Artists Sell Feelings?

People buy things for how things will make them feel. Desires for status, connection, and emotion. At its core, we sell feelings.

-Radia. “An artist’s guide to surviving NFTs.” March 12, 2022

What is art? Non-fungible tokens, or NFTs, raise an interesting aspect about answering this question.

If we think about making art as a process, the art is all the decisions that are made in making something. What we call “art” is actually the artifact. When you commodify that artifact, it turns it into a product that people buy, and this brings us to this statement about people buying feelings.

I think the other end of the equation is more interesting. Why do people make things? Do people make things to sell them and have a livelihood? Some do. It seems obvious that this would shape the decisions that go into making the artifact. An artist looking to sell other people feelings is abstracted out of real experience. It’s a kind of alienation. I think the art will reflect that.

At base, if you are making art, the best art is part of a process, where you tap into something in yourself or maybe something larger than yourself. There’s nothing wrong with selling and making money as an artist. But, thinking of it as a product doesn’t improve the art.

NFTs cut the direct connection to the artifact. An NFT of a digital image is a claim of ownership but without a physical object or exclusive access to it. It’s a kind of deed, and deeds aren’t fertile ground for artistic inspiration. Even if we try to make analogies that art (the artifact) is somehow like homes, with all the good feelings homes give us, it seems patently absurd. I’d guess that is probably why NFTs are so incomprehensible to so many.

How NFTs Create Value

“[Non-fungible Tokens (NFTs)] enable new markets by allowing people to create and build upon new forms of ownership. These projects succeed by leveraging a core dynamic of crypto: A token’s worth comes from users’ shared agreement — and this means that the community one builds around NFTs quite literally creates those NFTs’ underlying value. And the more these communities increase engagement and become part of people’s personal identities, the more that value is reinforced.

Newer applications will take greater advantage of online-offline connections, and introduce increasingly complex token designs. But even today, it’s less surprising than you might think that people are making money selling pictures on the internet.”

Steve Kaczynski and Scott Duke Kominers, “How NFTs Create Value.” Harvard Business Review. November 10, 2021

I was of the mindset that NFTs are a scam. But, then again, people think the same thing about cryptocurrencies, which I think is a new computing paradigm. This overview and explainer convinced me that perhaps there is more going on in this space than I realized. If you want to go deeper down this hole, you could do worse than Rolling Stone’s coverage of the Bored Ape Yacht Club.

The Internet of Grift (Non-Fungible Tokens Edition)

“The moment that something has bubbled up to the surface long enough for it to establish real value is the exact moment at which those engineering the system for their profit are planning to exit or have already left. All of the flashy press has likely died down due to the market cap crashing from $1.1 billion to today’s cap of $726 million and $1 million in volume – with a few days this week below $350,000. For context, the top cryptocurrencies have daily volume in the billions or hundreds of millions of dollars. Now the market is flooded with cheaper cards that people can’t recoup value from, with no real market to sell them into. But the guys who got in early got rich, as they always do…

…When you remove the idea that an NFT could forseeably be sold for more money than you paid, what value does it have? What beauty? What does it symbolize? What meaning does it have? And what’s the point of it being unique? It’s not a Rolex, that actually has a quality and heft and look to it, nor is it something you can admire outside of the computer, and even if you don’t care about that, it’s a status symbol of wealth and taste (if you feel that way about expensive watches).”

-Ed Zitron, “The Internet of Grift.” October 1, 2021.

It’s interesting because there are people that make this same argument about cryptocurrencies, “They are a solution looking for a problem.” I’d argue that programmable money does have obvious utility in ways that a non-fungible token of art doesn’t. But, it’s a point where reasonable people can disagree.

Crypto Canon

“…a list of crypto readings and resources. It’s organized from building blocks and basics; foundations (& history); and key concepts — followed by specific topics such as governance; privacy and security; scaling; consensus and governance; cryptoeconomics, cryptoassets, and investing; fundraising and token distribution; decentralized exchanges; stablecoins; and cryptoeconomic primitives and crypto goods (non-fungible tokens, cryptocollectibles, token-curated registries, curation markets). We also included a section with developer tutorials, practical guides, and maker stories — as well as other resources, such as newsletters/updates and courses, at the end.”

Crypto Canon