiler, the current Art Machine features a critic unit, pop tube and entertainment cylinder.
Year of production - 2002
Duration - 5min 0sec
Tags - animation, art, artists, machines, politics, satire, see all tags


The Art Machine

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About the Video Clip


The Art Machine is an episode of the series Human Contraptions (10 × 5 mins) produced in 2002.

Academy Award winning animator Bruce Petty takes a satirical look at the “contraptions” that shape our lives. Education, sex, finance, globalism, art, media, medicine, law, government and even the brain are transformed by Petty into evolving machines. Beginning with a simple concept, he takes us on an anarchic journey through history as each apparatus builds to its complex contemporary form. In the wry, ironic style that is his hallmark, Petty reveals these to be contraptions of a very human kind – imperfect, sometimes unpredictable and always subject to change. A witty, provocative and entertaining series, narrated by Andrew Denton.

A Film Australia National Interest Program. Produced with the assistance of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Curriculum Focus


Students observe, research and critically discuss a range of contemporary, traditional, stylistic, historical and cultural examples of artworks. They analyse, interpret, compare and evaluate the stylistic, technical, expressive and aesthetic features of artworks created by a range of artists and made in particular times and cultural contexts. They use appropriate arts language and, in the artworks they are exploring and responding to, refer to specific examples. They comment on the impact of artworks, forms and practices on other artworks and society in general.

This material is an extract. Teachers and Students should consult the Victoria Curriculum and Assessment Authority website for more information.

Background Information


Academy Award winning animator and political cartoonist Bruce Petty says that ”caricature is a device by which we hope to make complex ideas (at least) accessible, (occasionally) witty and (sometimes) informative”.

His professional life has always been about finding those gaps and niches and trying to fill them in. He explains the challenge in creating the Human Contraptions series in this way: “I wanted Human Contraptions to be a cheerful reminder that as our cars, videos and toasters get smarter and cheaper, the institutions we really need are getting more expensive and unreliable, and are starting to rattle. I hope viewers recognise some of our more bizarre organisational devices and enjoy the general irreverence.

There is a critical thread to all episodes in the series, but the main aim was to take an impressionistic, shorthand, comic look at over-worked, serious subjects. The series is based on general suspicions people have about the institutions we live in. These bodies are old or biased, often politically disfigured and under-funded – they are familiar targets. Representing them as machines at least suggests they are man-made, they wear out and can be fixed even as they do determine how we live.

The series offered a chance to check the workings of these “contraptions”. Institutions such as the arts carry our “trust” – we are expected to believe in them. We are persuaded that they are self-correcting and that the corrections are properly and democratically monitored.”

Many people are now beginning to suspect that this is not so.

The satirical, witty narration suggests double-meanings while sound effects and music are also important ironic components.

The Art Machine
The first time a human did something not work related, minds opened and imaginations soared. Attracted by the lack of effort art required, soon everybody was trying to do it so a serious French philosophy team was installed to decide what the art contraption was really supposed to do. Finally, business stepped in and now anything, properly marketed, can be art for fifteen minutes.

Classroom Activities


After viewing the film:

  1. Identify the persuasive techniques that Bruce Petty has used in his film.
    1. What issue is this cartoon about?
    2. What do you think his opinion is on this issue?
    3. What other opinion can you imagine another person may have on this issue?
    4. Did you find this film persuasive? Why or why not?
    5. What other techniques could the cartoonist used to make it more persuasive?
  2. Describe the following:
    1. Are any of the images being used as a symbol to stand for a larger concept or idea? If so, what is the meaning of the symbol?
    2. Are there any images of famous places, famous people or famous images? If not, what images are present?
    3. Does the writer label anything in the cartoon? If so, what is the importance of the label?
    4. How is the cartoonist using any other artistic techniques (irony or exaggeration) to express his opinion on the issue?
    5. What message is Petty trying to convey in this cartoon?
    6. What evidence in the cartoon supports this message?
  3. Collect and explore a range of different cartoonists’ works from the print media. Look at their different drawing styles and approaches. Try to uncover meanings in the various works, either as an individual, small group or as a class.

Further Resources


Go to The Age for a profile of Bruce Petty

Go to to find out more about Bruce Petty

Go to The Age for a colour slide show of various Australia cartoonists presented by The Age.

Cagle, D, The Best Political Cartoons of the Year 2007, Macmillan Computer Pub, 2006.

Petty, B, The Absurd Machine: A Cartoon History of the World, Penguin, Ringwood, Harmondsworth, New York, Toronto and Auckland, 1997.