Commercialism has suffocated traditional art. Is digital art next?
On Valentine’s Day, a small group of art collectors pooled $1 million worth of cryptocurrency to buy a photograph of a rose. But the picture won’t be unwrapped over a candlelit dinner or hung on a bedroom wall. The photograph doesn’t exist physically; it’s a simple digital image. Its apparent value lies in its associated “token”: a one-of-a-kind digital asset that exists on an enduring, cryptographic digital ledger called the blockchain. The token, unlike the image, can’t be duplicated. But its success could be.Waddya mean "Commercialism has suffocated traditional art"?
Earlier this week, I wrote about people trying to turn a cartoon frog called Pepe into the vanguard of art’s future on the blockchain. Reporting on that story immersed me in memes, but also in the ways that new technology might change the art world. A small triumvirate of artists, technologists and financiers are using the blockchain to render art rare and then selling it. In the process, they’ve figured out a way to make digital art valuable.
A lot of what makes physical art valuable is its scarcity — there are only so many paintings by Mark Rothko, after all. But digital art has always been different because it can be perfectly copied, ad infinitum. Crypto technology and the blockchain may be able to change all that. Just like Bitcoins are scarce, so too can original digital artwork now be scarce, even if duplicates remain common in the same way that prints or photographs of physical artwork are common. Proponents argue that this would democratize and decentralize art, helping artists get paid, helping resolve issues of authorship and ownership that the internet had rendered murky, and taking power out of the hands of auction houses and gallerists. But as I dove deeper into the promise of crypto-art, it seems to me more likely to democratize and decentralize not art itself, but art commerce. The appreciation of art and the fetishization of its prices have already become hopelessly intertwined. Crypto-art pulls this knot even tighter.
Manufacturing scarcitySpecific works of art used to be scarce simply because there was no technology available that could precisely copy them. Painters could, and did, attempt to recreate others’ works, but for centuries the only really reliable image of, say, Leonardo da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa” was the “Mona Lisa” itself. If only da Vinci’s rivals had had a camera.
This eventually changed, of course. John Berger, an English critic, was fascinated by what happened when humans developed the technology to reproduce art, especially oil paintings. “For the first time ever,” he wrote in 1972, “images of art have become ephemeral, ubiquitous, insubstantial, available, valueless, free.” Even as I write this, I’m drinking tea from a mug decorated with a collage of images pulled from the works of artists from da Vinci to Edvard Munch to Jeff Koons. For Berger, this was the democratizing process, and one that undermined an art establishment that “makes inequality seem noble and hierarchies seem thrilling.” As far as Berger was concerned, the cultural role that museums play should instead be filled by the images children choose to pin to their bulletin boards.
Computers and the internet accelerated art’s movement toward ubiquity and freeness — images, songs and films could be shared infinitely and quickly (often to the chagrin of their creators, who sometimes fought back). Those trying to bring the blockchain to art are, in a way, trying to reverse this process — to reintroduce scarcity, authenticity and an aura of exclusivity to a work of art. A piece of art on the blockchain can be one-of-a-kind in the way the “Mona Lisa” once was.
There are several outfits in search of a crypto da Vinci. The Rare Pepe project and its cartoon frogs may be the first blockchain art market where anyone can submit their original work. CryptoKitties, the Beanie Babies of the blockchain, offers blockchain-bound cats for users to collect and breed. CryptoPunks deals in algorithmically generated digital characters. DADA.nyc is an artistic social network, featuring visual conversations between artists, that’s now powered by the blockchain....MORE
Commercialism As The Last 'ism' in Art:..."
“Making money is art, and working is art and good business is the best art.”
I stole the 'ism' line from dealer Michael Finley's 2012 book The Value of Art.At least I'll always have my CryptoKitties. Besides being cute as can be, I was told:
Just as Duveen hit one of his dealing career high points with Gainsborough's 'Blue Boy' Finley can lay claim to putting together the deal that transferred van Gogh's Portrait of Dr. Gachet....
CryptoKitties Sales Hit $12 Million, Could be Ethereum’s Killer App After All