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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 create and make artworks that explore ideas, issues, concepts and themes. Artworks should reflect sensitivity, commitment and an understanding of aesthetic consideration. Students should demonstrate technical and structural elements in an imaginative, skilful and coherent way to make artworks. Students record their working processes and document the development and presentation of their artworks.

Please refer to the Curriculum and Assessment Authority in your State or Territory for Study Guides and learning standards.

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

  1. Start up drawings
    1. Students produce some quick contour drawings. Do not limit your drawings to pencil: try everything and anything; pen and ink; ink and a twig from a tree; charcoal; crayons; crayons, watercolour brush and ink; paper with different textures; or other combinations that may not have been used before. These drawings are best done from observation e.g. figures. The main purpose is to create spontaneity in your art works.
    2. Students experiment with movement. Have a classroom model change position every few minutes for four or five poses, while students continue on the same drawing, on the same paper. Students should keep the drawing tool on the paper at all times.
      Go to karmatoons for basic instructions in drawing animation and the animation process.
  2. Creating a political cartoon around an issue
    1. Students in consultation with teacher choose a topic for their cartoon. Research, in the form of notes on the issue or individual research, needs to be presented with the final folio of work.
    2. Students need to determine the following: the cartoon’s main intention; the perspective from which they will be designing their cartoon; and the message they want to share through the cartoon.
      Students should reference sample cartoons for ideas regarding design, subtlety, and language. These images can come from a variety of sources. e.g. books, daily newspapers, magazines, the Internet.
    3. Students to produce a folio that demonstrates exploration of imager to include developmental drawings, refine drawings and documentation of all stages in their process. Students to present this process folio with their final images.
  3. Presenting completed cartoons
    All students’ completed cartoons to be displayed in class to enable students to evaluate both their own cartoons and the cartoons of others.
    * Do the cartoons deliver the main idea?
    * Do the cartoons convey their intended message?
    * What are the main art qualities in the cartoons?

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.