Wading into the hell world of NFTs
A months-late explainer from someone who doesn’t give a shit about cryptoart and, in fact, hates it a lot!
Art is cool.
[Record scratch, freeze frame]: Yep, that was me, Ryan’s brain—interpreter of his world, incubator of his ideas, regulator of his stimuli—last week. This was an actual thought I made, a notion that escaped the crevices of my soft, electrified crevices and materialized into existence.
Art is cool.
At the time, it felt profound, and maybe with a little more articulation (i.e. stank), it could’ve been. But no...
Art. Is. Cool.
Listen, our brains don’t have to be smart all the time, and last week—after interviewing the insightful, sensitive, and indelible musician D.WREX—I was dumbfounded by the effect it had on me. It made me think about how art can be both transgressive and transformative. How it can articulate emotions that we have no words for. How it literally can save lives.
I’m far from the first person to have these thoughts, but sometimes I experience something that reminds me of the sublime beauty in the world, and that remembrance feels like an epiphany. Yet, the moment can be so large that I feel overwhelmed and all your feelings turn into a dumb, inarticulate mush.
Hence: art is cool.
I was riding on that wave of enlightenment for a good couple of days. Then I remembered that NFTs exist.
And with that, dear readers, I remembered that some art is notcool.
What are NFTs
NFTs, for those of you who haven’t heard or have begrudgingly ignored them (and I don’t blame you), stand for “non-fungible tokens,” and no matter how many explainers you wade through, you’ll still be confused on what that means and why anyone would settle on “fungible” to include in their little acronym. Yes, I know fungible means replaceable, but it still sounds like some nerdy Middle Earth shit.
NFTs are pieces of digital ephemera whose originality can be verified by blockchain. I think. What this means is that people can essentially make their art, music, writing—anything digital—a one-of-a-kind item that they can sell or trade. And the blockchain is... I don’t know... a code or something that allows you to trace a digital artifact back to its origin. It’s basically a sort of accountability method that prevents, say, cryptocurrency inventors from giving themselves all the Bitcoin or whatever.
So when we’re talking about the NFT art market, it means that users have turned (or “minted”)their items (jpgs, gifs, etc.) into irreplaceable pieces of art that can be tracked. If you buy an NFT, there’s nothing stopping anyone from copy/pasting the same image, but with the blockchain, the originality of your NFT can be verified. It’s like how you can buy prints of famous paintings, but not the original hanging in a museum.
Phew, wow. Who else is impressed that I have a basic understanding of NFTs? When TikTok started blowing up, I was like, “Nu-uh. This is the line. I will not learn how to use TikTok and I will not become savvy on anything new on the internet ever again,” so I resent NFTs for forcing me to break that resolve.
I also resent NFTs for literally everything else.
Why NFTs suck
There are a whole bunch of stupid problematic elements to NFTs, the main one being the potential environmental disaster. Ethereum, a popular form of cryptocurrency widely used in the NFT art market, apparently uses as much energy to process its transactions as the entire country of Libya.
Despite the environmental concerns, I have no issues with NFTs in theory. In fact, I think the idea of digital art as valuable, valid, and irreplaceable is kind of cool. But just like anything produced in the tech world, it generally seems to be intended for a specific, targeted audience.
That is: rich people.
Who else would have the type of disposable income to use expensive fake money to buy gifs? The whole world of cryptocurrency is like a play economy for rich adults, similar to the stock market but with way less dignity. Sorry, I’m just imagining a grown-ass person talking about “dogecoin” without a hint of shame.
Also, the NFT market is pay-to-play, where users (or, ugh, “miners”) pay to have their art listed on one of the many NFT art sites like OpenSea. This fee is called “gas”—because it powers those climate-changing crypto processors!—and when I last checked, it cost around $200 (or .85 Ethereum [ETH]) to simply list a piece of art. That cost is probably nothing for a Bay Area tech bro who likes to get high and dabble in Photoshop after a long day of displacing low-income residents in his neighborhood, but it’s an obstacle—nay, a slap in the face—to actual struggling artists.
Essentially, the whole NFT scene feels like rich people creating their own market because 1) they don’t have the determination, talent, motivation, or grit to succeed in a traditional art market and 2) because they can.
Oh, and also the dude who took the now-iconic cheese sandwich pic from Fyre Fest now has to sell that image as an NFT to pay for medical costs. If that’s not the perfect encapsulation of late-stage capitalism, I don’t know what is. I hate it here.
Some of my favorite examples of NFT art
Now, before we get into these examples, I know I’m veering very near the “what is art” swamp. I’m not trying to be a cultural gatekeeper by declaring one thing art and another thing not art.
I’m also not in the business of shitting on people’s creations for the sake of being mean. Creating art is an honorable endeavor, even if the art you create is subjectively bad.
But it’s also subject to critique, especially when you remember that each one of these people paid $200 to have their art listed on OpenSea when I have to put a $200 dental procedure on a payment plan.
Note: Ξ is the symbol for Ethereum, like how we use $ for dollars.
Price: Ξ0.0375 ($79.91)
From the description: On February 8, 2021, one of the most influential men in the world decided to invest in Bitcoin. Elon Musk, owner of Tesla, marks, on this historic date, a change of economic paradigm. This work is a tribute to that event.
Just a cursory glance through any NFT art market will reveal a deluge of art dedicated to Elon Musk. The Tesla billionaire is like a god to smooth-brained tech bros for reasons I’ll never understand, and the reverence for him is simultaneously funny and gross. It’s going to be real embarrassing when the world explodes and aliens find all the files dedicated to a man who was born with a silver spoon in his mouth (not that Jesus Christ imagery is any less embarrassing, but you know what I mean).
That said, I appreciate the attention to Musk’s jowls in this one.
Price: Ξ1.1167 average price ($2,642.84)
When I first started exploring NFTs, I kept seeing these things called CryptoPunks—simple, pixelated faces, like something you’d see out of an NES game. Turns out CryptoPunks’ history is super interesting in that they were the first NFTs, and were designed as guinea pigs just to see if NFTs could be viable (this was all the way back in 2017). Two developers at Larva Labs created 10,000 CryptoPunks—all of which are now very valuable and some sell for the USD equivalent of millions. I recommend reading this article that goes into further detail, but still, I gotta respect the CryptoPunks even though the market is now flooded with “_Punks” parodies and knock-offs (the internet is not known for originality). Owning one of these things is probably like owning the Mona Lisa for crypto art collectors.
Price: Ξ1.49 ($3,196.90)
“Hey honey, I just spent $3,000 on an MS Paint squiggle. That cool?”
Price: Ξ0.03 ($64.37)
CryptoRats is a series like CryptoPunks, but I dig these because it seems like something the goth kid in the back of your history class would be working on during the teacher’s lecture. They’ve really nailed those horrid mouth shapes which, I dare say, is the artistic signature of CryptoRats. I also really love the glasses on the rat in the bottom left corner.
Price: Ξ 0.0602 ($129.16)
From the description: 1/1 handmade. Catchphrase Dog is the only cool dog with the HOTTEST CATCHPHRASES and the #SIKKEST MOVES on the Ethereum blockchain.
This NFT is a gif, which I can’t embed here, but its movement is really quite satisfying. It’s strange that there is no indication of what catchphrases this Catchphrase Dog actually says, but maybe that’s why it’s art.
Price: Ξ 7.33 ($15,727.03)
So this bro took a real painting and added a selfie stick, trash, and a few moving components (it’s a moving gif), and I guess it’s a commentary on modern culture or something? Edgy! This is some Mr. Brainwash-level shit, and the only people who would find this profound are the people rich and dumb enough to afford it.
I can’t reiterate this enough: it costs $200 to list one of these things.
Price: Ξ5 ($11,949.05)
Leaving you with one more Musk. This should be the image in your brain next time you see someone driving a Tesla, or when you think of getting into cryptocurrency. Or when you lie awake at night thinking of how you’re going to pay for food, housing, or childcare. Or when you’re thinking of capitalism. Just imagine Elon Musk victorious under the weight of a giant Bitcoin, Christlike in his martyrdom.
And then try to think of something you can pawn so you can afford to pay $12,000 for this jpg.
Because art is cool!
THE WEEKLY GOODS
Listen to this
It’s not often that I think of The Clash’s final studio album Cut The Crap (lol that title), but it makes me sad every time I do. I believe there’s even a whole contingent of people who don’t even know it exists, and that’s probably for the better. After dismissing co-songwriter Mick Jones and drummer Topper Headon, Joe Strummer seemed dead set on making the most unpunk album out there: a garbage collage of cheesy synths and drum machines. It’s a sad, depressing swan song for The Only Band that Mattered. Every few years, I try to give Cut The Crap another chance, but no amount of rose tinting makes it worthy of revisionist take (although, I will admit to being a little moved by “This Is England”). However, one intrepid musician named Gerald Manns took it upon himself to “rerecord”Cut The Crap by mixing live bootlegs of the band performing the material (before it was cheesified in the studio), and even recording his own instrumental tracks when the bootlegs didn’t suffice. The result is... well, it’s pretty good! It sounds like a Clash album! The whole process is fascinating, and I encourage any Clash fan to check it out. All props to Manns for restoring some of The Clash’s late-era legacy.
I love local lore (god, try saying that out loud), especially spooky stuff. San Diego is not particularly brimming with it because it’s kinda hard to find anything scary in perpetual 75-degree weather. But there are a few good ones: Elfin Forest, Whaley House, and Proctor Valley Road—a supposedly haunted road that connects Jamul to Chula Vista. It seems that PVR is one of those catch-all haunted things, where people have reported everything from ghost cars to monsters. Now, it looks like the legend is going to be immortalized in comic book form. Proctor Valley Road from BOOM! Studios just came out, and I haven’t read it, but comic friends tell me writer Grant Morrison is one of the biggest names in comics. Plus this art looks dope. I’m excited to check it out, and hopefully it can add a little to San Diego’s spooky cred.
The Ocean Beach Pier is as much of a landmark to San Diego as the Coronado Bridge, and it probably won’t last much longer. According to this depressing (but very well-researched!) OB Rag story, the pier is in need of much needed repairs, which—turns out—are very expensive and likely more than the city is willing to pay. Hopefully someone steps up to save it or we’ll just have a big ol’ empty phallus sticking out in the ocean, useful only for astronauts making Austin Powers jokes.
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Julia Dixon Evans edited this post. Thanks, Julia. Go follow her on Twitter.