Categories
Art Crypto

Upgrade Art Now!

Shiva laser target chamber.jpg
Image taken from LLNL document “Laser Programs, the first 25 years”. [1], Public Domain, Link

Transferring a human mind into a computer system is known as “uploading”; turning a mortal into a Power is known as “upgrading.” The prototypical upload is the Moravec Transfer, proposed by Dr. Hans Moravec in the book Mind Children. The Moravec Transfer gradually moves (rather than copies) a human mind into a computer. You need never lose consciousness. – Eliezer S. Yudkowsky, “Staring Into the Singularity”

In the 1982 movie “Tron” (and its underrated 2010 sequel “Tron Legacy”) people are digitized body and mind to be uploaded into a simulation “grid” via the powerful SHIVA laser. They are returned to meatspace in the same way. If you only digitize the mind and don’t then return it to meatspace, you get an upload. And if you destroy the brain in order to do so you get a destructive upload. It’s half a teleportation. Made famous by Hans Moravec, explored fictitiously in William Gibson’s short story “The Winter Market” and Neal Stephenson’s novel “Fall; or Dodge in Hell” amongst others, and depicted graphically in the recent Amazon show “Upload“, destructive mind uploading destroys your brain layer by layer as its structure is digitized to produce the raw data for a computer simulation of you. We can’t be squeamish if we want our biological raw material to be ship of Theseus’d into cyberspace (in Moravec’s proposal) or captured as it evaporates in a burst of plasma (in “Upload”).

Back in 2018 I wrote a short story for Art Review called “The Large Glass, Burned” in which a famous NFT artwork is destroyed as the ultimate artistic provocation to a future in which physical artworks are of interest, if at all, only as curious historical footnotes to their tokens. I was reminded of this when Injective Protocol burned a Banksy and then sold it as an NFT earlier this month. If anyone wants to buy that token and send it to a burn address then that will complete this particular circuit (ask your lawyer about the moral rights implications of doing so first though, please and thank you).

Destroying an artwork after or, even better, by scanning it (in 2D, 3D or in time-based media) to produce a blockchain proxy is a form of destructive uploading. Given how we prize meatspace art, destroying it to produce a superior onchain “upgrade” in Moravec’s terminology produces a perfect fault line in understanding between legacy institutions that regard doing so as a newsworthy crime against humanity and emerging blockchain cultur(e|al)( superstructural) institutions that will regard not doing so in just as critical ethical terms.

Given the certainty of ownership, permanence, and reduced archiving costs of NFT art compared to legacy meatspace art as it circulates in the petrodollar artworld, added to the editioning and fractionalization opportunities of NFTs, why not upgrade art onto the blockchain? Burn out a Leonardo layer by line as you scan it with an electron beam and capture it forever with its hash anchored securely onchain. We can’t be squeamish…

Upgrade art now!

Categories
Aesthetics Art Crypto

Welcome To The Dessert Of The Real

On certain developments in the content of NFT art as we enter 2021

Non-Fungible Token art associates digital art to blockchain identifiers as metadata, producing a saleable ownership proxy similar in concept and usage to a certificate of authenticity for conceptual or video art. In itself this makes no demands on the artwork other than that it ideally be minimally problematic (legally and technologically) for any services or platforms the artist uses to create and sell it. But that art still exists within a technonomic milieu that holds very specific promise and appeal for those who might be interested in it as an environment in which to produce and experience art.

Early NFT art that was not simply existing illustration art registered onchain became steeped in blockchain promotional imagery – project logos and figureheads. These were soon joined by easily consumed attentional lures appealing to viewers(/potential purchasers) pre-existing sensibilities such as naked human bodies and technological glitches. Where the problem of their technical production and content intruded, it was when an artist or a buyer did not understand the source of a library image or of a filter’s stylistic flourish. This was a problem because of the imported concept of ownership as transcendental possession and control, seen in NFTs as “true digital ownership”. Blockchains exist to establish ownership of digital assets with mathematical certainty. To own a piece of NFT art is to possess something unique with cryptographic certainty backed by a sizeable percentage of the Earth’s computing power. It is to possess it more securely than if it was stored in a vault (en-crypt-ed) at a maximum security freeport facility, and for the object of that possession to be more uniquely identified object than the Mona Lisa. Where the thing that you possess is a copy, a fake, or misrepresents its production or its materials in some way either intentionally or unintentionally, the unspoken contract of ownership is broken offchain. Or at least ironised and degraded in the hodler’s eyes.

Discussions of authenticity (as opposed to authentication) in “authentic digital art” emerge as a panic from this encounter between onchain mathematical certainty and the messy nature of human understanding offchain. To secure authenticity offchain in response to this is to destroy the value of onchain security – you might as well have a paper certificate of authenticity. A cypherpunk dark forest of aesthetics, completely disjoint from meatspace concerns of identity, reputation and career, would firewall artistic value from authenticity – a liberation that would upset art historians as much as any existing market. But security thinking can be a cold, lonely, corrosive lifestyle and is not for everyone. Or even for most.

A different approach is required within the slow recuperation of the cypherpunk imaginary that is wider society’s encounter with it, and one which engages more with the affordances and resonances of blockchain technology. This is not an ideological prescription, it is recognition of the factors that drive every artist and collector/purchaser’s attraction to NFT art and that must show returns if NFT art is to be coherent. Neither pre-established iconography nor discrete stylistic flourishes sufficiently establish aesthetic value worth securing and owning on a blockchain as blockchain art as transaction fees rise ever higher. Art is proof of work, whether Whistler’s “Nocturne” or an Abstract Expressionist act of heroism. There must be something to own, a parsable product of labour that represents the potential to exponentially multiply the value of an investment of time by the artist and cryptocurrency of the collector. Strategically, to achieve this, the artwork has very few moves it can make. One, modernist/post-modernist one, is to dramatize and reflexively intensify this experience of possession of something that lives in a world of dicscrete technological time. The more vivid this experience of ownership can be made – the more parsable, although absolutely not the more easily digested – the better.

This has led to accumulation of significant form in various registers for excess/surfeit, materiality/presence, and presentation/encounter in NFT art. The in-frame agglomeration of this is reminiscent of the bricolage of Post-Internet Art, its careful leading of the viewer is remeniscent of motion graphics in advertisements, cut scenes, and other liminal moments of guided significance. Where assets and shaders being from libraries would be an impediment to true ownership when presented in a two dimensional artwork consisting of the mere conjugation one or two of them, their composition and animation in time – the work that they do and represent – within the current wave of NFT art performs the requisite alchemy to make it clar that it makes the unownable ownable. Materials, interactions, choreography, assembled into brief microworlds with an aesthetic surfeit that makes very little sense as anything other than an answer to the problem of NFT art at this point in its development, and make very much sense as that.

There are limits to this (and any) strategy, but we are not there yet. Intensification or finding lines of flight from the elements of this strategy, in sum or individually, can take us very far beyond the current state of the market now we have broken this resistance level. Capitalism loves challenges to its property regime, they are how it expands it. True digital ownership requires something to own. Unproblematic commodities, consisting either of artistic originality or of commercially manufactured aesthetic swatches, do not provide a sufficient challenge or object to hang the predicates of desire for an ever-intensifying experience of possession on. The fact of the digital aside, this dynamic was as true of paintings of fruit or of music and dance based on peasant forms as it is of GPU-accelerated aesthetic flights of value.

High culture is a strategy of enclosure, of proprietisation, of the transubstantiation of kitsch/low forms in an affirmation of the wider economy’s transsubstantion of resources into value. It is also a heatsink – symbolic resolution or closure for the untenable claims or other moments of a given (property) regime. You can see much more of the former than of the latter in the current state of NFT art, but the latter is present precisely in its engagement with the psychological requirements of ownership. How far the latter goes will depend on how blockchain technology engages with wider society over the next few years.

True digital ownership as a memeplex collapsed into aesthetics by assembling materials and competences to deploy in an intensive experience that can be owned onchain has produced an experience of moments of post-digital surfeit as an answer to the demands of artificial digital scarcity.

This is the world as it exists today.

Categories
Art Crypto Projects

Certificate of Inauthenticity

“Certificate of Inauthenticity”, 2020, ERC-721 Tokens.

Provably inauthentic art.

A follow-up to my collaboration with Furtherfield.

Find out more here:

https://robmyers.org/certificate-of-inauthenticity/

Or buy here:

https://opensea.io/assets/certificate-of-inauthenticity

Categories
Aesthetics Art Crypto

Intensive and Extensive Aesthetic Property Token Composition

ERC-721 tokens can be composed into tree structures using ERC-998 tokens. Where those ERC-721 tokens represent images or image elements, that tree structure becomes a rendering tree or two-dimensional scene graph (three-dimensional scene graphs will have to wait for 3D Rare Art standards to solidify). To lay out the elements of the image we must be able to transform them in various ways, changing their position, size, colour and other intensive and extensive aesthetic properties. We can represent these aesthetic properties as ERC-20 tokens with 18 digits of precision as they are continuous quantities.

To apply these properties to an ERC-721 token we can attach them using an ERC-998 composable tokens in an SVG-style tree hierarchy. Each ERC-998 token has one or more quantities of ERC-20 aesthetic property tokens attached, one or more child ERC-998 tokens, and zero or more (usually zero or one) ERC-721 tokens attached. The properties expressed by the ERC-20 tokens attached to each ERC-998 token are applied to any attached ERC-721 token(s) and transitively to the children of any attached ERC-998 tokens.

Where the values we wish to represent should be limited to a given range (e.g. 0.0 .. 1.0 or 0 .. 255), we can either assert if too many tokens are are sent to be attached to ERC-998 tokens (we might also be able to refund them in an additional transaction, but this would affect the gas required – and as per the ERC-20 standard we should not accept fewer tokens than are sent), we can treat higher values as meaning the maximum (e.g. 3.1 is 1.0, and 1337 is 255), or we can scale values relative to the largest quantity.

When the values must be both positive and negative (for example if we are representing co-ordinates around an origin, especially relative co-ordinates in a group hierarchy), we can use a second token to represent negative values (this would be better represented using ERC-1155 tokens but ERC-998 does not support this standard). If both positive and negative tokens are applied their values should be summed. For co-ordinates we can use only positive tokens by treating group origins as their top left rather than their centre and only adding positive offsets to child ERC-998 tokens.

Affine transformation ERC-20 tokens are applied as a transformation matrix to the children of the ERC-998 token they are attached to. This means that children-of-children multiply their parent matrix with their own. There is an implicit graphics state push/pop for each ERC-998 token, so transformations do not affect sibling tokens, only child ones.

For colour or alpha (transparency) values, these values are added to the colour values of the image represented by the token. This may not be the expected behaviour. As with co-ordinates, using only positive values can be achieved by carefully structuring the hierarchy of the image so that child ERC-998s only need to add rather than subtract colour values to represent their colour scheme. Alternatively we can treat colour tokens as scale, allowing both increases and decreases of colour to be expressed across the token hierarchy, and source primitive forms to be arbitrarily coloured if they are white. More complex colour interactions and other filter or layer behaviours could be specified by additional tokens.

This gives us the following ERC-20 tokens:

X x co-ordinate offset values in distance units.
Unbounded.
Y y co-ordinate offset values in distance units.
Unbounded.
WIDTH width in distance units.
Unbounded.
HEIGHT height in distance units.
Unbounded.
ROTATION rotation in degrees.
Unbounded, wraps around past 360 as usual.
RED red scale.
Unbounded, although values that multiply the source value higher than 1.0 will have no additional effect.
GREEN green scale.
Unbounded, although values that multiply the source value higher than 1.0 will have no additional effect.
BLUE blue scale.
Unbounded, although values that multiply the source value higher than 1.0 will have no additional effect.
ALPHA transparency scale.
Unbounded, although values that multiply the source value higher than 1.0 will have no additional effect.

What is to stop the owner of an artwork created in this way from breaking it up, re-arranging it, or adding to it?

Nothing at all…

Isn’t this an extremely expensive way of assembling art on-chain?

It depends on the value of the work that is made using it…

Categories
Art Art History Artificial Intelligence Crypto Philosophy

AI Art, Ownership, Blockchain

Questions of “ownership” in art can be a matter of law, of social norms, or of art theory. New art forms and new methods of producing art can fall foul of existing answers to these questions or creatively re-open them. Often they do both. “AI Art” produced using contemporary “Artificial Intelligence” artificial neural network software is a good example of this. “Rare Art” produced using blockchain token software is another, which we will consider below in relation to one particularly notorious example of AI Art.

“Portrait of Edmond Belamy” was produced by the artist group “Obvious” using an existing artificial neural network model trained on a corpus of images of classical paintings. Obvious did not credit the author of that network model, or any of the artists whose paintings were included in the corpus. At this point there are already three different layers of questions around ownership.

Firstly, the assembly of an image corpus. Accurate reproductions of paintings that are no longer in copyright should not attract copyright, and in the US at least this is quite rightly the case. A collection of such reproductions may attract copyright on the collection itself, but this should not affect individual works within the collection. If the images were of paintings that are still under copyright, copying each image might infringe that copyright. I say “might” because doing so might fall under fair use/fair dealing (hereafter just “fair use”) exceptions to copyright. These exceptions are popular both with artists who work with appropriation and with large Internet companies who work with search and advertising. Both groups, and others such as Digital Humanities scholars, might wish to assemble such corpora of images so it is difficult to generalise about motives and outcomes regarding them. In the case of art, however, fair use for artists is a key defence of artistic creativity in an age where the visual environment is dominated by corporate media.

Beyond this legal view is the ethical and art theoretic view. Is it right to treat individual artworks in a corpus as tokens of a type or as just part of a set, as fodder or as raw material for an industrial process? With apologies to Clement Greenberg, does discarding the tactile elements of painting still meaningfully capture it, and does discarding visual detail and differences in scale discard more for processes of derivation than processes of study?

Secondly, the training and use of the artificial neural network model on that image corpus. The model is trained by processing images in the corpus, by copying and reading their data. The model will contain representations of parts of the images from its training corpus, and its output will also resemble parts of the images they are trained on. Mechanical copying and creating derivatives of images are covered by copyright. Cutting up images and juxtaposing them with the work of other artists is covered by the moral rights that accompany copyright. Again, copyright does not apply to works that are out of copyright (moral rights vary by country…), and artists should have a claim to fair use of such materials. The degree to which artistic use of source materials transforms them should be a factor in establishing that such use is indeed fair use, and the output of artificial neural networks certainly transforms the images that they are trained on. Style is not copyrightable (let’s not talk about “trade dress” here), but forgery and “passing off” can be legal matters, and the application an artist’s signature style to a work that they have not made but is sold under there name is the same whether performed by human hand or algorithm.

Again, the ethical and art theoretic view raises more questions. Signature styles are a matter of pride as well as profit for artists, and while this can be critiqued within art theory it is a strongly established norm that simple imitation of style, without a critical framework for doing so, is a breach of artistic norms. Artificial neural network models need not operationalise an individual artist’s signature style in order to devalue the concept of signature styles in general.

Thirdly, Obvious’s use of existing neural network software to generate an image has caused widespread debate. “Signing” the image with the algorithm used by the artificial neural network software to produce it functions as a double-bluff whatever the intention behind doing so. We know that Obvious produced and sold the image, their attribution is not threatened by this. But it erases the work of both Robbi Barret in producing the model of art that the image is simply a product of and of the artists that the neural network’s model already erases the authorship of, both in terms of attribution and in terms of control of their work (even if from beyond the grave in the case of the corpus artists). Software authors should not be able to control uses of the tools that they produce – Microsoft should not be able to censor your writing using Word or claim joint authorship of everything you write using it. But a trained artificial neural network model is a more complex thing than a text editor from this point of view – it is as much content as it is tool. Microsoft should not be able to tell you how you change the contents of an empty text document, but changing a novel or a painting whether represented physically or digitally may infringe on the copyright and moral rights that it may have. Again fair use should be strongly considered for artistically transformative use of artificial neural network models.

Art theroretically, such direct and uncredited use of existing materials, even materials created by another artist, may count as appropriation art, which is an established category within the arts. Appropriation art is deliberately transgressive, often for critical effect. Appropriating non-art or low-art materials is very different from appropriating canonical art or the art of leading contemporaries but both can be critical moves. Artistic labour can be appropriated directly, in the case of contemporary artists who use studio assistants to produce art under their own signature such as Jeff Koons or Damien Hirst. The signature that the products of this labour are exhibited and sold under is a key part of its erasure. And where software used to make art is free software(/open source), attribution may or may not be a strong social norm but past a certain point that attribution is useful information to have for artistic, critical, and art historical engagement with the work.

Prior to this, Obvious had already encountered the question of ownership and found an answer that led directly to “Portrait of Edmond Belamy” being sold at auction. That answer was based on AI’s twin in contemporary technological hype, the blockchain.

Christie’s discovered Obvious via their work on Superrare, a blockchain-based “Rare Art” platform. Rare Art is named after the “Rare Pepe” project that developed the techniques of using cryptocurrency and blockchain token technology to record limited edition certificates for digital images. This produces “artificial scarcity” and allows a form of ownership for pieces of digital art art that would otherwise be infinitely reproducible. This use of certificates as ownership proxies for art was pioneered by conceptual art. Compared to a flammable piece of paper with a handwritten signature on, the authenticity of a blockchain transaction secured by a not inconsiderable fraction of the world’s computing power each day only increases over time. It may not be entirely clear what the authenticity is of, but the terms and conditions of Rare Art platforms and the community norms of their users and consumers do produce a vivid image of a novel and very strong concept of ownership.

“True digital ownership” on a blockchain secured by cryptographic keys is seen by its proponents as stronger, more trustworthy, and more absolute than previous conceptions of property. This makes AI art a natural fit for Rare Art because each has needs that the other fulfills: ownership in the case of the products of AI art, strongly perceptible uniqueness but also recognisability as art in the case of Rare Art. Sale at auction also provides this kind of closure for the financial value of art, but new art and in particular digital art faces a bootstrapping problem in which it must establish its value in order to be sold at auction but cannot be sold at auction without first establishing its value. Christie’s saw art by Obvious selling on Superrare and could react to that market signal more quickly and with lower risk than with signals from gallery or online sales of physical goods.

It is a truism of International Art English that art questions things. There are many questions in play in both AI Art and Rare Art. They involve the concept of ownership considered in terms of the law, of social norms, and of art theory. The answers to these questions from within each of these realms individually may be obvious and simple to their practitioners, but between them they may be more at odds than each realises. Negotiating this without closing the door to cultural creativity or opening it to corporate exploitation is a task that is of interest far beyond the artworld.

(I am not a lawyer, etc.)

Categories
Aesthetics Art Art Computing Artificial Intelligence Uncategorized

Contemporary “AI Art” In Context

The “AI” used by current “AI Art” is machine learning – recursive neural networks or linear regression if you want to deflate it. These algorithms are not “artists”, they are tools or faculties. Harold Cohen’s long-running AARON project, software written under the previous AI paradigm of “expert systems” was an apprentice or studio assistant. Its use of explicit written rules also makes it a form of discourse. Machine learning could be used to produce digital muses but for the most part AI inflates menial work rather than deflating the status of the artist or their inspiration.

Appropriating a GAN is appropriation art and, ignoring the legal status of appropriation art and the political question of who-appropriates-whom, can be evaluated as such. Appropriating kitsch or canonical high art is a critical move. The critical value of appropriating the art of peers is less clear. Art GANs have at least a claim to the status of art or artistic materials. The producers of it have at least a claim to the status of artists. To treat the products of the GAN as found objects and the GAN’s algorithm as their author is a conceptually provocative move but its precedents lie in the erasure of skilled labour in the work of Koons and Kostabi.

GANs produce pastiches and AST produces interpretations. These are robust art historical categories and are hardly unprecedented. Art that falls into these categories should not be fetishised or rejected based merely on a misapprehension of novelty.

An AI-generated pastiche is of something that (almost certainly) does not exist. This non-existence may consist in several senses:

  1. The image produced does not exist in the training set.
  2. The image produced does not exist in the oeuvre, genre, movement or medium that the training set draws from.
  3. The image did not previously exist and exists only as this image. This is trivial compared to the other senses but it the sense of existence usually meant.
  4. The entities depicted by the image do not exist in reality.
  5. The entities depicted by the image have never existed in the arrangement or event depicted.

An AI-generated interpretation is of something that (almost certainly) does not look like that interpretation.

  1. Where the interpretation is of photographic imagery (in the last moment of its popular acceptance as a mechanical capturing of reality) the results will not resemble it due to the imposition of the distortions and modulations of artistic style.
  2. Where the interpretation is of one artist’s work in the style of another, the results will not stylistically resemble the source work. This is trivial but it usefully illustrates the level at whist AST operates.

At the level of content the introduction, removal, or alteration of subjects and themes is approached more by Deep Dream’s “puppyslugs” than by other contemporary methods. Even then it is a Surrealist’s idees fixes that intrude from the AI’s “subconscious” into every image rather than a freer or more reflective play of concepts and influences.

The current tools of AI art fit neatly into the history of artistic tools and art theory but begin to problematize them.

  1. Historical styles being competently revived may no longer simply be forgery or quotation.
  2. Influence (and at the level of law, copyright infringement) becomes both mechanically explicit and operationally diffuse.
  3. The impact of AI on art is an automation of production, replacing manufacturing jobs the same as in other industries.
  4. The opacity of artist’s explanations of the construction of their work is doubled, as the artist is now using tools that perform actions for reasons that may be opaque to them.

The technology used in contemporary AI art is that which threatens democracy with facial recognition and deep fake images, video and text. Its explanatory opacity (why does the image look like this, which exact sources did it draw on, etc.) can be addressed by the same systems that are being developed to address the need to explain the operation of algorithms within corporations, law enforcement and other powerful organizations if they are to remain accountable. So this entanglement can be critically and politically positive where it is acknowledged and explored.

Current AI art works at the level of style, in the shallows of form. To extend their reach through the realm of form more profoundly and into subject and content is possible with current tools should we choose to do so. This may require more complex pipelines of generation, classification and search but these can be constructed within the same frameworks that current systems are.

The operation of GANs tends to produce art with a compositional scheme of all-overness, for the composition as a whole and for any object (rarely objects) within it. This has a deconstructive effect, deterritorializing an image corpus and reterritorializing it in novel compositions that find new local maxima in the dissolved state space of the corpus’s images. These images are latent in the corpus, generated from within it but lying outside of it. The local sense but global nonsense of markov chains and dreams. The challenge of a new metastability, but only of a new metastability.

Now, about AI curation, collection and critique…

(With thanks to Cynthia Gayton and Seryna Myers.)

Categories
Aesthetics Art Crypto

Tokenized Vickrey Aesthetics

In “Radical Markets”, Eric Posner and Glen Weyl propose a system of universal, permanent second-price “Vickrey Auctions” of land as a mechanism for price discovery on the utility of property and the taxation of the ongoing ownership of that value with a “Harberger Tax” as the means of funding a just, redistributive, state. They call this the “Vickrey Commons”.

Critics of the Vickrey Commons proposal tend to focus on the fact that everywhere is always for sale to the highest bidder rather than the fact that the accompanying tax is intended to ensure socially productive use of property and to securely fund social welfare. From a cypherpunk or cryptocurrency point of view however, the intrusion of the state into property relations is inherently unjust and distortive of social relations. We will return to the redistributive element of the Vickrey Commons later, but for the moment it is its capacity for driving price discovery and productive use that I wish to focus on.

Vickrey Auctions are often used by states to privatise radio frequencies in the electromagnetic spectrum. Extending this to the visible spectrum, to colour, would be the stuff of satire. But below the state level we do see the inefficient allocation and exploitation of colour and other aesthetic properties in the artworld. We can tackle this using the intelligence of markets and simulated property rights on the blockchain.

Let us first make individual colours, shapes, line and surface qualities and other aesthetic properties representable as non-fungible tokens on the blockchain. These can then be sold. The right to use those properties can then be sold by the owners as fungible tokens.

Compositions of these tokens can then be represented in turn by a secondary layer of non-fungible tokens and usage rights for those expressed by their own higher layer of non-fungible tokens.

This process can be repeated until concrete instances of the expression of asthetic properties are expressed by composing non-fungible tokens from different layers into a non-fungible token that can be treated as unique or, alternatively, editioned using a final layer of fungible tokens.

If we use the Ethereum blockchain for this, the system can be represented as a stack of ERC-721, ERC-1633, ERC-20, and ERC-998 smart contracts.

In the absence of rent or taxes, the owners of non-fungible aesthetic properties can make money by selling those tokens or by releasing and/or re-purchasing fungible tokens that represent them. The optimal strategies for this are outside the scope of this essay, but do involve reacting to demand at different levels for fundamental and derived/composed properties in a timely manner.

Returning to the redistributive aspect of the Vickrey Commons, we can (pre-)sell the fundamental aesthetic properties to one or more foundations that exist to profit from them in order to redisttibute those profits to deserving artistic and/or social causes. It is possible to imagine various ways of structuring those foundations as smart contracts or their payment(s) as domain-specific tokens, although introducing a Tokenized Aesthetic Vickrey Commons currency coin risks the introduction of a central bank-like entity into the system.

Where the foundations’ revenue must go to the authors of works using those properties, this is possible to enforce simply on-chain although avoiding the sybil problem and other issues with on-chain redistribution is much less simple. Where we wish to enforce more complex relations between the work and the foundation we will need aesthetic comparison games, which can be completed onchain but are much more expensive than a simple token check. Where the foundations’ missions are more arbitrary, controls begin to look more like human organization than enforcement through code.

It is not possible to exclude duplicate token contracts on a given blockchain without support for doing so at the protocol level, and in the general case it is impossible across blockchains without protocol support for a cross-chain proof-of-precedence protocol. It is even easier to simply not use these tokens. Why, then would anyone use them?

Anchoring a singular source of these properties through first-mover and network effects may be sufficient to make it authoritative for anyone who wishes to use them. The use of these tokens is then a means of establishing price and authenticity, which if we squint hard is to say it is a means to establish value.

Further objections to this translate neatly into objections to the artworld and schemes to reform or replace it.

Categories
Aesthetics Art Crypto

From WART to DeAes

Building on some of the ideas of WART (Wrapped Art) tokens gives us a powerful toolbox for organizing the evaluation and production of blockchain art.

Rather than using a Moloch DAO to decide which ERC-721 contracts to accept tokens from as we could in WART, we can use it to curate a collection of tokenised art directly by voting decide which tokens to purchase, commission, lend and sell as a form of Decentralized Aesthetics (DeAes, pronounced “dais”).

The membership application tribute for joining the DAO can be ERC-721 tokens (unwrapped if we modify the Moloch DAO codebase to directly handle ERC-721 as well as ERC-20 tokens, or else wrapped in the DAO’s own purely internal equivalent of WART) or Wrapped Ether (for the purchase fund). WART itself should not be used for this as it (deliberately) makes selecting artworks for their aesthetic content more difficult.

Each proposal for managing the collection that the membership puts forward to be voted on must fit the stated aesthetic of the DAO, and each member’s votes must evaluate whether that fit is real and appropriate. The DAO’s aesthetic and the interpretation/application strategy used to realize it can be updated through voting proposals, with or without rewards for successfully making the change.

If a DAO member wishes to ragequit they can take art and Ether proportional to their shares. Art allocation strategies for ragequitting can use an internal equivalent to WART, a simple FIFO queue or ERC-721 token, a flat percentage scheme using an agreed-upon source of (pseudo)-randomness, or a more complex combination of or replacement for any of these approaches.

Operationalizing and financializing aesthetic evaluation in this way via investment portfolio management ties art historical development to market signaling in a dynamic and accelerated way, which is to say a mutually beneficial one. This is a radical approach that asks both art historians and financial investors to learn much from each other. Despite this it still cannot reach into the artwork except before the fact in the form of commissions, which extends the history of patronage in a useful way but leaves the frame of the artwork otherwise intact.

We can take this approach further by making the DAO’s voting proposals purely for commissioning or authenticating art, turning the DAO into an artist itself. The former recreates a Koonsian approach to the outsourced fabrication of art, the latter a Kostabian one. The producers of these artworks can be paid in Loot or if the aim of the DAO is to grow by adding like-minded members they can be paid in fully voting shares.

Even where the DAO becomes active in the production of art in this way the edges of the artwork are left intact after its production, securing the interior of the artwork against being connected to market signals. Removing the firewall of the frame rather than routing around it or simply liquidating its contents (an approach I discussed along with the WART proposal) will take still more radical steps.

Categories
Art Crypto Projects

Facecoin Cash

Facecoin Cash is a new higher-resolution, lower pixel bit-depth advancement on the original Facecoin.

Facecoin is one of my most popular projects. It’s a good introduction to some of the technical and ideological ideas behind Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies.

This new and improved version produces larger, more defined images with clearer “face” identification. It has the same block size though.

See it in action here:

https://show.robmyers.org/facecoin/index.html

Get the source code here:

https://gitlab.com/robmyers/facecoin

Categories
Aesthetics Art Crypto Ethereum

WART – Wrapped Art

Wrapped Art (WART) applies the ideas behind Wrapped Kitties to rare art tokens, opening up new possibilities for investment and aesthetics.

The Wrapped Kitties Ethereum smart contract takes CryptoKitties ERC-721 non-fungible tokens (NFTs) and gives out its own ERC-20 fungible tokens (WCK) in return, “wrapping” the former in the latter. This makes it easy to buy and sell kitties in bulk, to use kitties in Decentralized Finance (DeFi) applications, or to trade low-valued kitties that one wishes to dispose of for others with more potential value by “unwrapping” the ERC-20 tokens back to (different) ERC-721 CryptoKitty tokens. WCK is credited with giving CryptoKitties a 50% price bump in mid-2019.

Wrapping Rare Art ERC-721 NFTs with ERC-20 Wrapped Art WART tokens would allow the same use cases. It would be a way to get (financial) utility from (financially) under-performing art. Or a way of exploring new artists by swapping NFTs via the contract, either randomly or by seeing which other ERC-721 rare art tokens the contract currently has wrapped and redeeming WART for them accordingly.

The Wrapped Art smart contract should allow tokens from more than one Rare Art platform to be wrapped and unwrapped, both to allow the widest range of tokens to be used for liquidity purposes and to give access to the widest range of artists and works. On a technical level this might require the contract to be centralized in order to manage the list of platform contracts it accepts NFT tokens from, but on balance this is better than tying it to (one version of) one platform or a frozen list of contracts that will rapidly become outdated. To decentralize this while robustly incentivizing the curators to act in the best interests of WART we can instead curate the addition and removal of contracts using a Moloch DAO with WART itself as the membership tribute.

WART gives collectors who don’t have a background in fine art but can follow price charts the ability to shake up their collections. This is both financially and art historically useful, allowing collectors to benefit from access to both financial and aesthetic liquidity as they build their collecting strategy. The blasphemy (for art historians) of art as a fungible asset class and the blasphemy (for financiers) of money as an insufficient sign of value resolve each other here. In doing so they create better signals than the positive feedback loops that would otherwise emerge when purchasing power drives artistic development under the efficient market hypothesis and nothing else.

It might appear that WART turns rare art into pure financial quantity, but in fact WART turns Rare Art into a pure aesthetic quantity. The monetary value of the art wrapped by the WART smart contract can be established by the trading price of WART but given what its tokens represent this means that hodling specific quantities of WART has an unavoidably aesthetic significance in addition to (and by virtue of) its financial one. Status games of hodling significant amounts of WART (in the sense both of large and evocative numbers) without unwrapping or using them for any further purpose might emerge in response to this fact. This fundamentally changes the concepts of collection, exhibition and value for art, coming down on the side of the price charts in terms of form but thereby opening that up to new aesthetic content.

Taking these ideas even further we can wrap the content of tokens. For example MATH tokens can be wrapped or burnt in return for the bits that represent their numbers as ERC-20 (or ERC-1155) tokens. We can’t break a CryptoKitty up into their genes (that would be cruel) but could we break up the image that a Rare Art token represents into its component colours? What cryptographic proof of the off-chain pixel values could be produced on-chain?

Or we can reverse this process and start by constructing NFT art from other tokens representing discrete aesthetic quantities. COLOR tokens start to do this with their wrapping of MATH tokens, but are monolithic and atomic rather than constructed from discrete elements. Tokens Equal Text is constructed from elements but each contains several words and the colours used are implicit. A more general and powerful NFT art construction system will require a different approach.