NFT profile pictures stifle crypto art
Andy Warhol was reportedly all-in on the NFT PFP craze, seeing it as art for everyone and claiming the throne of his uber-famous Campbell’s soup can paintings. The fact that the craze deigned to elevate the code-assembled stupid cartoon into a gigantic limited edition might have made him laugh with glee. And he would have been right.
As a form of the generative art landscape that’s now so popular with the NFT (so-called non-fungible token investor) crowd, PFPs (short for “profile picture”) have pressed all the right buttons at exactly the right time. “Art,” after all, is just a convenient underlying asset that can inject some fun into the stressful world of day trading.
It’s especially fitting for our brave new world of alternative facts and day-to-day truth. Faceless Exosuits have brilliantly solved the puzzle of how to get people to throw money at a virtual Mr. Potato Head in the guise of a bunch of simian bad boys with nothing better to do. than to complain about the club management’s decision to admit women. I have to admit, Bored Ape images have some appeal, but so does crack.
In 2020, NFT-land already had a reputation as a playground for fraudsters of all persuasions, and many people mistakenly viewed decentralization as fraudulent in its essence, both because of its ridiculously loose criteria for which is considered art and because of the blur. concept of rarity versus infinitely reproducible JPEGs. But the most damaging deception of all was the concept of total decentralization that art is “in the eye of the beholder” and immune to judgments that would imply the existence of qualitative differences in art. Welcome to the tyranny of Everyman as Expert.
When combined with the wash trade and other nefarious means of assigning value to worthless images, this meant that a monetary value could be assigned to any image, inflated to vast profits and happily traded by those who didn’t know better or simply didn’t care. After all, few had any idea what good art really is and they were hungry to be part of the crowd.
But then the monkeys moved in. Bored Apes with their “yacht clubs” did not try to compete with such pedestrian cheats, but made a brilliantly designed final run, applying techniques honed and popularized by multi-level marketing systems and master level manipulators of dopamine such as like Facebook. They used artificial scarcity and the right kinds of hype by the right kinds of people to create a wave of hysterical FOMO (fear of missing out) that grew with every new buyer and every new price on the leaderboard.
Don’t get the impression that I don’t like the success of the monkeys. While I find it a shame that the fantastic sums paid for BAYC profile pictures could have been better spent supporting serious artists, they are welcome for their money and success. But I have a problem with what they did without thinking about the NFT art community as a whole. The developers clearly had no concern for the art or the artists, eschewing any responsibility to the community that made their project viable in the first place.
Already a laughing stock in the eyes of serious art collectors and members of the general public, NFTs have taken a left jab to the chin that could end the fight. The hype surrounding monkeys and their non-simian offspring (Flitty Kitties, Beauteous Bovines or whatever) has added insult to injury. A monkey aroma now pervades all blockchain-trading digital arts simply because they share the NFT tag.
Unfortunately, the largest viable market for digital fine art now has to give up space for pixelated wreckage devoid of artistic significance. And to the extent that public perception is shaped by a continuous deluge of hype over the latest digital Beanie Baby, great digital art has been thrown into the pit.
See also: As Museums Go Dark, Crypto Art Finds Its Frame CryptoBlog
There is a surprising silver lining to this story, however. Thanks to the publicity of art NFTs in general, more and more museums and traditional art collectors are paying attention to the medium as a legitimate and valuable new genre worthy of their interest. And a few savvy investors — even those who first got into NFTs through things like BAYC — have started taking a closer look at the art for the first time in their lives.
Projects like BAYC have acted as powerful contrast dyes injected into the corpus of artistic NFTs, helping to delineate the line between JPEG poker chips as an underlying asset and digital fine art. And now that the line has been drawn so clearly, it remains for serious artists in the NFT community and the platforms providing their market infrastructure to create a safe and inviting space for art lovers to show, buy, sell and trade their highly innovative digital work.
As one of those serious artists, I can hardly wait.
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