How To: Art Gimmicks

Art Life Sep 03, 2007 2 Comments

Been slaving away at the art coalface trying to snag some PR profile? Nothing happening? Don’t despair. The art world is full of sure-fire methods to get you the position you desire – at the front of the bank queue ready to deposit another massive Oz council cheque. What you need is an attention maximisation strategy or “gimmick”. You have to learn to maximise the return on your labour with attention grabbing techniques that scream “look at me – I’m saying something” even if all you’re saying is “Look at me – I’m saying something”. After all, the more you say something the truer it gets, particularly when what you’re saying is challenging the “truth-power” construct. Besides, there’s really not much point in doing art unless your family can look at your picture in the paper. So here are a few ideas you might like to discuss next time you’re talking to your publicist.

Woof woof!


Its time to think big!

– There’s one way guaranteed to improve any work of art. Make it bigger. More is always going to be better whether its art, drugs, sex or guns. So, whatever your practice, the bigger the better. Scale impresses for a number of reasons but chiefly because it’s big. Big is interesting. Think of the pyramids. Would anyone care if they were four-foot high? As soon as we have to crane our necks to take something in, it’s like being a kid again. Make an artwork big enough and straight away people think it must be important and necessarily, mean something, since why else would it be so big? It’s self-fulfilling. Scale can be used in many different ways. It may be paradoxical, think of Jeff Koons’s puppy. Or Ron Mueck‘s giant boy, or it may involve numbers such as Antony Gormley‘s clay figurines from the genuinely impressive Asian Field work. Or it might be just plain fuck off big such as Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty. Whatever, if it’s big enough the GP are going to love it, since scale appeals to the idea that art should involve a lot of labour and sacrifice. After all, organising all those assistants can be hell. So if you want to make the news, and that’s what counts when your agent is getting ready to sell the consumables, then break out the dozers.

Andreas Serrano’s Piss Christ.
When you’ve gotta go…


Pull out your meat cleaver – its time to get crazy!

– Inflaming public morals used to be a lot easier and significantly more fun. Sadly, like cockroaches growing tolerant to Baygon, the GP just doesn’t get up in arms the way they used to. Artists and art are now just treated as that realm within which crazy people do crazy things and since they’re not really hurting anyone, may as will let them scream till they’re blue in the face. But thankfully, there are still artists around who are willing to give it a go. England’s Brit Pack had a dream run for a while with Tracey Emin, Damien Hirst and the Chapman Brothers getting Hell good column inches all round the world. Harvey‘s Myra Hindley portrait certainly put a stick in the hornet’s nest and Serrano managed to get hammer attacks in Melbourne though that’s a while ago now. Locally there’s been very little genuine outrage apart from the odd murmur from the predictable mouths for hire. Though we do have to tip our hats to local prankster Mike Parr, who has been doing his utmost to shock disturb and provoke comment since that kind of thing was fashionable. His efforts have included dismemberment of his own meat filled prosthetic arm and sleeping on the floor of the AGNSW in a bridal gown amongst many others. But suntanned Sydneysiders just nod in amused indulgence. Mike and a few refugees from the fun filled eighties aside, local artists seem quite unwilling to shock whilst our general public seem quite unwilling to be outraged. Personally, I think our art scene is sadder for it. But it’s hardly fair to have spent decades campaigning for a more liberal, open and just society and then have a whinge once you’ve got it. Though personally I’ll whinge about anything.

“Please, all fatties at the back!”


Pull your fly down now…

– A subset of outrage. It also doesn’t work quite as well as it used to, given the way pull mags such as Black and White are now proudly displayed on coffee tables. But it’s still worth the occasional two minutes on the end of the news now and then. Think of Spencer Tunnick‘s nude crowd photography franchise, you know the thing, iconic capital city, 3000 nude people lying down on a zebra crossing, thinly veiled theme… Or Robert Mapplethorpe‘s “sealed rooms,” though maybe such tastefully photographed fisting should be put in the “outrage” section. Locally Bill Henson seems to get away with murder as he cavorts with pubescent street kids in post apocalyptic junkyards. Nudity is mainstream.

Banksy – word to your mutha.

Hip (hop) art – Cool kids

Ollie, Ollie, Ollie- Oi! Oi! Oi!

Skateboarding graffitists, most deft and fully skilled must all be choking on their texta fumes at the news that hip hop sales have fallen thirty percent this year. What genre will they turn to next to validate their authentic street voice? Whilst Bansky has had his moments, the majority of street art is about as radical as an advertising campaign. What? It is an advertising campaign? There is nothing as terrifyingly inane as art that maintains “cool” as its aesthetic arbiter. It is a pointless notch in the timeline of art that will one day be looked back on as a comedic “period piece” that proves that said period, was the decade that “fashion forgot.”

political art

Peace man!

Sloganeering, bandwagons, anti war art. This would be anything that tells us something that is ethically self-evident and has appeared recently on the ABC News. Tends to dress up the bleeding obvious in hammer heavy allegories. Think of when Boy George lost it, The War Song, (sample lyric “war, war is bad, and people are stupid…”). Sadly much of what is done in this section is worthy, but deeply irritating. George Gittoes springs to mind. Think how many more people he has reached with his marvellous documentaries on the subject of the Iraq war as opposed to his paintings. Adam Geczy has been admirably willing to suffer for his causes along with his mate Mike Parr, though, bless him; Mike hardly needs any encouragement to suffer. A recent local project – “escape from Woomera” a video game created by an anonymous group of merry pranksters was engaging enough to get direct comment from the fearsome minister for suffering Phillip Ruddock, certainly deserving of valuable SMH column space. On the whole though, protest may be a useful way of gaining some press, but it’s most likely to be in your local community rag.

15 minutes that lasts a lifetime…


He’s an old friend of mine…

Koons defined this tendency with his Michael Jackson and Bubbles sculpture, though Daniel Edwards‘s life-sized sculpture of Britney Spears giving birth on a bearskin rug was such a jaw droppingly good example of the genre that it was posted and blogged all over the world. It’s a simple formula; take a well-known personage and depict in a manner to generate comment. The parasitic celebrity central to the notions at the heart of this technique came to be the raison d’etre of its greatest practitioner – Andy Warhol. And whilst he was a pretty good artist you got to admit he has a lot to answer for. Sydney has its own perverse community based example of this obsession with “fame”, the Archibald. It’s an opportunity for the public to encourage artists in a debasement of their principles and techniques in a shallow goldrush for infamy. No wonder our local “portrait” scene is so healthy.

Not to be interpreted.

The Other

The institutionalisation of “otherness” as a funding constant, has, dare I say it, completely emasculated, the radical nature of this subject. It has become instead the darling of conference confrères, a confirmation that art is addressing the needs of those who are “voiceless” at the same time as stuffing words into their mouths they probably can’t even pronounce. I can’t be bothered finding an example, just look at the catalogue of any Biennale in the nineties. Anyway, this is never going to get you any column inches, no matter how many grant applications you win. Let’s keep it in Glebe.

Interactive art not as fun as Tomb Raider: official


A personal bugbear. Just because there is a mouse dangling out of it doesn’t make it good. Indeed just about every arcade game ever made is a more satisfying piece of interactive art than the pointless conceptualism of contemporary interactive works –with all their attempts to draw our attention to the importance of subjectivity in the art experience. Spare me – especially the ones in which the mouse doesn’t do what it is supposed to do. How many times have I seen this trick – it really shits me! Keep interactivity in the arcade where it belongs!

Who’s a pretty boy then?

Diamond encrusted skulls


In closing, special mention must be made of Damien Hirst, who has made a career out of strategic publicity interventions of such jaw dropping ingenuity that one can only marvel at the man’s genius. Yet in a career punctuated by sharks formaldehyde and band-sawing cows his most recent piece must be considered the pinnacle so far, if only for the simple minded baseness of its inspiration, “the world’s most expensive work of art.” Indeed, rather than tool around with the creation of something that may earn such a notorious tag through such old school notions as talent he has quite simply used unimaginably expensive materials to achieve his aim. Hence, like a Fabergé egg but for the world of Rwanda and Iraq, he has created a skull of platinum and diamonds. Death incarnated as something that we will all covet. And how could it be otherwise? Particularly when you consider that the creation of this particular intervention pushed up diamond prices all around the world thereby escalating hostilities in a Africa’s “diamond wars”. How comforting to know that your work is of such a scale that children are dying for it. Makes one nostalgic for Tsarist Russia. Ironically it’s a number of the new Tsar who were bidding for it.

From Ian Houston

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The Art Life


  1. Rob

    totally brilliant. I do still love Koons puppy .

    Gimmicks just mean you can’t paint or draw. But then no one gives a shit if you can.

  2. pete

    Very cynical piss take and all the more enjoyable because of that!

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