Kurt Vonnegut’s 1973 delightful “Breakfast of Champions,” focuses on a middle-aged writer named Kilgore Trout. Trout has written a novel, “This Year’s Masterpiece,” that centers on art in society. In the novel, government officials spin a wheel to determine which painting will take the annual title. That year, the wheel lands on a portrait of a cat painted by a cobbler named Gooz, who instantly becomes a famous artist and a billionaire.
Hmm. Sounds a lot like Beeple.
This week, his crummy-looking collection of thumbnail JPEGs was sold for $69.3 million to a buyer named Metakovan. Every single thing about this transaction is digital. The art produced by Mike Winkelmann, a real-life Gooz also known as Beeple, is made completely on the computer. The art he produced was sold as a non-fungible token, meaning it exists only in the pixelated world. And the buyer paid in cryptocurrency and gave a Google Meet interview sans video.
Another current NFT auction features the first tweet ever sent by Jack Dorsey, the Twitter founder who currently looks like a cartoon version of Tyrion Lannister. Here it is for free: “just setting up my twttr.” That collection of poor punctuation and spelling is currently selling for $2.5 million on Valuables, a digital platform that allows all sorts of digitally-minded folks to sell imaginary art.
It’s my understanding that even the parent company of Fine Art Globe, Sea of Reeds Media, has now gotten into the act. They opened a store to repackage their original photography as NFTs. If you think the photo of Journey guitarist Neal Schon, treated with some Illustrator or Photoshop effects, is art, by all means bid on it via their auction on opensea.io. Wheel in the Sky, wheel spun by government officials, it doesn’t really matter.
Where will the wheel spin next?
I agree that “If anything is art, then nothing is” and your article is very funny (he DOES look like a cartoon Tyrion!). Also, the people and marketplaces supporting non-fungible tokens (NFTs) do a terrible job explaining how they even work, let alone the big picture benefits — or even the answer to knee-jerk reactions from many in the art world that purely digital works aren’t art…
…(same was said of very innovation from Picasso to photography) or that NFTs represent an environmental disaster (uninformed fear mongering).
However, NFTs for art — be that digital representations of physical paintings, photographs or other media; music; video; anything — are quickly democratizing the art world and making enjoying and owning art far more accessible than ever…
…(though NFTs are in their infancy and still ridiculously difficult, involving specialized digital wallets and “private keys” one must manage properly or forever lose access to their asset; which itself is spawning an industry of services to improve the experience or let people delegate it to a trusted party)…
And it’s going to make “in real life”, physical art even more valuable, both by expanding the number of participants and buyers, and through innovations artists, technologists and marketers are coming up with — such as the ability of a artist to sell her work and then set a royalty percentage of every future sale, which she will receive in perpetuity, automatically and without any middlemen…
…controlling the process, adding complexity and of course taking their cuts (music royalties can take up to a year for the artists’ fraction to arrive — after all the intermediaries have paid themselves handsomely).
Another example: my interest in and purchase of a few NFTs by artists that have caught my eye has led to a renewed interest in collecting non-digital art and supporting artists. I have just commissioned a painting by one of my all-time favorite musicians, who is also a painter.
And the intense interest in NFTs and the underlying technology is very well founded. In 50 years (or less) it will be recognized as on par with the advent of the internet itself. This is because non-fungible tokens take the economic and technological breakthrough of Bitcoin — an incorruptible asset registry and payment network that has run successfully for 12 years with zero downtime…
…as a protocol maintained by a community of participants, not controlled or controllable by any single entity — and apply it to potentially any digital good. For the first time ever we can create items that are digital (with all the myriad benefits that brings over analog) yet provably scarce — either one of a kind, not able to be replicated, or a fixed number of copies.
Scarcity is a major determinant of value, and the transformational potential of this brave new world is hard to overstate.
Personally, I find many of Beeple’s creations intriguing and some beautiful. And he created one a day for FIVE THOUSAND DAYS for fuck’s sake, starting long before he was even aware of NFTs, and then arranged them into an interesting collage. The collectors were also…
…bidding on a piece of internet and technology history, and the kids these days are all about the memes, as you’ve probably witnessed.