Original Post October 25, 2010

Have you heard of these artists?

Claes Oldenburg – Free Stamp, outside City Hall in Cleveland, Ohio. Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, Painted steel-plate 1985 unveiled in 1991.

(image from: http://www.servinghistory.com/topi /Claes_Oldenburg::sub::Gallery)

Or Ron Mueck?

Ron Mueck (Australian, b. 1958). Mask II, 2001–2002. Mixed media, 30 3/8 x 46 1/2 x 33 1/2 in. (77.2 x 118.1 x 85.1 cm). Collection of the Art Supporting Foundation to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art  (Image from http://www.brooklynmuseum.org/exhibitions/ron_mueck/mask_ii.php)

You may have seen these artists’ works before today, but did you recognize their names?  Both of the artists I highlight today play with one particular element of art:  scale.  Scale speaks to the size of an object, or the implicated size of an object.  How do we know what size something is?  We visually reference it against other known items of a certain size.  When people sell jewelry on TV or online, notice how they often use rulers or a display the jewels on a woman’s hand?  These art works play with that idea.  And these artists are rule breakers.

Once you know the rules of a system (such as the basic techniques of art, including understanding of composition), you CAN and SHOULD BREAK THEM! [Yes, this is a teacher saying this.]  You know those paintings where artists splattered paint or covered a canvas with one color?  You know which artworks I am speaking of, they are the ones that alienate the general population and invigorate those art historians and artists who know a bit about them.  It’s because the latter know about the rules and realize what steps were taken in those works to break them.  If everyone understood how those pieces were about breaking the rules and stepping outside of a norm, stepping outside of a socially accepted system, I bet more people would take greater consideration of (and maybe even appreciate) these artworks.

Dropped Cone by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, 2001. Situated on top of a shopping centre in the Neumarkt area of Cologne, Germany.  (image from http://www.donniedid.com/img/GermanyCone.jpg)

Claes Oldenburg and Ron Mueck know the rule of scale.  They understand it well otherwise they would not make such awesome, inspiring works.  It would not impact people on the level it does unless they were actively manipulating rules we all assume and understand.  And in this case, that rule involves the size relationships of different objects and people.  For example Dropped Cone, by Claes Oldenburg, works uniquely with its environment.  How appropriate and amazing is it that this work is placed on top of a city building? We associate ice cream with warm days on city streets, yet here it is, a part of a towering landscape. Ron Mueck plays with this same idea, but in relation to people.  Look at the work Two Women for example.  These two elderly women look so lifelike, but if you were to stand next to them they only reach your knee cap.  What associations do their small sizes create?  What would happen if Mueck had made them to the scale of Oldenburg’s Dropped Cone?  How does that change the meaning or message conveyed by the work?

Ron Mueck (Australian, b. 1958). Two Women, 2005. Mixed media, 33 1/2 x 18 7/8 x 15 in. (85.1 x 47.9 x 38.1 cm). Glenn Fuhrman Collection, New York (Image from http://www.brooklynmuseum.org/exhibitions/ron_mueck/)

Taking this idea, let’s apply it to your lives as Creatives.  What is the structure or framework you were taught for your art form? Do you break the rules or manipulate them? How would it change your product if you did?


  • Playing with scale in your artwork
  • Changing the tense of your story
  • Inverting the crescendos in a musical piece
  • Joining two never before combined dance genres within your choreography

“Making new rules for your art.” (Click to Tweet)

Artist Strong Action: Switch something around or bend the rules in your art.  See if you gain new perspective or ideas from this rewiring activity.  Trigger some new ideas and become the next Oldenburg or Mueck (who as far as I know, have been healthily rewarded for breaking the rules).