You can’t get a hug whenever you need one, but if you were walking around Washington, D.C., last month and knew where to go, you could always get an esteem-boosting compliment.
All the niceness is courtesy of artist-inventor Tom Greaves’ compliment machine.
A freestanding square pillar made of wood and painted in red and white horizontal stripes, the machine and its inventor visited the Plaza at Rockefeller Center on Wednesday.
Greaves admitted to the TODAY Show’s Matt Lauer, Meredith Vieira and Ann Curry that his motivation in creating the unique machine was initially cynical.
“At first I thought it was like the gratuitous phrase that sometimes is heaped upon people with trophies and awards just for barely showing up,” he said. But as the 46-year-old artist put his machine together, he realized it might also serve a higher purpose.
“On the other side, I think there’s a real human need for assurance and reassurance,” — verbal hugs, if you will — “and I wanted to put both of these ideas together in this piece of artwork,” Greaves said.
As he talked, the pillar of positiveness delivered such profundities as “You never take the easy way out” and Lauer’s favorite, “You are smarter than your boss.”
'Whatever we came up with'
The compliment machine was commissioned by SiteProjects DC, a program partially funded by the D.C. Commission of the Arts & Humanities, which asked 16 artists to create public exhibits that were placed from July 15-28 in a six-block area of the nation's capital.
Greaves’ machine contains a speaker, a car battery for power and an MP3 player on which he recorded in a flat, neutral voice more than 150 compliments that he and his wife collaborated on.
There wasn’t any psychology involved in the phrases chosen, he said. Rather, they were just “whatever we came up with.”
He set the player to shuffle the phrases randomly and play them back with pauses of varying lengths between each upbeat utterance. “So you never know when you’re going to get it,” he said.
Most passersby “are pretty happy about it. Some don’t even care,” he added.
The compliment machine was the hit of the arts project, drawing national press, getting Greaves an appearance on the TODAY Show, and, he said, a possible national tour.
Now, if someone could just invent a machine that can tell people when they have spinach stuck in their teeth.