This is a printer friendly page
Free for educational use
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

For copyright reasons this clip is not available as a download.

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 are required to research visual artworks from a variety of past and present social and cultural perspectives. Students should also demonstrate an understanding of how histories are constructed in the visual arts both reinforcing and challenging values in the social, cultural and historical contexts in which they are produced.

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. In a class discussion, develop working definitions of the words ‘caricature’, ‘irony’ and ‘satire’. First, jot down your views and then share them with other class members.
    The National Museum of Australia has some excellent worksheets and interactive programs to support discussions.
  2. Research more about Bruce Petty’s career as a cartoonist, to develop an understanding about his intentions and style. Visit the various web sites listed in the Further Resources to assist you.
  3. In class discussions, talk about your views on these questions;
    1. What is the purpose of political cartoons?
    2. Do you think political cartoons influence people?
    3. To test your theory, construct some questions and survey friends and family from various age groups. Discuss your findings.
  4. 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?

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.