Friday, April 04, 2008

discovery: the art-o-mat

A friend of mine talked to me today about this odd machine he spotted during his travels.

"They took an old cigarette machine, cleaned it up, and now it dispenses art. It's called an Art-o-mat. Get it? Like a laundromat. But for art."


"Yes. Art. Five bucks for a token, you pull the rod, and the art comes out the bottom where the cigarettes would."

"Five-dollar art."

"That's not the point, a______. I read a brochure there about it. They've got a global group of artists participating in this thing. They create art, they package it up, send it to the Art-o-mat people, and then Art-o-mat distributes it to the people who host the machines. People get to choose the sort of art they want, it's cool."

"What kind of art are we talking here?"

"Jesus, Bob, I don't know. I didn't have five bucks on me at the time, so I can't tell you. But it seems like it has to come in a package about the size of a pack of cigarettes if it's going to fit into those machines."

"So you pay five bucks for a token and you get some random art in a package the size of a cigarette box."


"Can you see the art ahead of time?"

"No. Well, maybe on other machines, but all they had on the one I saw was a little card that described the art. And the brochure."

"So how do you know if it's any good?"

"You don't."

"What's the point then? Other than a new way to piss away five bucks."

"It's art, for chrissakes. You know, eye of the beholder stuff."

"OK, fine. Just for argument sake, if I take, say, this napkin. And this pen. And I. . .scribble on it. Like this."

"That's not art. That's a f______ mess."

"What's to say it's not art? That'll be five dollars, sucker. I'll even jam it in a little box for you."

"First of all, you're a heartless philistine. Second, as soon as you're done doodling like a mental patient, go look at their website. There's a list there of the artists who sell through these Art-o-mat machines. It's amazing to me how many creative people there are out there."

"Just because you don't like my drawing here doesn't mean it's not art."

"Not that again."

"Work with me here. Some hippy in North Carolina gets it in her head to become an artist. She sits down, blasts off a prototype of some sort to see if she has a future in cigarette pack-sized art distribution."

"What's your point."

"So let's say, wow, stars align, she gets accepted. I bet she has to sit down and churn out some serious volumes of her so-called art."

"Seems right."

"Does she make all of the same thing? Because that's not art anymore, it's an assembly-line."

"If they're handmade, no, they're not all the same. Maybe they're variations. On a theme. And maybe she's like Andy Warhol. The guy with the Factory."

"Whatever. So let's say that our Tarheel hippy lady sits down and knocks out, say, fifty pieces of mini-art. She packages them up in little boxes, sends them off to Art-o-mat central."

"You're going somewhere with this, right?"

"Yeah. What happens then?"

"Well. . .I would imagine she gets paid. Sooner or later."

"How much?"

"Some portion of the five dollars, I guess."

"Now we're getting somewhere. Say her take of each unit is half the ASP."

"You really are a bastard, aren't you. You were never like this when you were younger, you know."

"Stay on topic. Half is pretty generous, actually. So for her trouble, she grosses $125. Then she has to declare taxes on that and cover materials and shipping. Let's say she nets $80, just for giggles. How long would you say it takes her to actually collect this money?"

"Who knows. Probably when it sells."

"When it sells. So it could be months."

"Or never. What's your point?"

"My point is. . .is it any wonder artists are all starving? This is the most f_____ up transaction I've heard of in years. She covers the cost of manufacturing, shipping to the distributor, then she waits for God-knows-how-long to get paid $80 bucks. It sounds like WalMart."

"It's art."

"And that's supposed to make it OK?"


"Well, paint me red and call me Sally. I just don't get it."

"You wouldn't. It's an amazing thing, this Art-o-mat. It spreads a lot of joy around to a lot of people, it gives artists whose work might not normally get shared a way to share it, and it's an awesome looking machine too. If I had a store, I'd host one of them in a heartbeat. They're kinda like those Japanese gachapon machines."

"Are those art too?"

"Shut up."

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