Avant-garde artistic movements of the past two centuries have much in common. Briefly, these currents tend to include a decreasing focus on technique and physicality, an increased focus on disruption, on ideals, on undiluted artistic inspiration, a rejection of tired historical narratives and a rejection of the status quo, and a pervasive dissatisfaction with the increasing alienation and dehumanization brought on by industrialization and modernity. This is the nature of transgressive art.
The strongest bond between these movements are — especially from the perspective of the artist — the primacy of intellectual freedom and inspiration. For the symbolists, this meant maintaining above all else the integrity of “the actual tendencies of the creative mind in art;” for the surrealists, the “sovereignty of thought” in any literary or artistic work, the preeminence of freedom, and the “reasserting” and “reclaiming” of the ”rights of the imagination.” Dada reflected these impulses and pushed them to extremes, further destabilizing the artistic status quo while maintaining focus on the unencumbered artistic impulse.
These movements hold as essential only the moment of artistic inspiration (which is to say, the artist and the thought). The material circumstances of art, its contemporaneous constraints, the given mediums, the modes of distribution and exhibition; these things are necessarily relevant to the artist. They are not, however, essential.
This succession of artistic movements have shared certain thematic similarities that arise to the viewer or reader as one becomes acquainted with them. All of this is necessary context — but there is one overarching thread that is nearly universal within avant-garde artistic movements: all of these movements loudly, achingly call for the sovereignty of the artist and their work. The constant pursuit of the heterodox goes hand-in-hand with a pursuit of artistic independence and security. The artist (and thus the art) that is beholden to an oligarchic overclass is too often stunted. Artistic and creative impulses are too often sublimated to ulterior motives deemed more “productive” by the forces of capital. Resistance to these tendencies has been the impetus for many of these movements.
M○C△ seeks to establish a framework which enables the artist to control the means of distribution of their work and to profit from their works’ value in the secondary market. The traditional barriers to entry into the more traditional world of gallerists and art dealers are essentially abolished.
The crypto movement fetishizes newness — there is both opportunity and liability in that. The crypto art movement is in its incipiency and its identity is largely undefined (though one would do well to ground this newness in a historical context). This formlessness (when compared to the physical, political, social, and economic constraints of historical predecessors) presents to an artist an opportunity to set off in any direction, unencumbered, with the ability to shape their own identity, to cooperate with other artists (or not), to establish communal aesthetics and values (or not), to push and pull at this protozoic blob as it solidifies, sprouts fins, legs, wings, and begins to move of its own accord. Or not. Where are parallel opportunities? What other novel medium allowed such ease of access and such wide dissemination? Film, music, print, canvas, stone, bronze — no.
Andre Breton, a century ago, marveled at the “freedom of thought” allowed him and his compatriots within the surrealist movement — in its time a radically avant-garde artistic movement that aimed to untether art from rationality — though this freedom of thought remained encumbered by modes of production.
Radical as artistic avant-garde movements of the last two centuries have been, they have been inextricably bound to physical mediums that did not reflect their disparate, heterodox, antiestablishment identities. Technological advances and the proliferation of internet-accessible devices offer an ephemerality that the radical artistic ancestry of modern and postmodern movements yearned for. Print no longer requires a press; the visual arts no longer require an exposition, a canvas, or even a frame; criticism is now in the mind of the collector, in the mind of anyone with access to a screen.
There is so little physicality, so little structure left — what a thing to behold! This is a marvel — though it ought not be a reason to turn away from artistic inheritances. The freedom allowed the artist and artistic movements should carry with it an appreciation of the historic good fortune of the contemporary digital artist.
Traditional production of art and traditional art markets required processes and hierarchies that inherently limited access and profitability for artists. The emergence of art produced on and for digital mediums is a modern reflection of these processes. The flattening of these layered mechanisms into a three-step process (create art, mint art, sell art) grows the artists’ power immeasurably. With the inclusion of sell-on clauses and the excision of parasitic market processes and their attendant middlemen, the siphoning of artist profit will be drastically reduced.
As with everything else, the proper approach here (if there is one) seems to be a synthesis of these concepts; an embrace of the new and a commitment to innovation and ingenuity, coupled with an understanding of the richness and relevance of the movement’s forebears (and, for extra credit, a sense of gratitude for the possibility which lay before the artist and the art community that was not available to those that came before).
Art is discourse, a conversation in a given moment, a commentary and interaction with the past, and an appeal to the what-is-to-come. Art (from the perspective of the discourse, anyway) is reflective of the core tenets of the blockchain. “What happens when a new work of art is created is something that happens simultaneously to all the works of art which preceded it,” wrote T.S. Eliot, in 1919, in what could be the second sentence to a blockchain primer in 2019. (There is also a world of artistic potential in teasing out this parallel and the themes involved.)
M○C△ exists ultimately not to shape or define any movement or to dominate any space. It exists to empower artists who will then do that historically important and vital work on their own terms. M○C△ seeks to grant the platform to artists that they’ve yearned for over the last two centuries (at least); an embrace of a system of production and dissemination which meets and takes as its premise the lofty calls for the elevation and primacy of the idea, the thought, the inspiration, and the artist.
Notions of physicality and preferred mediums have been transformed after a century-long process in the visual arts. The last two centuries of poetry, literature, and criticism thereof have seen a general erosion of formalism. The stage is at the direction of the artist in striking ways. Boundaries have been disposed of and bindings cast off as the technology available to artists has flattened modes of production and distribution.
Art, dematerialized, and markets, decentralized, grant the artist potentially revolutionary potency. Breton, vanguard of the surrealist movement, had at his core, one overriding artistic concern: of “freedom,” of “sovereignty of thought,” and unfettered inspiration. A century on, the artist stands at a precipice, with an opportunity to fully utilize the groundbreaking tools and processes of the crypto art world to these ends.
These platforms, these technologies, the nature of emerging and established digital markets, the unparalleled accessibility of digital art: this is enough to make the head spin at the thought of the enormous stored potential — the splitting of the atom within the art world — and, in Breton’s words again: now “it is up to us not to misuse it.”
Thoughts? Ideas? Find us here: https://forum.museumofcryptoart.com/