Do Wind-Up Toys Have Inner Artists?

by Bruce Goldstone on May 1, 2014

Artwork created by a tin toy showing how wind-up toys can unleash creative expression. (Image © Echo Yang)

Guess what the artist was thinking. Now guess again.
© Echo Yang

Creative Expression Unleashed with the Turn of a Key

When we look at art, we often try to imagine what the artist was thinking: How is this artwork a creative expression of the artist’s thoughts and feelings? Take, for example, this vibrant starburst of primary dots. What did the artist have in mind?

In this case, chances are pretty good that the artist didn’t have anything in mind at all. That’s because the artist was a tin wind-up toy. Wind-up toys are great, but great thinkers they’re not.

Here’s the wind-up chicken that painted the artwork, armed with a watercolor-dipped cotton swab.

Artwork being created by a tin toy showing how wind-up toys can unleash creative expression. (Image © Echo Yang)

The artist at work
© Echo Yang

OK, to be fair, this wind-up toy didn’t grab the swab and start painting. The set-up was done by artist and graphic designer Echo Yang, who has created a series of autonomous artworks, turning the repetitive gestures of a variety of machines into vivid, creative artworks.

In addition to toys, her team of artists has included an alarm clock, a vacuum cleaner, an electric razor, and a hand mixer.

By attaching mark-making devices to these normally reticent machines, Yang uncovers the hidden beauty in the shapes they trace while working.

The Fun in Function

In Yang’s explorations, function becomes the motor of creation. This video shows Yang and her mechanical collaborator at work.

If the video does not display, watch it here.

The resulting forms are surprisingly elegant, expressive, and playful.

Artwork created by a tin toy showing how wind-up toys can unleash creative expression. (Image © Echo Yang)

Happy trails
© Echo Yang

The Tracks of My Toys

When I saw Yang’s creations for the first time, I had two immediate reactions. First: “Hey, I have a wind-up bird that’s an awful lot like that one.”

Then: “I wonder if my bird wants to be an artist, too?”

There was only one way to find out.

I began my experiments by taping a thick marker to my bird’s back. I wound it, placed it on a newsprint pad, let it go, and waited to witness the magic of mechanical creation.

Except my bird didn’t budge.

A tin toy trying to create art showing how wind-up toys and unleash creative expression. (Image © Bruce Goldstone)

Some artists can be quite stubborn.
© Bruce Goldstone

Apparently, the heft of the chunky marker was too much deadweight for my little toy. If I was going to find my bird’s inner artist, I needed to consider the capacity of its tiny inner machinery, too.

So I attached a smaller, lighter marker to see what my bird was dying to show me. This time when I wound it up and placed it on the pad, the bird hopped along nicely.

A tin toy creating art showing how wind-up toys can unleash creative expression. (Image © Bruce Goldstone)

This artist prefers a light touch.
©Bruce Goldstone

But the feeble results looked like, well, chicken scratching.

If my bird wanted to be an artist, it clearly wasn’t approving of my choice of medium.

Perhaps my bird preferred paints?

For my next attempt, I tried a light brush dipped in watercolor gouache.

Artwork created by a tin toy showing how wind-up toys can unleash creative expression. (Image © Bruce Goldstone)

A brush with success
© Bruce Goldstone

Eureka. My toy scampered along happily, its usual happy hopping only slightly interfered with by the awkward new encumberance.

Some Toys Shouldn’t Quit Their Day Jobs

While Yang’s toy hopped in spirited circles, mine tended to follow a more arching track each time I set it down. The results in green gouache somewhat resembled fern fronds.

If the video does not display, watch it here.

We decided to add a couple of pink passes for contrast.

Art created by a toy showing how wind-up toys can unleash creative expression. (Image © Bruce Goldstone)

I didn’t know ferns had berries . . .
© Bruce Goldstone

Careful analysis of the final artwork led to an “Oh, I see” moment: Maybe all wind-up toys want to be artists, but there’s still such a thing as talent. And my bird . . . well, he’s very cute.

Where Yang’s artwork is graceful and suggestive, my bird’s artistic hand is rather leaden and sluggish.

Yes, of course, I blame the bird.

My conclusion? Wind-up toys and other machines can indeed foster creative expression. But it takes a true artist, like Echo Yang, to uncover those hidden impulses in a genuinely artistic way.

Comment on this post below, or inspire insight with your own OIC Moment here.

 
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