Proponents of the use of NFTs for establishing ownership of creative works have a correct diagnosis but an incorrect prescription. They correctly observe that the status quo for creative production does not work well for creators. I.e.,, given the current economics, it is difficult for artists who are not already rich to sustain themselves.
However, the proposed solution — bringing production of creative works more comfortably into the commodity fold through representation as NFTs — misses the mark. This is for a few reasons.
Both 1 and 2 are dynamics that are already at play to some extent in creative industries. NFTs would not fundamentally change either of these dynamics and would probably worsen them in certain directions.
I would add to this a third dynamic specific to NFTs. Increased commodification of creative production makes it feasible to have speculative bubbles for kinds of creative products that weren’t possible before. This is a dynamic that has been observed in the fine art market. The occurrence of speculative bubbles is disruptive to people producing meaningful art and I don’t think it’s desirable to expand this aspect of the fine art market to creative production more generally.
I think NFTs have become popular of late due to the combination of three conditions:
For those in the crypto industry, point 3 is the relevant one. There is precious little thought within the industry about the potential consequences of the systems being built, and as a result of the industry’s eagerness to adopt whatever gains traction, the societal effects are at this moment essentially being driven by a process which is totally blind to those effects.
The ideological background of the crypto industry is currently suffused with a libertarian common-sense that endorses our actions as system-builders being driven by the blind dictates of whatever finds traction in “the market”.
However, the conditions of the moment actually permit much more flexibility than this. Because there is sufficient capital floating around, our actions as system-builders are much less constrained than this view suggests — if we are able to open our eyes, choose our destiny and will ourselves toward it rather than consenting to being driven by the (for the moment, mostly imaginary) dictates of the market.
This will only happen if groups are able to form that have
This post would not be complete without at least an attempt to articulate an alternative solution to the problems that NFTs claim to solve.
As mentioned above, commodification has serious negative effects on creative production. The solution is not, as NFTs propose, an intensification of that commodification, but rather a decommodification. In a good world, all people and communities would be free to create art according to their own individual and collective creative visions.
In the NFT vision of the future (and to an extent in the art-market and streaming-platform present) people are unfreely coerced into producing art that is meaningful according to the alien standards of either a commodity market, or an idiotic machine-learning algorithm.
Can crypto-systems be used to support the vision of the good world, in which individuals are truly free? Let’s examine the possibility. What is ultimately needed for such a world is a system by which those who want to make art can receive the food, housing, art supplies, etc., necessary for them to produce art. The dynamics of capitalism make it unlikely for any monetary-type system to support such a structure in the long term, but in the short-term it may be possible due to the slack in the crypto industry.
So, we can articulate a short term and a long term vision.
This essay is an attempt to start to articulate an alternative vision for what crypto technologies can be. If you are interested in discussing or realizing these possibilities, DM me on Twitter.