RND/ To consider notes towards a general critique of Cryptoart – the corporate art of Capitalism.
That’s the thing, we’re all human! I want people to like it and to see it. I’m not a monk living on a mountain.
– Mike ‘Same Boat As You, Honest’ Winkelmann interview with Allan McKay, Episode 285
[..] since when has practicality, possibility, or basic physics gotten in the way of tech bros, wall street predators, and other assorted vampires literally spinning gold out of thin fucking air? [..] Using The Blockchain, itself an environmentally destructive load of arbitrarily lucrative contrivance, an NFT can create a series of transactions that basically ‘prove’ you own invisible nonsense. [..] NFTs are bullshit.
– Jim Sterling, They’re Just Selling Nothing Now (Jimquisition)
[..] simultaneously rebuking both the traditional bourgeois conception of the alienated urban individual and the quasi-fascistic cult of personality that continues to be celebrated wherever art is publicized.
– Travis Jeppensen, Bad Writing (Sternberg Press 2019)
* To consider in general terms what Beeple’s $69M NFT cryptoart purchase means for artists who aren’t Beeple. Short answer: it doesn’t mean a thing. Congratulations, after all these lonely years you’re still an anonymous artist in poverty (Matthew 22:14); all such mega-sales prove is that the system’s twisted logic still dis-functions as intended (ie. for itself.)
* Beeple already appears handsomely well off; his total artwork value currently stands at $105,508,463.31. Sporting a look half way between Bill Gates and Mr. Rogers, with pearly even teeth, what’s the real surprise or story here – “Rich White Guy Says He Feels OK”? Yeah, no doubt you do.
* So some anonymous 1%er with questionable taste cynically purchases some malignantly useless shiny bauble – a ‘beeple’? – from a(/nother) privileged white male, and everyone else is meant to auto-applauds such selfless, hard meritocratic effort like performing seals?
* Every time Blockchain transaction takes place, a small voice inside one’s brain asks, “Was this a(/nother) Cyberpunk dark-hat hacker collective hired by an underground syndicate money (/laundering / pump n’ dump) operation? “You never know with crypto™.”
What’s interesting is that Beeple, the creator of the artwork, is actually a business partner of Metakovan’s. He owns 2% of all the B20 tokens. I’m sure there is no conflict of interest here.
– Amy Castor, independent reporter, focused on cryptocurrencies and financial fraud
* Truly, nothing says “It’s been a long, hard journey as an impoverished artist living on the margins” like filming yourself watching your own fucking private Christie’s auction live from a comfy designer sofa in a huge house in apple-pastel-white Stepford-Wandavision suburbia. (“Doesn’t everyone, Dahlink?”) Christie’s called him a ‘visionary’ – yeah, if the vision is of unforeseen potential for profits.
* Discussing his recent re-multimillionaire status upgrade with numerous mainstream news outlets, Beeple appears disturbingly at ease, as if the excess that are Fame and Fortune were always on the electronic cards – at least, for ‘Everyday’ volks like him. As an already well-off member of an advanced technological society, ‘reacting to becoming even richer’ at the very least indicates a supreme self confidence – but as what, exactly?
* Apparently Winkelmann – whose name conjures up poor salesmen-schmuck Willy Loman – is ‘one of the most celebrated digital artists in the world’ whose art has been used by ‘high-end brands’ in their marketing campaigns. Clients include Louis Vuitton, Apple, Nike, Coca-Cola as well as ‘celebrities and superstars’ like Justin Bieber and Katy Perry. Unfortunately, such a CV arguably smells like a dead ‘Artistic Goatse’ – another willingly distended hole for Capitalism. (How can such art sell out, if it was already a functioning component in The Machine from the outset?)
* Cola Company genuinely cares as much about art and integrity as it does about global diabetes rates, or tooth decay. Louis Vuitton allegedly told an already borderline-anorexic model she looked bloated, and told her to just drink water for 24 hours. Just how willingly naive and violently indifferent does one have to act, in order to pimp out one’s arts for such blatant corporate evil? What level of cognitive disconnect do creatives need in order to convince themselves ‘this is fine’ – let’s do business? ‘Collaboration’ indeed.
* At the top of Winkelmann’s site, it states “The best I can do.” This could ironically mean “given the circumstances” (Capitalism?) or “Sorry, I’m only able to be this good.” Somewhat faux-humbly, Beeple terms his compulsive, daily mass-art production his Everyday Process ‘beeple crap’. Everyday, as in ‘already fully assimilated into’, or ‘uncritically accepted as natural and inevitable’? (Real beetles, and their crap do wonders for Earth. Unlike Tech Bros.)
* As happy creators of undoubtedly korporate-friendly Content, artists like Beeple are hardly what you’d call marginal. The notion that such a huge, manly output – perhaps more akin to a blind, Warholesque factory line – symbolizes some inner artistic purity of vision, of giving it one’s best shot as a spunky, Indie go-getter is questionable. It’s just the old Protestant Work Ethic at play – the internalization of a society’s ideological boundaries and goals, the quietly hysterical obsession with almighty WORK™. “Keep shoveling hard little Beetle, and one day you’ll enter crypto-heaven.” (Or at least the millionaire’s club by the back entrance.) But again – what if you were always already a member?
* Such an awful state of internal affairs certainly appears to work for modern, hip, morally flexible artists and their clients – busy beetles, burrowing everywhere possible. (Or maybe just flies on large, bland piles of crypt0-fasc1st eShit?)
* According the nets, Beeple’s ‘boundary-pushing body of award-winning short films dynamically challenge viewers on social issues’ ranging from ‘the apocalyptic takeover of robots, cyberwarfare, computer transparency and privacy to the subprime crisis’. That sure seems comprehensive, all the modern concerned moral bases covered. What real evidence is there however that anyone’s being remotely challenged by anything? Take Beeple’s “Manifest Destiny” pop video, which at first glance genuinely seems to be critical – but of what, exactly? We see the senselessness of conflict in the name of greed, we see ‘false gods’ being worshiped and nod at how penetrating it all seems – whatever I.T is – a postmodern advert for Something Cool, perhaps? Maybe a luxury virtual boat to float as Crypto-Anthropogenic Climate change comes flooding in.
* The Parallax View is a 1974 American political thriller, produced and directed by Alan J. Pakula. Is this an updated form of employee indoctrination video shown at Parallax Corporation? It appears on screen, seemingly apropos of nothing. Who posted this? What is all this really – and more importantly why? A contextless, free floating exposition of random apolitical factoids over a generic beat, despite also arguably just being vacuous, actually prevents genuine change. Viewers feel instantly possessed of all the necessary info – in an endlessly entertaining manner, naturally. “Amusing ourselves to death” as sociologist Neil Postman puts it. Immediately after however – much like the guards at the end of The Truman Show movie – they ask “..What else is on?” What’s the moral lesson being put forward or addressed by such Art – if anything?
* Thing is, nobody’s no more critical of Capitalism than itself; nothing’s consistently more Anti-Capitalism than the system. The ‘best’ of Capitalism is it’s twisted alchemical marriage of (eg.) Buddhism, Feminism, Environmentalism – and the naked, greed-is-good lizard gospel of the Free Market. In other words just straight up corporate-rebellion wokewashing 101. The titles of Beeple’s sold work appears to precisely mirror this pathetic non-duality of of Critique + Capital: “Late Capitalism”, “I Miss People”, “Mark Of The Beast”, “Disney Plus”, “The Passion Of The Elon” – and especially “Crypto Is Bullshit.” Deep, Beep; simultaneously (and, probably-genuinely) criticizing.. stuff, while privately-in-public celebrating and championing inevitable, joyful runaway success within that System. (One can only imagine the conflicted moral quandary, the existential push-me-pull-you faced with every mega-sale.)
* Slavoj Zizek has talked about this – about the subtle blackmail to take part in one’s own moral subjugation to dominant market ideology – ‘for just a few cents more on each coffee brought, we’ll give a dollar to the hardworking ingenious brown peoples of.. wherever’. Zero contradiction; merely a convenient conjunction of dialectic opposites – one white hand washing the other. One is reminded of Banksy, a reactionary artist born of (fully emergent from) the dynamics of the system, who the easily impressed vaguely imagine ‘critiques modern life under Capitalism from within, man’. As if that’s the point – even if it were somehow true. Rather, notice how laughably effortless it is for the well off few – ie. the Great Silent Majority of the elite – to continually have their next fat slice of the Capitalist-Critical Cake while gleefully eating I.T.
* Much like the unshakable mental prefix ‘God’, if ‘Money!’ is the cognitive basis of one’s every question and subsequent answer then sure, Rap-casual about life’s little inequalities while doing precisely zero about it (because how could one really, with an expensive design degree from a nice university in a safe, gated neighborhood using state of the art 3D rendering software on modern hardware only handfuls of people can afford, for hyper-corporate clients able to pay handsomely for the ‘artistic’ results?)
* A cursory glance at Beeple’s output: numerous Instagram-friendly posts, often expressing vague socially progressive messages – ‘Boo, Trump sucks, etc’ that don’t truly alienate anybody’s corporate golfing partner. The rest seems amazingly-unamazingly generic, professionally polished ‘near future retro 80s’ style Sci-Fi comic book output. The images featuring ‘critical’ content often express desperately common ‘public secrets’ nobody sane could possibly disagree with; War = Bad, Wintertime is cold, etc. Real bears-shit-in-the-woods stuff. The unquestioned assumption however is that one has to be seen constantly agreeing with such (actually anti-political) sentiments. Conceptually however, such art feels flat and uninteresting; Your-Dad ‘edgy’ displays of some long abandoned Vaporwave AESTHETIC, unironically tinged with ugly Trumpism-kitsch. Pedestrian homilies, toothless home truths perfectly safe for postmodern corporate consumption. No need to be native here – everyone involved in Cryptoart at this level is already ‘on the same (ideological) page’.
* One word that keeps popping up about such art-work: ‘genuine’. Especially now with such a large cryptoart sale to cement the artist’s legacy and commitment to That’s Just How [/Great For Me] Things Are. That apparently some little slab of cryptographically generated and ‘secured’ code can provide one with instant digital authenticity – spray on karmic legitimacy, Matrix-style. Literally (virtually) ‘proof of work’ – proof that The System Works (for itself, and it’s own.) Slow claps all round. Can digital certificates however provide philosophical truth, existential authenticity – actual meaning? Such art often only appears as genuine as Cola Company’s “It’s the real thing” – a tautological illusion, an endlessly self-justifying system of hyperreal electronic deadness.
* To hear LOLtube comment stans rave about such awesome ‘rendering’ – literally ‘making the ideology of Capitalism manifest’; it’s as if such artists who Make I.T. Big on the world stage of global capital are to be held up as avatars, righteous paragons of selfless artistic dedication. But dedication to what exactly? That is, other than nakedly careerist self advancement – the aggressive ascent / manifest destiny toward the Middle; the trite art of the state.
* The Blockchain actively dis-embodies an Ayn Randian ideology of self-reliant edge lords, joining together to promote their respective self-interest (when market forces drive such cooperation.) Free from government tyranny, they believe Blockchains the key to a new world economic order – the tyranny of a Capitalism unrestrained by ‘token’ nods towards Democracy and worker’s rights. Like a mainstream news network journalist sent in with the invading army to cover their war, the very (dubious) notion that ‘blockchain can help artists’ is itself already fully embedded within a (mythic, self-serving) narrative of rich whiteness, educational privilege, access to technology and the domination of a particular technological society. In other words it’s just another goddam lie.
* Fungable (as Non Fungable Tokens) has as its root the Latin “to perform.” In this sense, what such multi-million crypto-sales signify is the public performance of dim, ‘Everyday’ truths – a slick, cryptographicaly auto-legitimizing ideological handshake between members of an elite, private members-only club. And what kind of goddam sour grapes, Commie party pooping ‘hater’® couldn’t get behind that particular $atan?
* Such awful, hollow, soulless art, and the system which anoints it with digital legitimacy appear all but functionally indistinguishable; the true poverty of art in a post mechanical age. In such light, Beeple’s expensive digital collage of his works – “Everydays: The First 5000 Days” – brings to mind the decree of some ancient emperor, whose reign ‘starts here’ – made unquestionable through ubiquity (much like finance’s grand Network), apparently tabula rasa, violently shorn of sociopolitical history, and rivals. Sold via the Ethereum platform, such an artwork appears a smeared mishmash of digital nothing, and-or anything; what’s really important, the truer art here seems the mere ‘Real Cost’ paid; the symbolic primacy of the system’s inherent philosophical legitimacy. That one just got paid-in-full like a motherfucker.. and therefore (as a privileged white male) one deserves every virtual penny, baby. (The totalizing worldview of such art can be expressed thus: “I Am, because The Rich Buy.” A game of optical narratives about what delusional insanity is possible to believe, and to what degree.)
* To consider Digital Art therefore as merely the next new tradeable token of one’s uncritical renewed membership to Capitalism’s big club. Amen. And yet a beautiful, glaring and un-washable kernel of doubt remains among all this Good White News: “69 mill for a jpg.. really?” Perhaps what’s being questioned is the very (/lack of) meaning of Value™ itself – a lifeless plastic world reducible to the coldly cynical (true believing) digital transfer of virtual speculative asset classes between inherently psychotic Human Artificial Intelligences.
* Now, when every 2bit internet influencer-personality schmuck and their ugly Martin Shkreli cat is mainlining NFT themed ‘beeple mania’ (repeatedly pressing Print Screen or making b.s TickTock gifs to slang to any eCash-grabbing putz able to afford them) there’s no better time to support real genuine change and equality for truly marginalized artists. NFTs are only novel, because they make stark the financial gold rush machinations that facilitate the dirty business of artful business-art; a collective hallucination cult of ‘memetic e-money printer go brrrrr’ monitization (/of one’s inherent advantages as an ‘entrepreneur’, ie. asshole.)
* The idea that art dealers regularly artificially inflate prices, rests on the false idea that the very idea of ‘price’ isn’t itself already an artificial inflation – in this case, of the pathological self importance of the art world and its asshole inhabitants. Much like ‘Time’, art brought and sold in the gallery system always was merely ‘Money’ – either as a strict investment, or a symbol of the holy self-worship of shiny things. Similarly, the notion that the cryptoart is the next ‘bubble’ is itself already a pus filled inflammation in a sick body of networld global capital. Control and manipulation are the very virtual bedrock of such undead mechanical thinking (ie. economics.) Cryptoart therefore may be seen as inherently vulgar – as vulgar as the rich themselves. Despite the digital synthetic nature of cryptoart, one constantly feels like having a wash around such topics.
* Watch in deadpan horror as the stunt economics ideology of blockchain continues to eat itself. Like the old graffiti pseudonym-tag of Jean-Michel Basquiat, all this terminally boring, Amsterdam fiat-Ponzi-tulip-pyramid crypto-speak bullshit seems very ‘SAMO’ – despite the hype (or rather because of it.) The underlying myth of ‘rational actors merely seeking to maximize financial self-interest’ is that such a rationality is itself rational – and not merely and actually just batshit. Similarly, the artificial scarcity of the blockchain is merely the mathematical expression of the need to keep everyone else who isn’t ideologically on board (‘wired’) with the latest Capitalist innovations constantly in debt – where they belong.
* Money money everywhere, nor any drop to spend; this isn’t a problem of distribution – the blockchain is a distributed, decentralized network ensuring widespread scarcity for everyone else who can’t afford its self-serving myth of untold-riches-for-all. As though ‘riches’ what everyone even asked for – especially genuine artists. The seeming self-evidence of the ‘naturalness’ of such artist’s success under Capitalism really only shows how well both conceal their origins.
Any sufficiently advanced financial technology is indistinguishable from white, self-congratulatory, crypto-colonialist, techno-romantic bullshit
– Paraphrasing Arthur C. Clarke
[ADVERT] “Salutations. This is an Conceptual NFT, valued at $42M by Resident Internet Theorist Robert What. Entitled ‘Only Kapitalist Kunt$ Buy NFT’s’, it is meant as a pseudo-critique of Blockchain Capitalism. If you buy this as an NFT, you are a truly just one of many Kapitalist Kunt$, and are in actuality about as original and rare as a fly needing to vomit on dogshit. You should probably (ie. immediately) seal yourself inside a spinning electrified black iron ball with spikes on the inside, firing yourself into the heart of the nearest star and doing the rest of us (non-lizards) a favor. Not only am I too poor to even set up a cryptocurrency wallet in the first place, I simply couldn’t be fucking bothered to learn about blockchains, NFT’s and all the rest of that terminally fucking boring, white nerd asshole tech-bro bullshit. Feel free to use this shitty gif – based on a sweet Cherry MX Ultra Low Profile Switch – as an NFT. Just make sure to donate at least half of your profits to a nearby deserving artist living in relative poverty. To whatever ultra rich tosser purchases this cosmic digital uselessness, I say ‘On behalf of art, fuck you’.”
– Resident Internet Theorist Robert What, March 18 2021
Robert roleplays as the Internet’s Resident Theorist, on a long hard journey as an impoverished artist living on the margins. Contact Robert What today for money transfer details.) As a form of followup, he has sent Beeple the following email (still no reply):
> Dear Mr. Winkelmann
> Hello. Congratulations on your recent historical crypoart sale. I’ve recently written a about this, and as a keen follower of the arts kindly offer you the opportunity to respond. This critique was formed in the spirit of good faith, artistic cooperation – and ultimately compassion. I believe in the old socialist adage that we should be critical of our enemies – but even more critical of our friends. (As a group, such a practice keeps us honest.)
> Sincerely, Robert What
- Beeple sold an NFT for $69 million
- Calculating The Hyperreal Financial Value of ‘Worth’
- Huffington: Banksy Wasn’t Critiquing Capitalism, He Was Taking Part In It
- This Is Your Head: The Difficulty Of Selling Conceptual Art Online
- Robert Herian – Blockchain and the Distributed Reproduction of Capitalist Class Power (PDF)
- No Artist Left Alive: Speculations on the Post-Pandemic Struggles of Cultural Workers Within, Against and Beyond Capitalism
- Artnet: I Looked Through All 5,000 Images in Beeple’s $69 Million Magnum Opus. What I Found Isn’t So Pretty
// how to play big science