TGAC III: The NFT Delusion

Part of the series: “The Great Art Conspiracy”

In Part 1 of this series, we looked at how standards were intentionally destroyed in art, to create assets easily manipulated for profit and propaganda.

In Part 2, we examined the terrible cost of this scheme for individual artists.

In this third part, I explain how crypto art – and NFTs in particular – will be used by the same forces to remove the artist from the picture and destroy art entirely. You should read parts 1 and 2 first for essential context.

Many thousands have become newly rich in crypto. The majority will fall prey to the same evil impulses that have captured the rich for as long as we have existed. Many will, knowingly or unknowingly, recreate digitally the same oppressive structures and deceptive scams that have existed for centuries. But crypto’s promise was to disrupt the corrupt order, and a window of opportunity exists to change things. Truly, a Renaissance is possible. Yet without eyes to see, and understanding, art will become more corrupt and financialized than ever before.

I am writing so artists might recognize the corruption that has been sown in the “industry”, and avoid corrupting themselves. I am writing to the builders, that they might be conscious of what they are building. And I am writing to the newly crypto-rich, those with eyes, heart, sound mind and strong principles, that they might not perpetuate scams, further the goals of old money and corrupt power, and fund the continued degeneration of art and culture. We will all pay the price for this deception.

Crypto art can take the rot and corruption to levels never seen before, or it can be the vanguard of a revolt against the poison. It is up to us to choose.

Before going any further I must make some things clear. I am not accusing NFT artists or collectors of malice – the majority have pure intentions. Crypto art is still art, and as we have learned, art itself has been corrupted by a directed program for over a century. Most participants in the market are unknowingly perpetuating or participating in the scam.

Nor I am a “hater” of NFTs, or ignorant regarding crypto art. I have been working in crypto art for over three years. I was pounding pavement from Hong Kong to Los Angeles in 2018 telling artists of what was to come and helping them to digitize. I was raving to major art collectors about how crypto art was the future before most people had even heard of an NFT. I was at Art Week Miami in 2019 telling artists what blockchains could do for them, and will be there again in 2021 happy to see that the message has gotten through. Any criticism here comes from a place of love and long experience in the space.

These bona fides established, let’s begin.

Scarcity and Value

This crypto stuff all begins with Bitcoin. Its creator Satoshi Nakamoto combined a few crucial innovations, one of which was a way to algorithmically and cryptographically guarantee scarcity. Whilst governments and central banks will always be printing more money, the supply of Bitcoin will always be fixed at 21 million. If you’re holding Bitcoin, you know that the value can go up and down. But you also know that the value will never go down because more Bitcoin was created. Nobody can start manufacturing Bitcoins and flooding the market.

Just as if you’re holding the Mona Lisa, you know that Da Vinci won’t rise from the dead and start painting copies of it. It is scarce, and so it retains its value. It’s the same principle behind why gold has always been valued: there is only so much of it, and so when everything else inflates or collapses, you can be sure that it will be worth something.

Bitcoin was the original cryptocurrency, and has been the most valuable since its inception. But it wasn’t going to stand alone for long.

Pump and Dump

“Probably nothing”

The genius of Bitcoin was to create something valuable and tradeable out of nothing but lines of code. Where before there was nothing, now there was something. Such a power proved irresistible for all sorts of engineers and financial opportunists, and thousands of copycat coins and blockchains have since come to market. While some of these have value and real applications, many if not most are created as financial scams.

The playbook is the same as in the days of penny stock fraud. Create or acquire lots of tokens for cheap, inflate the value through marketing and financial pumping, and then dump the supply on unfortunate members of the public who hoped to multiply their investment with a continued uptrend. There are many names for this: pumping and dumping, exit scams, or “rugpulls”.

Such scams were rife in the early days of crypto, and are still found today. As crypto grew, the attention generated by eye-popping wealth numbers and stories of people losing it all began to attract the attention of financial regulators like the SEC. Many coins were basically securities, and so unscrupulous founders began to be prosecuted for securities fraud.

Real-World Applications and the Birth of the NFT

Any unregulated market is bound to attract fraud. Nevertheless, while the scams were operating, industrious engineers and thinkers were coming up with real applications for crypto tokens and blockchain technologies. Among these were decentralized finance and distributed consensus mechanisms. For our purposes, we are interested in the birth of the non-fungible token – the NFT.

Simply put, an NFT is like a title deed, that confirms the ownership and provenance of an asset. It is important to understand the meaning of the word fungible. From Wikipedia:

“Fungibility is the property of a good or a commodity whose individual units are essentially interchangeable and each of whose parts is indistinguishable from another part.”

So a Bitcoin is fungible, because it is like a currency. Just as one dollar bill is basically the same as another dollar bill, one Bitcoin is one Bitcoin, no matter which of the 21 million Bitcoin you are holding.

Unlike a currency, an NFT is non-fungible. This is because one asset is not the same as the next asset. While the underlying token technology is the same, which allows them to be created and traded, whatever is made and owned on one NFT will be different to another NFT. One NFT might be a picture or painting of a landscape, while the next might be a costume for a videogame character. Technologically, one NFT is like another, but the content is not the same.

The emergence of the NFT was a crucial development. Cryptocurrency allowed non-tangible digital assets to be traded, as units of exchange. NFTs allowed for the same ease of creation and trade in digital assets, but now those digital assets could be anything at all.

All you had to do was attach something to the token.

The Rise of Crypto Art

Artists and crypto enthusiasts being odd folk in general, there had been a lot of cross-pollination since Bitcoin first released. But 2017 saw crypto art really come into its own. Standardized tokens on the Ethereum blockchain allowed for digital content assets to be easily created and traded.

Crypto developers being primarily engineers, and not artists, many of these first projects focused on the technologicalpotential of this new medium. The artistic content itself was computer-generated, with randomness being inserted algorithmically to make one item different from the next. In this way, large collections of work could be generated at the click of a button. CryptoPunks, for example, released with 10,000 individual Punks generated by the algorithm. Larva Labs, the creators, capped the supply at 10,000 to retain scarcity – and thus value.

Crypto artists – primarily artists in this case, and not engineers – embraced the artistic potential of the new medium. While digital art has been around for decades, this was the first time it could easily be sold and resold. For the first time, in the words of many detractors, we had “people paying money for JPEGs”. With the ability to actually make money from digital art, artists were incentivized to put a lot more effort into digital creations, and to take them seriously. Being able to create and sell online, on censorship-resistant blockchains, opened up another possibility: sidestepping the entrenched gatekeepers in the art world.

Here Come The Scammers

At the same time, scammers were feeling the heat in the cryptocurrency market, spooked by increased attention from the SEC and other government bodies. We know that for crimes we need motive and opportunity. This regulatory pressure created a strong motive for the fraudsters to find new ways to operate.

With the crypto art boom of 2021, they found the perfect opportunity. The American and global oligarchies, working with the CIA and other intelligence agencies, had prepared fertile soil for this moment. All standards in art had been completely destroyed as part of a directed program in operation for over a century, as we learned in parts 1 and 2 of this series. The result was the redefinition of art to mean anything at all, and, in fact, for art that displayed skill, technique, or unique vision to be actively disparaged as “old-fashioned”.

What a perfect storm for the scammers. Engineers had created a system that allowed for JPEG images to be sold. Powerful interests had created an environment where anything goes in art, and art that is difficult to make was seen as outdated. Computing had allowed for thousands of images to be generated at the click of a button. And the crypto ethos prized anonymity, allowing for all kinds of financial manipulation, artificial intelligence bot commenting, and fake followers to blossom under the cloak of secrecy. Modernism was created to destroy all standards in art, and what is more modern than selling images on a computer screen?

So the scams flourished:

“Blinded by the art”, indeed. After all, developed over a century, an environment had been created in art where it was almost like the lazier, the better.

Thanks to the determined efforts of the uber-rich, there could simply be no criticism of these works on an artistic level. After all, more than 100 years ago, they had chosen to elevate Duchamp’s Fountain for their own financial scam. And coding an algorithm is, in fact, more difficult than signing a urinal. As the UK Independent noted, Duchamp (and his collectors) “severed forever the traditional link between the artist’s labour and the merit of the work”. As Duchamp himself admitted, he “sought to discourage aesthetics”.

Through this fraud, the value of art had been removed from any objective talent, beauty, or skill, instead reduced to social “consensus”. But in the internet age, you don’t need to pay people to show up at gallery openings. You don’t need the CIA and the State Department to manufacture consensus. With a few scripts, anonymous crypto wallets, DM groups, and sockpuppet accounts, it can be accomplished for close to nothing. How profitable!

Money Laundering Perfected

Crypto, with its anonymous accounts and instant transfers, was already popular to launder money. But most blockchains are public, and the money laundering needs to be underground. If the tax authorities or other interested parties find out, you have to explain why you transferred or received a large sum of currency. Fortunately for scammers, the rise of NFTs and the destruction of artistic standards means that any transfer of crypto can now be justified if there is a JPEG attached.

Because art has been attacked to the degree that any judgment whatsoever is impossible, all transactions are inscrutable. The scammers are pumping and dumping lazy new projects, but regular old money laundering now has a perfect – and instant – channel to operate in. Projects that were not created as scams can become instrumentalized as part of existing scams. Even seasoned veterans of crypto art have trouble telling the difference, because valuations in crypto art, just as in regular art, are based on nothing real at all.

As I explained in part 2, many within the art world are ignorant to the corrupt schemes they are perpetuating. Those who are aware of what is going on are either complicit or afraid to speak out. The last photo in the Twitter thread above is more apt than it may first appear: a gang of corrupt elites laughing, seemingly at you. This grand scheme – The Great Art Conspiracy – has been in operation for over 100 years. Unless crypto artists and collectors become aware, they too will be swept up in the tide, instrumentalized in a plan far beyond their comprehension.

The Promise of Crypto

We have seen how it is essentially impossible to operate in the art world without encountering the tentacles of this monster. For generations, the philosophy, practice, values, and definitions of art have been totally corrupted. The rot is at the very core, emanating outwards. The gatekeepers are everywhere. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Just as crypto currency can threaten entrenched financial institutions, crypto art can be a threat to entrenched art institutions.

The Flammarion, author unknown

Crypto art is uncensorable. Unlike the physical art world of academies and galleries, blacklisting and exile is not possible. Nobody can be prevented from publishing on the blockchain. The incoherent dictates of modernism cannot be imposed by force. There is nothing stopping us from returning to art that celebrates beauty, truth, and virtue. There is nothing stopping us from once again valuing art on the basis of skill, technique, and unique vision. Remember why incoherence, ugliness, and deformity were forced on us in the first place: for the achievement of government objectives, and the profit of the richest people in the world.

Here Come The Institutions

I was attracted to cryptocurrency many years ago out of indignation at corrupt banks and corrupt governments. You can look at Lebanon or Venezuela for an example of what these will do to a nation and a people. This is not an eccentricity of mine: it is central to the cypherpunk ethos. The entire world of “crypto” is built on this founding stone. In the very first Bitcoin block, Satoshi encoded a message about the UK government bailing out the banks, a perfect symbol of the unholy matrimony between these forces.

I was attracted to crypto art out of awe at its promise, fueled by indignation at corrupt art institutions and the horrors I had seen in the art world. Blockchains and cryptography allow for censorship resistance and permanent immutability, the complete opposite of the controlled and short-termist world of art.

These are enormous dragons to slay. They are responsible for the global manipulation of economics, politics, and culture for at least a hundred years. Banks, intelligence agencies, oligarchic aristocracies and museums operate on timescales that individuals cannot fathom, and they have more than a lifetime to achieve their goals. Crypto enthusiasts and artists are often idealists, naively underestimating the forces they must overcome to realize their dreams. Whitepapers sketch out utopian visions while, in the real world, enormous evils are put into motion to subvert and extinguish the threat they pose.

Francisco Goya, Saturn Devouring His Son

The entrance of any major institutions into crypto should be regarded with the highest suspicion. But as we know, when the money is flowing, people can lose their senses.

You will not take down central banks if you are cheering government adoption and the entrance of institutional funds into the market. You will not win a financial game against the people who created fiat money if you are cheering the rise of an asset as denominated in fiat.

And you will not change anything in art if you are lusting after the validation and approval of the art authorities. All of these bodies have decades of experience in manipulating large groups of people to achieve their ends.

The only benefit you might derive is short-term profits from flipping inflated assets onto greater fools. I’ll leave the moral judgment of this to you, the reader. But make no mistake: The System does not give up control just like that. As you celebrate, the game is being rigged to ensure that, in the long-run, that greater fool will be you. We will all lose if we allow these schemes to continue.

The Elimination of the Artist: Going From Non-Fungible to Fungible

In part 1, we learned that the wealthiest families in the world embraced Modernism as the Great Depression began, and the MoMA opened up just nine days after the Wall Street Crash. While crypto art has been around for a few years, it is only in 2021 as the coronavirus economy began to bite that we have seen values explode. Funny, isn’t it? New ways to create value out of thin air in art seem to appear right when we have historic economic crises. Sotheby’s suddenly decided that NFTs were worth paying attention to in 2021, and the mania went into hyperdrive.

In part 2, we learned that the destruction of artistic standards was accompanied by the rape of the artist, and the implementation of a financial and creative control system. Artists are unreliable and unpredictable, which is no good for business. However, destroying standards and attacking objective value means that the artist ultimately doesn’t matter for the financial scheme, so artists can be swapped in and out. Ideally, however, the artists could be gotten rid of entirely. Maybe even directly replaced by corporations; Nelson Rockefeller (MoMA President) said modernism was “Free Enterprise Painting”, so it would just be the perfection of the form.

The Sotheby’s Institute, for a fee, will teach you all about NFTs. They are very excited about what they call the “influx of new inventory” into the market. When you run a sophisticated operation to create value out of thin air, the more value the better, right? It’s no surprise then, that the inventory the major art institutions are so excited about are those pieces generated by computers and “enterprises”.

Humans can’t paint 10,000 pieces at the click of a button. And humans have the unfortunate tendency to have hearts, minds, and opinions. All of these things make them harder to control, and more likely to speak out if abused. This simply won’t do if you’re trying to run a financial scam and a cultural control operation. But legacy art institutions do have money – a lot of it – which helps mightily when influencing a crypto sphere that has become obsessed with valuations.

As always: by choosing what to promote, and choosing which values to inflate, the art institutions and the wealthy backers they serve will be moving into the position of tastemakers. Their goals will be pursued. And for a very long time, there is nothing they have wanted more than to eliminate the human element in art.

The Great Art Conspiracy sees a golden opportunity in the NFT: to eliminate the non-fungible human artists, and replace them with fungible algorithms.

What is art for? What is art supposed to represent? Michelangelo was called Il Divino, the “divine one”. His contemporaries were so awed at the mastery of his creations that they felt like they were seeing God’s work. A true creative pours his heart, mind, soul, fire, spirit into the work, out of a deep-seated need. But the oligarchy doesn’t need this for their operations – on the contrary, it is a threat. You can’t have those with vision seeing through the deception. You can’t have things be judged on their quality if you’re trying to define all the value yourself.

The more arbitrary the value – the more random – the better it is for the manipulators. And what fits the bill better than randomly generated “art”?

If you want total cultural control, you need control of the artist. What could be better suited than an artist whose values you have coded yourself?

Make no mistake: they have been waiting for this moment for a long time. They have been planning schemes around it. There is nothing they want more than to eliminate humanity from art entirely.

The trade in crypto currencies, and crypto art, has often been likened to the Dutch “tulip mania” of the 17th century. In the mania, valuations were completely divorced from anything objective, and scams ran rampant. They would love for this to happen in art, and they have been advancing towards it for decades.

Remember Duchamp, whose Fountain was elevated by the Rockefellers and US government, and changed the game forever? In 1917, when he first submitted the Fountain to the “Society of Independent Artists”, he was riding off enormous hype about another work he was expected to display. The town had been abuzz with rumors about something that was completely different, a piece that did not end up materializing in the end.

The name of that work was Tulip Hysteria Co-Ordinated.

One hundred years later, the work is finally coming to fruition.

What Can Be Done?

We do not have to submit to this operation. With no changes at all to the technology, NFTs and crypto art contain all the tools necessary to reclaim art and wrest control of high culture from those who have corrupted it. But artists and collectors alike must recognize the rot, and choose – morally – to fight the cancer.

Awareness of the scheme is most important; once this is achieved, many solutions will become apparent. I will list a few of them:

Collect for private appreciation, not price appreciation: buying art simply because you think it will go up in price means that you do not see any long-term artistic value in it. It means that you are buying to flip on to a greater fool. While this might be profitable in the short term, obsession over this hands control of art right back to the art institutions, who are manipulating valuations and will use their vast reserves of cash to once again become tastemakers.

Reject the art institutions: you must understand that they have served the political and economic purposes of parasites for over a century. They operate on a system of raping the artist. They are literally rape culture. And you are not an appreciator of artists if you are complicit, because they plan to get rid of artists entirely.

Create and buy one-of-ones: vast collections compromise on quality and originality. How many cloned animal collections can you see, and still claim with a straight face that it is art that is being bought and sold? These large collections aren’t even non-fungible any more: zoom out just a little bit and they’re so similar you can’t tell the difference between one item and the next. Nothing exposes this more than the obsession with “floor price”: the lowest common denominator defining the whole group.

If every unit is basically the same, with values set and manipulated by powerful institutions, you have succeeded only in recreating fiat money. And any “crypto enthusiast” should know who wins in that game.

Create and collect works with soul: it is almost impossible to express or comment on the human condition if the work is driven by an algorithm. There is no divinity to this work. There is nothing human to this work. There is only randomness, and where the work itself is arbitrary, the value can only be arbitrary. This opens the door to financial manipulation and cultural control by powerful interests.

Reject artificial intelligence: the program of the art manipulators is anti-human. Do not be deceived: the aggressive push to accept AI art is coming. The seeds are already being planted. To support this is to support the replacement of artists by corporations. To support this is to support the removal of humanity from art forever. We must do everything we can to keep art a human pursuit. Putting culture in the hands of algorithms is as grave a mistake as you can make.

Embrace the physical: for over a hundred years, physical art has been controlled and manipulated by corrupt forces. Artists have been enslaved and herded like cattle. Gatekeepers are everywhere. But we have an opportunity to remove them. There is nothing preventing the core innovations of NFTs being applied to physical art: confirmation of provenance, supply, and ownership. There is tremendous pressure not to realize this, because having to ship physical pieces along with a token transfer would make speculation and financial profiteering much harder. But is that what art is for?

Reject degeneration: for the love of money, powerful forces have swamped us in incoherence and great ugliness. Fighting against this requires individual acts of fortitude from artists, appreciators, and collectors. Make, support, and collect art that rejects the control system. If we choose to, we can again have art valued on skill, technique, and vision. If we choose to, we can once again celebrate truth, beauty, and virtue.

The Shape Of Things To Come

Umberto Boccioni, Modern Idol

Doubtless many ears this falls on will be deaf. Doubtless many eyes that read this will be blinded. It will take some time to turn the tide. But the clock is ticking, and there is not much time left. NFTs can help to liberate art, or they can be instrumentalized and financialized to perpetuate the delusion.

If we do not have the courage to act, they will be used as a vital tool in furthering a scheme decades in the making.

We have looked at the past, and dissected the present. From this point on, we shall turn to the future. In part 4 of this series, we will be exposing the plan for complete cultural control of the internet.

Series home: “The Great Art Conspiracy”