Ideals, Technology, Art, Empowerment, and the Carrot
The crypto community and the crypto art scene reflect the cultural evolution born of technological changes that have spurred rapid, seismic shifts in the broader online landscape. In order to understand and appreciate the underlying values of the crypto community (and the art associated with it), one must be able to place the movement in a broader historical context, technologically, culturally, and artistically speaking. Understanding and investigating this context allows for a firm footing on which sustainable growth and symbiosis can occur. Without this foundation, the movement drifts, becomes listless, and its relevance becomes an open question. Rather than hemming in a movement, an appreciation of the social-historical context liberates and empowers through a sense of assurance and understanding, ensuring a more energetic and confident push forward.
Exploration and survey of the technological, artistic, social, and historical currents that have led us to this specific moment allow for the maximization of the unique opportunity which lies before us. In order to realize this enormous potential one must also have an understanding of crypto ideologies, the connection to emerging and established technologies, and a basic appreciation of the artistic impulses and movements that have laid the groundwork for the current crypto art landscape.
First, guiding principles of the crypto community and the crypto art community must be defined. Foundationally, the promises of the blockchain are privacy, transparency, and freedom of speech and expression. These guiding lights illuminate a path to increased social and economic sovereignty and serve as three mutually supporting pillars of the movement.
Privacy is control over one’s identity. This control ensures the ability to form and maintain a reputation in a digital space. The individual, when empowered to conduct oneself in a self-determined manner, is able to access new forms of capital (both abstract and concrete). Maintaining and cultivating a digital identity requires a guarantee of privacy as it grants the freedom of action and expression in the Metaverse. Empowered, individuals are free to be true, to be themselves, to explore, develop, and establish online identities. In shared digital spaces, this guarantee of individual freedom is vouchsafed and complimented by a commitment to free speech and a steadfast rejection of censorship. This dedication to free speech, in turn, naturally implies and requires a commitment to transparency.
The importance of transparency in this space is to undergird the devotion to privacy and free speech. Openness is essential to any movement advocating privacy and free speech — anything less is hypocrisy. Transparency allows for good faith actors to be recognized as such — and, vitally, it allows bad faith actors (or, at least, their actions) to be exposed. Reputations within the Metaverse are of vital importance; the ability to develop one’s own reputation through accumulated actions allows for the development of personal sovereignty and identity. Transparency permits the development of a reputation just as it ensures the validity of one’s reputation. It is a prerequisite for community accountability. These are essential characteristics of the technology backing this movement.
Privacy and transparency require, as a corollary (especially now, when the digital traces we leave behind have permanence and consequences), a similarly steadfast adherence to free speech. Digital interactions necessarily shape digital identity. Digital interactions happen in a shared space, and any individual does not and should not have the ability to limit others’ speech (or to retroactively scrub their own). Censorship is antithetical and corrosive to the tenets of the crypto community.
Privacy, transparency, and a rejection of censorship: this is what the crypto community holds sacrosanct and what it seeks to propagate. This is the promise, the idealism, the optimism; the individual’s protection from prying eyes, the means by which it can hold larger forces accountable, and the method by which it manifests and maintains the integrity of the movement. Without a unification of these ideals there is an opening for a creeping hypocrisy that could prove fatal to the movement as a whole.
The traditional and historical powers that have dominated commerce, social spaces, government, etc. are diametrically opposed to the empowerment of the individual or to any forced exposure via transparency. Throughout modern history, traditional institutions have been able to shroud themselves in secrecy and disguise their actions. These tendencies are being assailed by technological advances and there is a moment, an opportunity, which may allow that dynamic to be flipped on its head. The past decade has shown the first glimpses of the erosion of the establishment’s hegemony over information: notable leaks and secure modes of reporting (often backed by similar technologies as back the crypto movement) show glimpses of what awaits corrupt and abusive institutions.
Evil withers in sunlight. Autocratic forces rankle at notions of openness and transparency. Emerging and existing technologies (both within and beyond the scope of the crypto community) are tools by which the stranglehold of decaying powers may be pried loose. The heedlessly imperious can be subject to the crypto community’s clear-eyed embrace of proper ideals. These tools can break the loop in which so many find themselves stuck — the grinding, top-down enforcement of grueling and exacting demands to which institutions themselves are largely immune.
The culture we are creating for one another owes much to and celebrates the mechanisms by which this push forward is being made. These tools are ephemeral, indestructible, and capable of protecting and nurturing sovereignty and individual identity in a way that has few historical parallels. These are not small steps but generational leaps made in the relative blink of an eye, a process which ought to be celebrated and enshrined.
The application of these tools by the individual as opposed to the forces of capital or the state is incredibly weighty and threatens the core existence of systems of control and oppression that have heretofore gone largely unthreatened. The crypto movement looks to reverse or destroy big tech’s rampant abuse of power and technology, employing them rather for the good of the individual.
Financial institutions are terminally centralized. The overwhelming majority of transactions are routed through an opaque system which records and notes details and peripheral aspects of financial interactions and then applies a linear (and unparseable) value score to an individual without that person’s participation or consent.
The state and powerful institutions are, again, largely exempt from such processes.
These financial mechanisms are not ancient (though they do reflect and resemble ancient systems of oppression). They are technological innovations that reached ascendency within our lifetimes.
The ability to establish and trade on one’s reputation within a digital space is to slough off these systems of control: the crypto community has the ability to reject as irrelevant and absurd, the application of a number, a score, that determines one’s economic value and viability. Instead, there is the possibility of an understandable and holistically developed system in which reputation and past actions within a given space allow for free and confident interaction and exchange.
Historically, the preeminence of institutions, financial and otherwise, is frequently challenged, and occasionally shaken. There is currently, however, a unique chance to crack the foundations of the established means of control. This moment cannot pass — this opportunity must be capitalized upon and put to use for the greater good.
The ability to transcend exploitative systems is increasing — technology which was theoretical less than a generation ago is now readily accessible to a significant portion of the global population. The proliferation of platforms capable of maintaining privacy and transparency is an existential threat to financial and governmental institutions.
These institutions, in various fluctuating states of dominion and decay, will fight with all at their disposal to stem this inevitable tide. These are mere delaying tactics. The existence of the technology and the direction in which it points is clear for all to see. There will be obfuscation, there will be deceit, and there already is a pervasive campaign of misinformation and slander against communities that apply these breakthrough technologies (think of the hand-wringing over certain crypto technologies’ possible criminal applications) — especially against those communities that do so with a commitment to empowerment and a sense of purpose.
Historical context is important to grasp when considering the modern digital landscape. Traditional means of control will do their utmost to evolve in lockstep with and incorporate, to their own ends, technological advances. Even as they undermine their altruistic use.
Moments arise, however, in which advances outstrip or wrong-foot established systems of power. It is clear that there is a parallel to previous technological breakthroughs which did just that; the printing press is a shining example here. There is the mechanical breakthrough itself — obviously staggering at the time. What it granted, however, was the ability to disseminate uncensored information en masse; this is what irrevocably redefined the status quo.
The proliferation of written materials and of the transformative concepts contained therein pried the fat fingers of power off the levers that previously controlled and restricted the flow of illuminating ideas. Power and oppression thrive in darkness. Literacy and the wide distribution of free thinking cast a light into the dingy corners of the halls of power and expanded the individual’s comprehension and consciousness. This empowerment led directly to the development and propagation of anti-establishment philosophies.
The parallels to blockchain technology are easy to tease out.
The coupling of democratizing tools with the distribution of democratizing ideals is a potent combination that will (and has, in the past) lead to revolutionary change. Individual sovereignty is not a guarantee, as a cursory survey of history shows, nor is there guaranteed progress in that direction. There are, however, moments at which historical trends align, when the synthesis of technological advancements and the proliferation of liberating ideas empower populations to seize ownership and control of their collective destiny.
It is our belief that we stand at such a crossroads, and it is our intention to illuminate the path of individual sovereignty and empowerment.
The ideals that are central to the crypto community are well-documented and more or less understood, even from an outside perspective. Privacy and transparency, individual sovereignty (economic and otherwise), and rejection of traditional power structures are widely known to be vital to the community.
The currents and values of the movement are reflected and echoed in the parallel growth of the crypto art community.
The unique opportunity presented by blockchain technology is mirrored in what, pragmatically, ties the crypto art and finance communities together: rejection of the notion that the flow of things may stop, start, or be throttled by meddling hands or by those pulling strings from the top. There is a desire to empower individuals, to transfer to them the means of production and distribution and away from bloated, unproductive intermediaries, and to create free, transparent modes of communication and commerce in the digital landscape.
Crypto art is heir to a rich tradition of rebelliousness and insouciance in the art world tracing back (at least in the visual arts) over a century. Facing the staggering devaluation of the worth of the individual in the wake of the unspeakable churning carnage of the First World War, Marcel Duchamp stepped away from traditional modes and mores of art. No longer was his focus on technical ability or displays of artistic virtuosity. Ideas arose to become of supreme, transcendent importance. Traditional art and the economic realities of the traditional art markets became odious and onerous to maintain. If your beliefs and practices led you to this point, of what value were they?
Derivative art may not rankle or chafe the individual in good times (or, more to the point, when the status quo enriches and protects the individual), but when the rug has been pulled and one’s footing is lost or unsteady it becomes unthinkable to merely incrementally improve upon or pay homage to those that came before. The primacy of the physical object, the sacred application of brush, paint, chisel, etc. — suddenly seemed wholly absurd. Thus, though Duchamp as a young man was preternaturally talented and entrenched in the impressionist tradition, he came to reject that path wholesale.
When individuality is not valued — when one’s physical existence and well-being is so obviously of secondary importance in the face of nearly omnipotent institutions — it cannot help but be reflected in forward-facing, tradition-rejecting art. The primacy of the physical recedes and ideas and ideals are ascendent. This has historically been accompanied by a democratization and decentralization of art. Fuck the gatekeepers. Let the artist, unencumbered, speak freely and directly.
Many important modern artistic movements rejected the material importance of a given work of art. The manner in which blockchain technology can empower the artist (and, it follows, the art itself) while rendering the physicality of the object essentially irrelevant is another step down a well-trod path. It breaks down traditional restrictions to access, it eliminates parasitic middlemen, it rejects orthodox evaluation of artwork (especially along ideological and technical grounds), and it allows creators artistic, economic, and intellectual sovereignty.
The unfettered artist is then free to explore and develop their identity, their ideals, and develop their oeuvre.
Crypto art — as heir to a rich and storied legacy of non-conformist, unconventional, conceptual, and outsider art — is in calmer waters (from a historical perspective) than their compatriots on the technological and financial side of the movement. Artists are afforded a certain eccentricity and rebelliousness. Those same qualities, however, are anathema to the financial and governmental establishment that the crypto community challenges. Deep seated antiestablishment is seen as quaint, quirky, and mostly harmless in the art world.
In the worlds of finance, governance, and (to a slightly lesser degree) tech, these same qualities are labeled destructive, dangerous, even nihilistic. That is reflective not of divergent approaches, but of the vitriol of reactionary forces within the establishment.
As an aside, this is a strategic misstep — there is ultimately not as much separating things as one might assume. There is also much to be lost by reacting violently against forces of inevitable change.
The very nature of both market systems and artistic pursuits are somewhat antithetical; it oughtn’t be controversial to say that the former can have a stultifying effect on the latter. Pursuing forms of art with a pervasive sense of what may be appealing within a given market isn’t likely to be permanently escaped or shoved aside.
Traditionally, even having initial access to markets requires acceptance and approval from an art establishment that tends to pluck talent for its own (largely) economic reasons (self-enrichment). The blockchain skips a step: artist creates work, artist mints NFT, artist lists work, artist sells work. This allows for a symbiosis between the artist and the collector — a process that was previously dependent on the approval of (largely) haughty and detached gallerists and dealers.
The parochial nepotism of the traditional art world, its derisiveness towards artists based outside of traditional global artistic epicenters (New York, Paris, etc), or schools, has the potential to be obliterated by the freedom and independence granted artists and collectors by emerging technologies.
The possibilities here loom enormous; the barrier to entry into the global marketplace to both an artist and a collector is comparatively miniscule. Resources can become of secondary importance. Establishment approval or individual patronage no longer need be a prerequisite to leaving one’s mark.
The established value of a piece of crypto art is ultimately determined by the relationship between the seller and the collector. While it is true that there is art criticism which is valid, (close to) objective, and constructive, it is also true that art criticism and the mechanisms of the institutions of art have been used to enrich the wrong people — and to disenfranchise and encumber the artist.
When valuation is no longer determined by inherently biased appraisers, curators, and gallerists or subject to their unaccountable whims. This, in one fell swoop, largely excises an entire mechanism that served mostly to restrict direct contact between artists and buyers and to enrich middlemen. The seller and the buyer, empowered, are able to dictate appropriate evaluations, putting value in the hands of those directly involved.
This is a boon for both parties — especially the artist, free now from the necessity of exploiting social contacts within an insular and self-serving elitist art world. No longer will arbitrarily selected artists act as name brands in order to enrich themselves and ensure the huge commissions that are their lifeblood. That can, and will, be left to the past.
Another aside: this threatens the art establishment in much the same way that cryptocurrencies and decentralized finance threaten the financial establishment. The pushback will be intense, and, one has reason to assume, more virulent than even those within the financial establishment towards crypto. There is no assimilation of crypto art possible for the art establishment that is comparable to the way the financial industry can feasibly incorporate structural critiques and enact reform — this entire movement is going straight at their throat and there is nowhere to retreat to for many of these institutions. It is an existential threat and this all may (will) get underhanded and nasty.
Crypto art allows for the possibility (more appropriately, the responsibility) to structuralize within the pieces themselves the rights of the artist. Sell-on clauses (giving a percentage of each sale back to the piece’s creator) will grant a continuous revenue stream to artists who have historically been locked out of lucrative secondary markets.
It is only fitting (and far overdue) that artists be given a stake in their own work, in perpetuity. This is an expansion of artists’ rights that has always been elusive, at best, and is a path to sustainability and comfort in the lives of artists who have historically been forced to live on a razor’s edge.
Artists and creators ought to control the means of distribution and production. The crypto art world and the technology backing it represent a potential paradigm shift in the economics of art markets. This marks a shift towards enriching those who, through talent, ingenuity, and force of will, pull important art out of nonexistence and manifest beauty and meaning — as opposed to those who scheme and speculate and profit handsomely while contributing nothing.
The artistic community need not be subjected to a cynical, top-down approach, nor is it a necessary prerequisite to relinquish half of potential profits upfront to a meddling and sedentary merchant class. Properly utilizing technology that is globally pervasive and accessible will lead to reframed perspectives and shifted distributions of power. One can reimagine and recreate a far more equitable landscape. The art world can then be opened wide, markets can be decentralized and democratized, artists can be empowered and enriched, and the art and the artist can establish preeminence in the marketplace.
The true aim and true selling point of MOCA is to offer unparalleled access to a premier collection of digital art. Individuals, companies, and social groups will have the resources and opportunity to personalize the collection as they see fit. Individuals with limited resources can currently customize and interact with their libraries or musical collections, creating and curating collections that speak to their own interests and philosophies. Similarly, MOCA will allow members to explore the Collection, pull pieces that speak to them, and organize them in ways that allow engagement and self-determined unique experiences. It will allow for personalization and customization on an individual level.
The ability to customize a personal space creates a sense of pride and ownership and will compel members to engage with others in order to compare spaces, see unique expressions of identity from other members in the community, and show off their own taste. That is ultimately what is compelling here and it is what will draw in engaged and enthusiastic users.
This adaptability will have intrinsic appeal not only to collectors and members of the community; it will similarly allow artists to shape and control their own narratives, placing their own works (perhaps along with other relevant works) within a framework and a context that they deem essential to their artistic message. Moreover, it will allow artists to observe and appreciate the complex and profound ways in which their audience interacts with their body of work.
Adaptability and customization of the museum’s collection is the path to broader engagement and interaction, and, it follows, to a vibrant, viable, and sustainable community.
Crypto art currently (for better or worse) has an image problem with the broader online community — it is unclear to most people (even very online people) what the actual utility of crypto art is. MOCA can solve that problem and be the first to arrive at the next step by allowing individuals with limited resources a way to feel a sense of ownership and belonging, brought on by accessible means for self-expression.
Successful online platforms succeed because they allow users private digital spaces to interact with others, to create and express digital identities, and to dictate an experience for themselves. If MOCA can achieve that it will flourish.
In making clear this end goal and reframing conceptions of the utility and accessibility of digital art, MOCA can serve to radically broaden the current appreciation of and interaction with crypto art while empowering and enriching those who create it, handing over means of distribution and production to those who have earned it by dint of their individual effort and contributions to the greater movement. The enemies of the crypto art community are unapproachability and insularity; we can eliminate these obstacles. There cannot, within our community, be a higher goal, nor a more plausible approach by which to grow what is still a movement in its infancy.
This is for the artists, it is for the community, it is purposeful, equitable, and plausible. This is the progression we foresee, the future we wish to achieve, and the path we wish to clear so that others may follow along and share in the joys, large and small, that will follow as a result of symbiotic and organic growth within and without our community.
Thoughts? Ideas? Find us here: https://forum.museumofcryptoart.com/