Principles of Art, Math and NFTs

Here is a collection of thoughts around how artist are using public ledgers and how it is an extension of the way artists have always worked.

1. Artists think of NFTs as a medium.

We tend to view cryptocurrencies through an economic or scarcity lens, but in fact it may be more useful to view them as a new art form.

NFT projects, implemented by smart contracts, are better seen as an ongoing exploratory partnership between artists and programmers; where programmers are the paintbrush.

We are all artists in many ways. We all have opinions on culture design, the shape of our societies. Art isn’t just poking fun at the status quo or purely for visual appeal, or innocuous and irreverent. It’s often an exploration of our favorite topic: ourselves, with “us” as a material.

What we need to appreciate is that what we’re doing is a highly sped up version of what others have been doing for thousands of years: exploring the possibilities of a consensual space of agreements.

The exchange of highly subjective and often even intangible concepts such as obligations, trust and value is worth exploring. This includes the way we signal each other, how we remember our relationships to each other, how we scale our societies. As cryptocurrency hackers we may now have well formalized contracts such as ERC1155, but this is just the beginning. Artists want to try variations on contracts, variations on ideas. A business predicated around one smart contract will ultimately fail in the way that an artist who creates one piece will fail.

2. Artists love to recycle, abuse and play with the materiality of our world.

Cory Arcangel builds art by appropriating, recycling and re-using media from the world around him, including video games and even source code. Effectively he is drawn to, and reflects on, topics that many of us might otherwise overlook. His work becomes a fun interrogation of what we take for granted, and is classically typical of the artistic gaze — stepping outside of our pre-conceptions and creating a satori moment for us.

Cory Archangel “Clouds”

3. Artists love creative programming frameworks that allow parametric and procedural exploration.

I won’t bother going through all the huge number of creative tools that we have today, suffice it to say that we’re in a golden age of artistic and creative possibilities. We’re all familiar with say Ableton, or Pure Data, or Blender3D or Figma or say Bevy3d or ThreeJS. It’s enviable how quickly an idea can be explored today as compared to say even a decade ago.

4. Art is a group practice.

Artists may work alone but art in community is like a coral reef searching for the light. An effort by many over time; highly subjective and highly specific to the urgent hungers and needs of those artists.

5. Limited Edition Digital Objects are just one possibility.

What makes NFT’s so much fun is that we can play with the conceit that there is scarcity in digital worlds; even though we designed digital worlds to not have scarcity.

The current gitcoin developer leaderboard

6. Artists gravitate to solvents.

Darwin’s idea of evolution, informed hugely by Humboldt, was critiqued for many years. But the utility of the idea of evolution as a fitness function eventually dissolved other ideas into itself. It grew beyond the original utility, to speak to (rightly or wrongly) many other topics. The Santa Fe Artificial Life research effectively relies on Darwinian thinking as an axiom.

7. Artists have been inserting themselves into the ‘flow’ of other processes for a long time.

As Kevin Slavin points out there was an entire “Systems Art” movement in the 1960’s that mirrored a similar movement in Computer Science.

Hubert Duprat :

8. How can we help artists succeed?

The question ultimately becomes how do we facilitate artists? What can we do to help creative minds explore?

  1. More technically, write and share lots of good examples of “contracts” or software code and scripts in a granular fashion that allow easy reuse (The Ethereum Open Zepplin contracts are excellent in this regard).
  2. Truly listen to artists; don’t downplay what they need, want or hunger for.
  3. Foster art communities; in our own work, and in work we do with other artists, go out of our way to bring people together and share ideas.
  4. Respect that what we do today is probably not good enough for tomorrow. There will be a constant need to improve and add fresh thinking.

SFO Hacker Dad Artist Canuck @mozilla formerly at @parcinc @meedan @makerlab