A gimmick is simply something that is developed to attract attention. Often times in the art world it is presented with a sort of pseudo manifesto, which attempts to explain away the actual banality of the work and present it as an intellectual achievement and other times it is more blatant. This degrades the ‘high’ art world and can leave many viewers unable to trust their own experiences. Be aware when people claim depth where none exists and see the surface tricks that obfuscate content.
Much of Damien Hirst’s work is predicated on gimmicks. His 12 million dollar shark in formaldehyde named ‘The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living’ I find to be the perfect example of this. The gimmick begins with the shark itself, as it’s a fierce creature which could attract attention in nearly any context. The size is the second and most favorite gimmick of the art world. The tank takes up a lot of space and large things in themselves present a sense of wonder, like any tank at an aquarium might. Finally, we are presented with the pretentious title. He creates a contradiction by stating it is impossible yet happening, which feels like a deep notion, yet really when we consider it critically is just impressive sounding without content. Physical impossibilities are just that, physically impossible. Seeing something dead is not impossible, we see your shark in the tank and we can consider the implications of death as well. There is no philosophical implication or even content, but in a fast paced world it sounds like those things could be present.
I saw this often as a college art instructor. Teachers who bought into some of these gimmicks would proclaim to a student, ‘Oh, you must paint larger works,’ as though that would fundamentally help their painting. An argument can certainly be made for how these ideas affect your career and how it leads your work to be perceived, but let us not fool ourselves into buying the illusion that it makes all work better. Let us instead recognize it for what it is, merely a gimmick. Some concepts are better suited for tiny paintings others for massive works, ideally the size and implementation ought to be a function of the concept and how it is experienced.