Eat Bread and Salt and Speak the Truth

[Eat Bread and Salt and Speak the Truth
(Хлеб-соль ешь, а правду-матку режь – old Russian proverb)]

Al Jirikowic

More often than not, critical analysis of much modern or postmodern art is stymied by its simplicity of appearance. Critically explained: the more seemingly simple or basically apparent the art is, the bigger the modernist or postmodernist mess or confusion there is to fall into. We have seen far too many fairly blank canvases and cubes just sitting there without discussion, which when addressed, can aesthetically get complicated, alienating and unwieldy. So we arrive at the times we live in when criticism is dead. For as we said in our last issue, art worth its salt is not obvious and never has been. However, plainly and sadly, this is not the case with the recently sold Non Fungible Token (NTF) at a Christie’s auction. For this is an example of ‘what you don’t see is what you will not get’. In this case, as it turns out, this is an intangible work of art.
Sadly, this is the unfortunate case of the highly touted sale of an NFT, entitled Everydays: The First 5000 Days created by Beeple (real name Mike Winkelmann) and sold by Christie’s auction house for $69.3 million, plus fees, on March 11. An NFT is not a material object, rather it is a non-fungible token, minted as immutable i.e. digitally authentic to one owner, in this case a crypto-fund from Singapore known as Metakovan. So the ownership is of prime concern here, not copyright, nor the actual art, as this image will be replicated millions of times but there is, alas, only one owner. And that is quite a stunt but the overwhelming factor in this transaction is just ownership of the minted certificate, not really the digital image. Of course this is situated on the blockchain, that is, its location is spread over the many computers that comprise the blockchain to further add to its original nature and consequently adds to its financial value. This is purely a digital endeavor that does not exist in any form of materiality except for its unwieldy price. In a real sense, in the history of art, it does not exist but for its digital status. The actual art could not matter less and at this point, it simply does not matter. And that is the problem. It has no matter of concern or focus or material matter of sense. So what is it?
“It will one day be worth $1 billion,” Metakovan said in a statement.

https://www.cnn.com/style/article/banana-artwork-eaten-scli-intl/index.html
https://www.zerohedge.com/personal-finance/italian-artist-sells-invisible-sculpture-18000?utm_campaign=&utm_content=Zerohedge%3A+The+Durden+Dispatch&utm_medium=email&utm_source=zh_newsletter- (email pdf has direct links. Ed.)
That art has faced a dematerialization before is not the issue here. Art has often, especially in the postmodern world, come to a vanishing point. We know that the conceptual movement was an attempt to elude the market/gallery system only to have collectors purchase the documentation of such conceptual work. Certainly performance vanishes, as does theatre, dance, music and even film as all these forms will hang in our minds but all have a material reference. Not this stuff. The nature of this NTF is purely financial and declares itself as a real departure from whatever we have ever considered art. This is not Warhol.
In our past we may have had an overpriced object or memory to belittle or trash but never pure investment in a digital format. This is now art of a non-aesthetic. The subject and object have not only merged, they were never under consideration in the first place. This does not consider the anti-art of Dadaism, for at least Dada took society and art into consideration. That this NTF is considered art, in the first place, is troubling.
But the trouble is that this is not nothing. We have covered art as a deliberate store of value and tax evasion in earlier issues so as to de-artify its human purpose or any need for humans to make art. But such art still exists in its packing crates and in vaults stored away, hidden from us. This NTF is not hiding. Is it now right in front of us, for all of us to behold?
But nothing itself is more elusive, for nothing seems to be the way it is, even nothing itself. Everything, it would seem, comes from nothing. So I have a high regard for nothing as a cosmic focus. Forgive me. But there is something here that is important.
That is, if we actually look at this phenomenon artfully. We see once again, TA DA! … the art mind doing its job. Art as the unconscious reflection of our state of being, society today revealed, our gods so to speak – but only if we do the work to interpret it. And here we have an absolutely unmistakeable representation of an ominous and omnipresent reflection of our mind-numbed society and its distracted and dangerously alienated state in a dead/living metaphor! Our god is glaring back at us.
The Washington Post was wise to say it was not art but they really held up going any further about the nature of this thing. They said rich people should not waste their money on this.
Ironically, at least from my point of view, they largely represent and tend to the culture that sprouted this monied monster in the first place. Our highly contentious and material postmodern state of chaos is our god’s home. They water this garden on a daily basis. The Post would never insult money itself. Money is god in Washington. Who would read the paper if the lifeblood of American and world culture was trashed by the very daily document that defines and sets our culture right on an hourly basis? So what gives in this contradiction?
The NTF is mental dust. That it achieved so much attention was, indeed, its value, but that is all. Just hype. And to the extent we cannot conceptualise this we will feel the pain of being burned. From the looks of this, I think we have had quite enough. I feel degraded dealing with it.
I would say we are now in a position, with these decks cleared, to demand more from our art, our culture. I would never try to define art and enjoy the reality of its non-definition, but that is to say it is time to shape up. Artists and critics need to wrest our art away from those who settle for mental dust. Our life depends on it and the time is nigh. So start. And stop breathing that mental dust. You know what it is.

A suggested time line for NFTs.

The following comes from https://jingculturecommerce.com

Colored Coins are often considered the conceptual spark for NFTs. Beginning in 2012, these small denominations of Bitcoin were used to represent assets from digital collectibles and property to company shares.
Next came Counterparty in 2014, a peer-to-peer financial platform on the Bitcoin blockchain that became a hub for digital asset creation and trading (memes and trading cards thrived).
NFTs hit the mainstream in 2017 with CryptoKitties, a blockchain game in which players adopt, rear, and trade virtual cats (so popular it significantly slowed the Ethereum blockchain).
2021’s manic demand for NFTs can be explained through a confluence of factors:
After years of growth, cryptocurrency investors are looking to diversify portfolios.
Pandemic lockdowns saw homebound creators and collectors invest more time and money in NFTs ($250 million of NFT volume traded in 2020, up 300 percent year-on-year).
Emerging NFT marketplaces have become more user-friendly, bringing in new collectors.
Celebrity interest (Grimes, Mark Cuban, Lindsay Lohan, etc.) has generated huge hype.

NFTs are created, bought, and traded on the blockchain, predominantly Ethereum’s. To participate, users use a digital wallet and create an account on one of many of marketplaces including:

Rarible — a Moscow-based platform and currently the world’s largest marketplace. It’s centered on supporting artists producing affordable art, with the average transaction per user standing at $129.

OpenSea — one of the first decentralized NFT marketplaces and currently the second largest. Considered by some as the eBay for NFTs, OpenSea platforms millions of assets across hundreds of categories including trading cards, domain names, digital art, and virtual worlds.

Nifty Gateway — focused on fine art and collectibles it terms “Nifties,” its prominence is soaring off the power of platforming celebrity “drops.” Somewhat uniquely, users are not required to own or deal with cryptocurrency and can conduct purchases using a credit card.

Volume 35 no. 6 July/August 2021

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ian russo
15/09/2021 5:56 am

At the prices of some NFT’s are going for seems to be (in my opinion) a way to hide a transaction. I know wealthy people and they don’t throw money away, they are very careful and not impulse buyers; actually they are some of the thriftiest people I know. In reality I think the NFT’s are used to hide the purchase of something very illegal or worse.

Al in Washington
17/09/2021 11:55 am
Reply to  ian russo

yes, we have gone over the practice of art investment as a store of value… but my problem is a philosophical one insofar I find an NTF to be nothing more than a store of value and nothing else…..no art…. no aesthetics….. no culture…. only money and financial owner ship…. and the funny part is they will all crash….. watch out!

Miklos Legrady
06/08/2021 8:22 pm

“More often than not, critical analysis of much modern or postmodern art is stymied by its simplicity of appearance.” Al, you’re so right. Didn’t someone say 95% of NFTs will lose their value in the near future?

Anonymous
23/08/2021 3:19 pm
Reply to  Miklos Legrady

I think any sort of tech investment in imagery is rather precarious ….. not to mention scammy…..a

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