ON NFT (PFPs)
ON NFT (PFPs)
People are fucking dumb.
To begin, I want to emphasize that the bulk of this is about the PFP species of the NFT genus. But to get at why this distinction is important I'll say something about the NFT genus.
The NFT genus is a form of property art.
The primary aesthetic axis of the NFT is the property element. This is not to say that the aesthetico-political axis is inert, or that its charge is disentangled from the property axis. It is just to state the obvious that the reason why NFTs became relevant when they did is that they were associated with blockchains in general and cryptocurrency in particular.
The exceptional specimens of the broader NFT genus (like that guy who blew up a car) make clear the primacy of the property axis. This enabled their easy permutation thru the Hi-Art World membrane, because they became immediately legible as speculative property, which has been the primary axis of the Hi-Art World since at least the first Bretton Woods Conference.
Their saturation of the Hi-Art World coincided with the massive speculative bubble in crypto-assets because an increase in their appeal to idiots (causally linked to that speculative bubble) made them worth being shilled by bluechip galleries to the gullible. Remember when Elon offered to let people buy Tesla's with Eth?
Regardless, the players in that Hi-Art World are powerful enough to set the cadence of planetary mimetic dances of value determinations, so their idiocy and gullibility will not inevitably result in their impoverishment. Besides, its just a slice of a portfolio next to the Boeing and ARAMCO stock.
Hi-Art World NFTs, which are "valuable" only because of their extreme scarcity, are NOT the subject of what follows. I suspect that the players in that world are insulated enough for basically nothing to matter.
Instead, we are discussing the McDonald's Happy Meal version of this phenomenon: the NFT PFP.
Because of the hardwired scarcity-based valuation of crypto-assets, it is undeniable that the monetary value prospect of an NFT as property is linked to its scarcity as an asset. The size of many NFT PFP "mints" (typically in the range of 1000s) makes them widely available enough to become objects of petty-bourgeois speculation (along with similar such objects like sneakers or pokemon cards) but impossibly overabundant to command Hi-Art World interest.
This has a pernicious effect. Because many involved in the initial wave of mass-market NFT assets were also cyrptocurrency speculators, it is often difficult to divorce the financial from the aesthetic motivations of these asset holders. The link between this and bro-shoe-collector culture is obvious in the marvel movie crowd's interest in like BAYC et al. If one wants to speak sociologically about this phenomenon in 2020-21, one could say that it was an effort to offer protestant-ethic type investmentality justification for what was essentially Religious-Frenzy speculation coated in an edge of eschatology (remember the whole Gamestop business?). People felt like burning money, but the iron-cage demanded its rationalization tax. This is what leads a grown man to spend $30,000 on a .jpeg of a cartoon and be able to sleep soundly at night.
The problem is that in order for the fantasy of the PFP as investment to remain durable, the price of the asset on the market has to continue to increase, or at the very least remain static. This means that the psychological investment of the PFP holder is fundamentally throttled by the liquidity of the PFP brand as an asset on the market. Hence, the phenomenon of "floor watchers."1
And the only means to boost liquidity in a market of scarcity is to increase demand. Thus, PFP holders (especially those who have failed to disentangle their financial and aesthetic interest) have psychological commitments to "shill" for their chosen communities.
Because one has to be a little unwell in the first place to actually invest in this shit, the most powerful communities in this genre tend to be inhabited by various strands of pathologies - the kind who can simultaneously make arguments for accelerationism and aristotelian virtue ethics without realizing (or perhaps without caring about) the impossible-to-bridge dissonance between calls to excess and commands to moderation.
The odd fantasy that one of these cults could grow so powerful as to become poltically-economically viable on the plaentary scale was weirdly popular, and the rhetorical power of this on-face absurdity becomes clear after making explicit the primacy of the property-axis to the psychology of even the PFP NFT. The only situation in which one could really (1,000x) their investment in a 10,000 mint PFP is if 10,000,000 people eventually wanted one. The technical name for this fantasy is "pyramid scheme."23
Now, why would someone so intent on shitting on NFT PFPs be flying an NFT PFP (aka yours truly)? Well, there's the rub.
Art is a funny thing.
One thing about property is most people confuse property relations as relations to objects: this THING is my property. Property is the characteristic of me owning this THING.
But that's not what property is, unless you are an orthodox Lockean liberal.
Property is a social relation. Property relations are interpersonal relations. I own this thing because YOU don't. The thing, frankly, probably doesn't care one way or the other.
If Art Today is defined primarily by its property axis, but the property axis of art is best understood as a social relation .... then art production in 2023 is about social action, not object creation. Object creation can play a role in mediating the social relation (and probably should), which is why I fly an NFT PFP.
And I'm about to be released from Jail >:)
Or, more problematically, coordinated “sweeping” of floors to manipulate prices. Because of the liquidity struggles of NFT PFPs, their “floors” are vulnerable to comparatively low cost sweeping.
Some communities tried to sell their PFPs as something closer to club memberships, but those perks have proved reliably shitty and many of the buyers were hoping to sell their memberships to suckers for more money down the road (ie, the consumers of even the community-based NFTs were not motivated by community, but by the possibility of speculation).
The people who actually gain from the pyramid scheme are remarkably few, those at the top. And for NFT PFPs, because the liquidity never materializes to secure durable profit on a single series, the actual “business model” is to simply shill derivatives, typically made by the leaders of PFP cults or their allies. The political economy of these PFP cults is inescapably predatory. If you really want to continue to pay taxes to your thought seigniors in exchange for derivative .jpegs go ahead, but just know that you should not be so confident that you are buying an asset bound to appreciate in value.