I peeked into the slots that used to reveal packs of Winstons, Camels, Marlboros and Cools and saw that each window housed a stack of work from a different artist.
For a small fee (cheaper than a pack of cigarettes these days) you could actually buy a tiny piece of original art — at an art museum no less! This I had to try!
I searched through and found what I might like, a present for my wife who couldn't take the day off to go to the museum with me. I put my money in the slot and pulled the knob. The longer-than-expected throw of the handle was a very nostalgic experience, even though I'd probably only ever bought cigarettes out of a machine on a dare. Out "ker-plunked" a small white box with a picture of an Easter Island style Tiki head on the label.
I took it home and gave it to my wife. Upon removing the cellophane band and opening the box she found, wrapped in magenta tissue, a raku Tiki head pendant necklace.
This was... well, cool! It was like one of those stories where the protagonist acquires something in an offbeat way that sets them upon a magical journey, like Jumanji or The Neverending Story. The whole thing was a fun, interactive, nostalgic, modern art experience! It was an artisanal Cracker Jack box prize! Be an art collector for fun and profit! But seriously, my wife still wears the necklace quite frequently, and I found out later that this is a nation-wide project and people do indeed collect and trade these things. We've even bought some more since.
A plaque on the machine said I could go to the Art-o-mat website to find guidelines for submitting ideas for my own art. Growing up on Whacky Packages and having created many of my own packages (and lampoons thereof), this was right up my street!
After weeks of careful consideration and meditation, I decided that landscapes would be pretty easy to produce in quantity and that probably very few artists would go to the trouble of creating oil paintings for this kind of thing.
To me, an oil painting is quintessentially what people think of when they hear the words "fine art" so I ordered a prototype kit, started a label design, and produced the prototype shown at the top of this post.