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The End of Art (as we know it) (again)

or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bored Apes

A prototypical Bored Ape. This one resides in M○C△’s Community Collection, courtesy of 0x87885aaeeded51c7e3858a782644f5d89759f245

Prologue: An Admission of Guilt

This is not the piece I wanted to write. This is not the piece I wanted you to see.

I wanted to write about how the Bored Ape Yacht Club (BAYC), and the many Profile Picture projects (PFP’s) it spawned, were the collective Trojan Horse that would wheedle Contemporary Art World tastemakers –-their hierarchies and impossible criticism and exclusivity– into the world of Crypto Art, hitherto a hotbed of free creativity and community, pure, self-sustaining, and egalitarian. Bored Ape Yacht Club, I was sure, would destroy it. And I wanted that on the record.

I wanted this piece to be suitably vicious. I wanted to let loose unassailable points and contentious questions, all part of a larger assault on prototypical BAYC holders, their smug grins and smelly maleness and unquestioning adherence to an outdated status quo of wealth. These mostly male millionaires who could only imagine using their profits in the most pompous possible way: with exclusive yacht parties, $800 hoodies, public boasting about their membership in a prestigious club, one everyone wants to be in, one you want to be in too, but you can’t, ah-hah-ha, because you aren’t them.

Only I couldn’t write that piece, even though I wanted to. Because it wouldn’t be accurate in the least. Because the premise is utter bullshit, an unfair overreaction at best.

And so, this piece is nothing like what I wanted it to be. I didn’t ever want to venture into the personal. I didn’t ever want to be so goddamn understanding, even flattering. I didn’t want to start with soap, either. But alas, the best laid plans of mice and men and monkeys…

Act I: Soap

It’s the Swingin’ Sixties, and everyone –Mom and Pop and little Spot too *arf arf*– is head over heels for America’s favorite Soap-Pad: Brillo! The Only Soap Pad with 99 Squeezes! (This is the greatest ad I’ve ever seen)

In 1964, Brillo Pads were an omnipresent product, their ubiquitous boxes bedecked in red, white, and blue, the perfect patriotic symbol for an America post-Korea but pre-Vietnam. Brillo boxes filled supermarket shelves, they filled the space under the sink, and in 1964, they began filling up the multi-part Manhattan studio space of one Mr. Andy Warhol.

Brillo’s boxes, specifically, became Warhol’s obsession. He had hundreds of exact plywood replicas made, stacked them in his studios, and slowly sold them to whomever saw the “art” in his deliberately-shameless commercial recreation. It took some time for the art world to properly fawn over them, but because Warhol was already Warhol by then, fawn they soon did. Today, they’re peerless collectors items, with one recently selling at Sotheby’s for over $3,000,000.

But before the mass adoption, the enthusiastic “Yes!” to the question “Is this art?”, the fine art world had to decide en masse whether some underlying requirement of aestheticism or intent was needed for something be considered quote-unquote “Art,” or whether a plywood Brillo box, a discolored print of Marilyn Monroe, a Campbell’s Soup Can, whether any of that was “Art” in the way of the masters: Kahlo, Bacon, Picasso.

The answer was, again, yes. It took only Warhol’s influence to transcend each box beyond commercialism, transforming them indelibly into art. And if everything could be art, then everything could be art, so long as it was accepted as such. As long as it had that same ineffable artist’s “touch.” Within a decade, Contemporary Art speculators would be stumbling over themselves trying to dictate just which art was “important.” Because if they succeeded in doing so, they stood to make lots and lots of money, and become very, very cool.

This conversation, however, wasn’t new. In the 1860’s, for instance, the prestigious French art studio Le Salon publicly denigrated Paris’ new wave of Impressionist painters — no-talents like Monet, Degas, Renoir, Morisot, Sisley. They didn’t fit old conventions; theirs wasn’t art. Ditto critics in 1917, who saw Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain — the disconnected, porcelain urinal — as more smut than art. But history has demonstrated time and again that every restriction placed upon art is ultimately reductive and unnecessary. Anything is art so long as it’s accepted as such.

A prototypical Bored Ape. This one resides in M○C△’s Community Collection, courtesy of 0x87885aaeeded51c7e3858a782644f5d89759f245

The important questions: Who needs to accept it? Who gets to decide?

In the current Contemporary Art landscape, so long as something is deemed important by influential tastemakers, surrounded with high-falutin commentary (which critics line up to supply), and sells for spectacular sums, it becomes artistic canon. Any artist can be made a master by mere consensus. And if that means alienating the public by building an impenetrable ivory tower of exclusivity, excess, and aggrandizement around the entire art world, so be it.

Take the case of Jean-Michael Basquiat, for instance, the painter and graffitist whose works, some thirty years after his death, have sold for as much as $110,500,000. Stephen Metcalf, writing for the Atlantic, explored Basquiat’s legacy in his brilliant piece “The Enigma of the Man Behind the 110-Million Dollar Painting.” Metcalf says, “In the 30 years since Basquiat died of a drug overdose, in 1988, at the age of 27, the prices of his work have climbed steadily upward, taking some astonishing leaps along the way.”

Metcalf quotes the writer/activist/thinker bell hooks (RIP), who “attended a 1992 retrospective of [Basquiat’s] work at the Whitney Museum, in New York,” and said:

“I wandered through the crowd talking to the folks about the art. I had just one question. It was about emotional responses to the work. I asked, what did people feel looking at Basquiat’s paintings? No one I talked with answered the question. They went off on tangents, said what they liked about him, recalled meetings, generally talked about the show, but something seemed to stand in the way, preventing them from spontaneously articulating feelings the work evoked.”

The gist being, in Metcalf’s words, “[Standing] before Untitled, [the $110,000,000 painting]…a common initial response — that the art is slapdash, tender, true — feels wrong somehow, as if we haven’t gotten it…In front of the painting, we fear we have seen or felt too little, especially given the $110.5 million price tag.”

Every time I read this passage, I think of my father.

Recently, my grandparents sold their house and moved full-time to Florida. In that transition, my parents inherited some pieces of wall art, including a large, tremendously green print of Marc Chagall’s, Paris L’Opera le Plafond de Chagall, which now overlooks my father’s desk, giving him something to gaze at during long days of insurance brokerage. I asked him recently if he liked the piece. He said he did. I asked what about it he liked. He wouldn’t say.

Literally wouldn’t. And it wasn’t that he didn’t have an opinion, but that he felt his opinion wasn’t sufficient. He liked it, was all. He liked the colors, but wasn’t able to speak about “what it means” or anything like that. I started yelling at him, something like, “But that’s plenty! That’s as valid an appreciation for art as anybody!” He shook his head. He couldn’t believe it.

Literally couldn’t. My father, along with what I imagine is an overwhelming portion of the population, would see something like a nine-figure sale for Jeff Koons’ Balloon Dog (orange) and think not that the sale itself is illogical, but that he must just be unable to see the logic therein. There must be something wrong with him.

And that, THAT, is the great shameful consequence of Contemporary Art.

Influential Contemporary Art figures -–collectors and auction houses, the many critics and “thinkers” who peddle self-important groupthink over genuine appreciation — have created a deliberately intimidating framework around the entire art world, one which compels many to shy away from interacting with Art altogether. Why go to a stuffy, sterile art museum, or shmy around a gallery, or read a book about the Surrealists, or purchase art oneself, when the layperson has been made to believe that they can’t appreciate art anyways: They lack the intelligence perhaps, the education, or a discerning eye. “Art” isn’t for them. It’s for the metropolitan. The coastal elite. Ivy Leaguers and bankers and industrialists. Them. The only way to make sense of a Basquiat piece — from all appearances a child’s paint experiment on canvas (which, in fairness, is the mysterious allure of Basquiat’s art) — selling for the price of a private island in the Bahamas, is if something is wrong with us.

Which, I’d argue, is a crucial reason why art of all forms has fallen out of vogue. Fine Art, literature, arthouse film, modern dance. The more self-referential and difficult the lauded works become, the less audiences feel compelled to interact with them, because that interaction only reinforces their own feelings of ignorance. But these kinds of works are the ones which are institutionally rewarded, which are labeled products of “genius,” which garner huge sales and prestige. Such works turn mere artists into capital-A Arteests. And everyone wants to be an Arteest. Otherwise, well, you’re just an artist.

Call me a romantic, but I’d argue that this defeats the whole purpose of art. Art should be an outstretched hand. It should say, “Come with me, I want to show you something.” Art should commune. Art should be shared. It doesn’t have to be positive, per se, it can be disgusting and heart-wrenching and vile and traumatizing, all of that is fair game, but it can’t be pedantic or self-superior or sniggering. Because then it’s just masturbation. And (almost) nobody wants to see that.

Fortunately, art history is a series of fuck-ups and responses. Contemporary Art is slowly fucking-itself towards a self-styled extinction. It has been for 50 years (talk about edging). But now, finally, a response: Crypto Art, with all the hallmarks of an ensuing revolution.

Act II: Crypto Art

I met Shivani, Director of the Museum of Crypto Art, on a beach in Asbury Park, New Jersey. I was, at the time, an unemployed writer who’d recently sunk a few bucks into the burgeoning Solana NFT movement. We got to talking.

Three months later, I joined M○C△ as Lead Writer, and have since been learning as much as possible about the Crypto Art space, about its figures of import, its institutions, its history, its nuances.

Where my own knowledge lacks, I know enough to cede the floor. The following is taken from a thread posted on Artnet’s Twitter page by one of the space’s most decorated collectors, Cozomo de’ Medici (who, I’m aware, is polarizing):

Medici said, “In the last decade, we saw a great shift in entertainment. For almost 100 years, the studios decided which actors would be lucky or talented enough to become stars. But then in the 2000’s…the cameras turned from focusing on actors, to everyday people…Instagram. YouTube. Podcasting. Social media goes mainstream. As people turned the cameras and microphones on themselves, the studios became powerless…those who used both social & reality tv, like Rogan & the Kardashians, built empires.

“…We are seeing a similarly sized shift beginning to happen in the art world. For hundreds of years, kings, queens, and noble folk decided which art was relevant…But around 2018, a new paradigm began. In NFT, there are no museums. No galleries, other than the marketplaces, and the galleries made by collectors themselves.

“…YOU can decide which artists will define this generation. YOU can access their art before they get big. YOU can make them big, by voting with your wallets…Or simply displaying them as your twitter profile photo…A talented artist in a remote village…can now build a global following and international community around their work. Not by getting a museum show — but by producing great art, and cultivating a community.”

While Medici’s rose-colored perspective was not without pushback (@Hughcreates laid out how “the general trend from slow, considered art forms…to quick consumptions hasn’t exactly been of benefit to culture.” Elsewhere, and to great effect, @Stellabelle dissected the entire concept of the community-minded millionaire.), it succinctly sums up what so attracts me to Crypto Art: its egalitarian nature, its decentralization, its shareability, its relative ease of entry, its encouragement of community.

The Crypto Art world is not without its own brand of price pumpers, market manipulators, and tastemakers -–the main Crypto Art marketplace, Superrare, invites artists on their platform and censors others, which is asking for trouble, although the Trash Art movement shows how, even when tastemakers in the space overextend, the larger community can rectify the situation — but, importantly, it defies physical loci of importance. There’s no Paris, no New York, no mandated acquiescence to Sotheby’s or Christie’s. The market is being made, evolved, reinvented in real time by everyone engaged with it. And that’s unprecedented.

Because any old Twitter timeline can be turned into an art gallery. Follow the right folks, and you see art. Good art. Incredible art. Constant art. And artists. Artists discussing art. Artists discussing their art. Artists discussing other artists. Artists discussing other artists’ art. This whole brave new art world is right there, exposed, encouraging us to step in and look around, not hidden away in expensive exhibitions or SoHo penthouses or guarded galleries.

Much of this stems from Crypto Art’s lack of connective tissue to the Contemporary Art World. It was built separately, in parallel, by those whom the traditional markets have never made space for: digital artists, artists from marginalized communities, generative artists, those uninterested in artistic conformity.

Like the artist SamJ, who identifies as gender non-binary, and who told me,

“I find it funny, all those people who shit on NFTs, who say ‘Why don’t you sell prints or do commissions. You can be an artist without selling NFTs’…Can I though? Look at my art. I build my art in Unreal Engine in front of green screens, a mix of real and digital fashion, in AR. How the fuck am I supposed to do that without NFTs?”

A prototypical Bored Ape. This one resides in M○C△’s Community Collection, courtesy of 0x87885aaeeded51c7e3858a782644f5d89759f245

Or take one of the space’s (and the world’s) most successful artists, Hackatao, who, “…were born in 2007 as digital artists, but at that time it was difficult in Italy to have a market if you didn’t decline [art] on a physical medium…to in a way render the digital flat and static on the canvas, so it would lose its digital nature.”

Removing Crypto Art from its digital homeworld –and indeed, so much Crypto Art is referential to blockchains, Web3, and social media– would, at least partially, destroy it.

Thus, there’s an inherent introspection within Crypto Art, which has fomented the rise of quirky, uber-talented artists who play purposefully outside the Contemporary Art World’s boundaries of subject matter and taste, freed by Crypto Art’s lack of physical and conceptual boundaries. Prolific teenage artists like Erinbeess or Fewocious. The Nigerian artist, Osinachi. These are not the Contemporary Art World’s chosen saviors. They don’t want to be. Their art is expressive, personal, meaningful to them and their friends and their collaborators, not panderingly self-aware, not endlessly responsive to the carousel of criticism that occurs behind closed doors, in Art magazines, at Upper East Side dinner parties.

Perhaps because of this, Crypto Art was neither supported nor accepted by mainstream art outlets. It wasn’t supported or accepted by anyone outside the community, really. Even when, in March of 2021, the entire NFT ecosystem poked itself out into the mainstream, NFTs were treated as little more than a fun, noteworthy blip to be discussed bemusedly. Crypto Artists like Beeple and Pak became internationally noted names boasting eight-figure sales, but Jim Cramer still torched NFTs on Mad Money. CryptoPunks, the OG PFP-project minted for free in 2017, were selling for millions, and The Daily podcast deigned to do an NFT episode. ESPN published an article about NBATopshot –NFT basketball cards– unironically titled “‘This Is The Future,” but it was all ever just fun…innocent hyperbole.

NFTs were having a little moment, but one which would assuredly recede, as every other Crypto quirk had done before. Few, I suspect, would have predicted that the April 23rd appearance of 10,000 cartoon monkeys on the Ethereum blockchain would capture the zeitgeist as they did. 10,000 pictures of cartoon monkeys, and the whole world starts losing their minds. Paying attention to NFTs became mandatory.

Act III: 10,000 Pictures of Cartoon Monkeys

Fuck the industrialists, CEOs, and Saudi Princes who’ve historically collected high-priced art, the Bored Ape Yacht Club prides itself on a flashier clientele. Attractive, influential, popular (male) celebrities –Steph Curry, Rudy Gobert, Lamelo Ball, Jimmy Fallon, Post Malone, Lil Baby, Logan Paul, Marshmello, Steve Aoki, Snoop Dogg, Eminem, and Future– all hold and flaunt a Bored Ape; it’s key to the project’s success. Simply by owning a BAYC NFT and making it their Profile Picture, these influencers have helped elevate the project beyond mere art collectible; after all, kids don’t aspire to just be rich anymore, they aspire to be cool. And BAYC makes people cool. Like Virgil Abloh sneakers, like anything branded Supreme, BAYC is a hypebeast’s wet dream, an excuse for holders to emulate the lavish, lux, loud lifestyles of the obviously wealthy.

A lifestyle without fear, without limit, without consequences. Jessica Klein, in her fantastic piece about BAYC for InputMag, noted,

“Around 11 p.m. the night before Halloween, staff at the Bright Moments art gallery in downtown Manhattan hear what sounds like a pack of wild apes howling outside their windows. Turns out that the commotion is caused by about 15 grown men who’ve just flown in from Las Vegas. They’re hooting demands for wristbands that will get them into an exclusive yacht party the following evening.”

The animalism. The fearlessness. Individuals with big dreams and no previous path to upward-mobility, suddenly exposed to a life of wealth and grandeur they had assumed was off-limits, which was off-limits. Anyways, they’re rich now, and they want you to know it. They want you to know exactly where their money came from. How to tell the whole world at once? Easy: make it your Profile Picture.

BAYC, and the PFP movement in general, operates on the presumption that you don’t only have to be what you are, you can be what you own. Flaunting certain PFPs –BAYC or CryptoPunks chief among them– gives you instant clout within the NFT community, legitimizing your views, conferring on you a certain importance, and denoting your commitment to the space –after all, you were either an early adopter, or just shelled out a cool 250k, at least, for one of these bad boys.

Naturally, copycat projects proliferated. And each new PFP-project brought further far-flung individuals into the NFT space, people seeking big flips and 100x gains, purchasing this or that PFP in the hopes that it’d become what many projects promise to: the next BAYC.

And thus, into the NFT ecosystem bursts tremendous amounts of money, tremendous amounts of attention, and tremendous influence freely given to any individual with sufficient purchasing power. Rereading that sentence back, it’s no surprise I thought BAYC would usher the Contemporary Art World into NFTs; these are its hallmarks. For argument’s sake, the top five PFP-projects by all-time sales volume (according to –BAYC, CryptoPunks, Cool Cats, CyberKongz and Meebits– have accounted for over $4,000,000,000 in all-time sales. And that’s just the top five! Four of which aren’t even a year old!

There would inevitably be blood spilled when investors and status-seekers, smelling a burgeoning billionaire’s market, clashed with the long-term builders, those putting money and time and creativity into Crypto Art, DeFi, P2E games, the metaverse, all these facets of the revolutionary Web3 technology of which PFPs are merely a fraction. And I wasn’t sure Crypto Art could survive a war like that. Few things can. Fewer have.

A prototypical Bored Ape. This one resides in M○C△’s Community Collection, courtesy of 0x87885aaeeded51c7e3858a782644f5d89759f245

I brought my apocalyptic mindset to a few highly-respected Crypto Artists: Hackatao, LuluXXX and SamJ. Surely, they’d agree that the PFP movement would kill Crypto Art, that it was bringing in bad actors and bad money, and in gobbling up everything in their path, PFPs would inevitably consume all the innovative institutions and inventions that helped make Crypto Art such a haven for progress, equity, and creative freedom.

Surely, this is what these smart, accomplished, thoughtful artists were going to do. They were going to tell me I was right.

Act IV: Smart, Accomplished, Thoughtful Artists Tell Me I’m Wrong…

…And they waste no time doing so.

I don’t really believe the narrative of ‘pfp steal money from $cryptoartist.’Actually I think the idea is to do what the fuck you want to do here. So why not pfp?” So said LuluxXX, the vaunted artist and collector after I had asked a leading question like, “So, you don’t think PFP’s are inherently bad?” After the above answer, Lulu added,

“I think collectibles bring you back to your childhood. I was collecting everything: stamps, Disney figures, cans of coke, cigarette packets, vinyl records, etc. etc. etc. Now if a bunch of white male guys think they own the space because they have [A Bored Ape], they can go fuck themselves. But I didn’t see proof of that personally.”

Our conversation was the first I’d have for this piece, which meant Lulu (sorry) received the brunt of my misconceptions and misjudgments. Chief among them? I hadn’t considered PFPs from any other position than my own, that of a straight, white, American man.

“I see people from the south flipping some of my pieces for less than 1 Tez (5 dollars). Imagine to people there what flipping collectibles means. I have friends from Argentina, Philippines, etc. buying their food with this…Meanwhile its creating an economy. And maybe Africans, Latin-Americans, etc. are making money with it. Why not?”

Poorly as it reflects on me now, it took my conversation with Lulu to understand that I had been seeing PFPs from a limited, privileged perspective, so very male and American. I was worried solely about the world of Crypto Art, ignoring the fact that, big as that world may be, the actual world is much bigger.

Hackatao, with whom I spoke next, would soon be releasing their own PFP-project, Queens+Kings, so they had PFPs on the brain.

“In the traditional art world,” they said, “…many acquire works for status purposes…If you look as far back as the renaissance, the best artists would have the richest, most famous, renowned families, the kings or the Pope, to commission works and buy works from them…and if we think back, would that tell us maybe something about human nature? Has it always been like this?

So is this a scheme? Or is this a behavior of ours that is being…mirrored infinitely in the new world of art?…If we think of it as predators that want to solely invest, there’s also another way to think about it. We can think of collectors [as those] who use their monetary power to sustain artists. Hackatao remembered something that Jason Bailey [Artnome] said…That [this money] is very welcome because it would give the artists more creative tools and possibilities to give something back.”

If Lulu smacked me with a new perspective, Hackatao led me into one gingerly, one where PFPs could allow an artist’s work to be a profoundly personal part of their admirers’ everyday lives, all while pushing an artistic boundary as Warhol did. Perspectives. I hadn’t considered the artist’s either.

“It is an era where we live with multiple lives,” Hackatao said. “You have your own physical self and your digital presence and all of what you curate that to be. So to identify with a piece of art this closely…where these [PFP] avatars are used, it’s a very interesting phenomenon. To work on a pop project as such, it gives Hackatao a chance to deconstruct this world through art-making and better understand it.”

A prototypical Bored Ape. This one resides in M○C△’s Community Collection, courtesy of 0x87885aaeeded51c7e3858a782644f5d89759f245

But artists do not dream in monochrome, so to speak. They occupy a broad spectrum of identity, success, awareness, intensity, and opinion. SamJ, for example, oscillated all along that spectrum during our conversation, vibrating on every recognizable frequency: fury, optimism, depression, enthusiasm, exhaustion, elation, frustration.

“I’m the first performance artist on Superrare, I’m the first drag queen on Superrare, I’m still the only drag queen on Superrare…My collectors are some of the top collectors in the space — like Gisel Flores, [Fewocious], Hackatao…Matt Kane…Sarah Zucker…If you look at my track record, it’s really, really, insanely reputable, but if you look at my sale prices and the amount of attention I get from high-level, top collectors, 33, or Vincent van Dough, or Cozomo Medici…it’s crickets.”

Sam had opinions aplenty. They came pell-mell. They spared nobody. “A lot of the collectors in the space right now are honestly really bad,” he said off-handedly. “They have no taste and no education, and they don’t know what the fuck they’re buying. And they’re only buying things because their pals are bumping the prices up…They don’t actually know or understand what they’re buying.”

SamJ wasn’t going to gingerly show me shit. If he had a perspective to share, it was wholly, inimitably his own. In a lot of ways, I think SamJ is quintessentially emblematic of Cypro Artistry itself:

  • An artist whose identity is central to their work: “I was really into drag and fashion, and being nonbinary, I use my gender to express myself a lot.”
  • An artist whose success is tied intrinsically to Crypto Art: “My work is only relevant in the art world because it can be sold as an NFT. There’s no fucking way, no way, any of my work would be seen as legitimate work if it weren’t for NFTs.”
  • An artist who has accepted reality’s ugliness: “I’m not delusional. I don’t expect most of these cis [collectors] to relate to my extremely queer, extremely trans art the same way they do to a shiny, bald 3D astronaut, but…I’m at the point where it is getting a bit ridiculous. You can’t actually be ignoring me at this point. My work is extremely notable.”

All of which makes Sam’s eventual prophesying that much more potent. Our conversation was nominally about PFPs, sure, but inevitably freewheeled into a larger examination of the space. And when I finally asked Sam whether he was optimistic about Crypto Art’s future, I was expecting negativity, doom-and-gloom, frustration.

But Sam was staunch. “I’m definitely optimistic [about Crypto Art’s future]. I think there’s a lot of BS that happens in the space, and a lot of dumbasses and collectors who don’t know what the fuck is going on…But like at the same time, where are you supposed to go? Where am I supposed to go?…I think it’s going to get better. But I think it’s also important to be aware of what’s actually happening, and why it’s happening, and what’s going on. I don’t know the answer…. I really don’t…I think the best way to go forward is to worry about your own.”

SamJ’s vision didn’t deny or sugarcoat the difficult realities of being a moderately-successful artist in a space where tastemakers have already started coming to crown their kings. But like he said, “Where am I supposed to go?” The Crypto Art world is filled with such nomads, outcasts, singular souls. And it’s been, to this point, a willing refuge.

In hindsight, I suppose I came to these artists hoping they’d offer the framework for some kind of utopia, a place where artists like Hackatao could create freely, one with endless room for anonymous artists like Lulu, nonbinary artists like SamJ, sex workers like Cryptonatrix, a place situated on an altogether separate continent from where BAYC’s PFP empire would rise and inevitably fall.

But these smart, accomplished, thoughtful artists made me realize I was being naive. They made me realize I was wrong.

Act V: Ego Death

Inescapable facts of life. Here’s one: the Contemporary Art World, one way or another, will worm its way into Crypto Art. That isn’t BAYC’s fault. It isn’t. The BAYC is simply innovating in their own way. Minting millionaires on-demand is innovation in and of itself. Inspiring a veritable wave of imitators, propelling into existence an entire economy for digital identity, engendering a new wave of questions concerning what it means to be anything, these things are long-term, vital rethinks of Web3’s ability. BAYC doesn’t run the world (as some holders seem to believe) but they did that. And that’s quite a lot. More than most.

LuluxXX showed me how, as movements like PFPs proliferate, and as speculators sink money into them, the wise can find ways to claim that wealth for themselves. It’s a new revenue stream, one which frees “being in the right place at the right time” from the constraint of physical geography. Ignorant, ignoble money may flood into the space, probably will flood into the space. It’s what the space does with that money that will matter: whose hands it ends up in, whether it’s dispersed or hoarded, with what sense of equity.

A prototypical Bored Ape. This one resides in M○C△’s Community Collection, courtesy of 0x87885aaeeded51c7e3858a782644f5d89759f245

Hackatao, meanwhile, were adamant that PFPs are a brand-new artistic expression, into which a human soul can enter and live out their fantasies, a true communion between artist and audience. This kind of connection with an artist’s work is next frontier, where an audience can not only experience an artist’s creation, but be that artist’s creation.

And SamJ seemed certain that Crypto Art wouldn’t wither away so long as artistic communities internally supported each other. “I remember talking to ErinBees,” Sam told me, “and Erin flipped something for like dozens of ETH while talking to me on Discord and then bought my piece…Claire Silver bought my latest work, and she had a bunch of these notable collectors like Mr. 703 and Cozomo Medici buy like three of her pieces for like 15 ETH each……and because of that…she had a fuck ton of liquidity to then buy my art.”

Expecting the Crypto Art space to be perpetually perfect is unrealistic. It never was –ask an OG, they’ll tell you. But because it remains a potentially prosperous path for artists in a world with far too few, and because it has the unique, pre-established infrastructure to guarantee an amount of visible community oversight, it may just be able to bear the weight of any external worlds which are unfortunately sloughed off upon it.

Market forces looking to anoint their next financial savior will try to do so. Money sniffs out money. Money lusts for money. There’s no “winning” against those forces in the sense that they can be endlessly warred with and kept away. To win is not to vanquish them. To win is to not be consumed by them. To go on creating, encouraging, building. That’s a pretty good goal.

Hackatao told me, “Time passes very rapidly in this world; they feel like it’s been 40 years not 3–4 that they have been on the blockchain.” Hell, in just the time I’ve spent writing this piece, monumental shifts in the PFP world have occurred. Apes flipped Punks. Punks are ceding cultural relevancy to Phunks! PHAYCs! Grifters! Gazers! Look at the words I’m using! The lexicon is literally being invented in real time!

Hackatao told me, “No matter how these circles move, no matter where the interests shift, no matter where the capital is and who would like to invest in what, [artists will] make use of the technology that has been made available to us…Noone should take for granted that ever since the exposure and success of the space it means that it is already all set in stone and concrete.”

If there’s one truth to glean from the last century of art, it’s that everything ends, and quickly. Movement, response. Movement, response. Perhaps, here, we take our cue from the artists who define the space, and we stop fearing every potential apocalypse. If they come, they come. And they’ll come. So be it. There will be a response.

And those assumed inadequacies of ours? Those inferiorities r.e art and culture and appreciation? They ultimately have as much power as we allow them. There’s never been an alternative to their hegemony before, but now, with all this beautiful online art smack in our faces, with the realities of the ancient art world laid bare, it may be easier to call out Contemporary Art bullshit for what it is: bullshit. Oh man, doesn’t it feel good saying that?

In Crypto Art, we are much more inclined to experience art as it’s presented to us, be that in an online museum, on Twitter, or on the wall above my father’s desk. No frills, no inadequacy, no bastardization. “Negativity has no place here. Nobody survives here with negativity,” Lulu said. That could be Crypto Art’s mantra. The only thing to do is keep building, keep creating, keep responding, let Contemporary Art nonsense tucker itself out. It will; and those Basquiats will end up in better hands eventually. Once again echoing Lulu’s words:

“The idea is to do what the fuck you want to do here.”

Well, I want to go look at some good fucking art. I want to look at it all the time. And I want my father to come with me.

Finally, here, all the way at the end, I can get what I want.

By Maxwell Cohen

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