Archive for March 13th, 2021

Beeple- “Everydays: The First 5000 Days”

“I’ve crossed some kind of invisible line. I feel as if I’ve come to a place I never thought I’d have to come to. And I don’t know how I got here. It’s a strange place. It’s a place where a little harmless dreaming and then some sleepy, early-morning talk has led me into considerations of death and annihilation.”

― Raymond Carver, Where I’m Calling From: New and Selected Stories

I don’t know about the death and annihilation part but somedays I wake up and feel as though I have stumbled into an alternate reality where there are things going on that baffle me completely, that don’t have any basis in the world from which I come.

Like I am a goat farmer from the late 1700’s who has suddenly been thrown through time and ends up in the middle of a Times Square with huge walls of lights flashing, cars whooshing by and jets thundering overhead. 

The place and everything associated with it  just doesn’t line up with anything I know or have ever seen. I am confused, to say the least. Maybe even a little scared because if I don’t know what the hell it is, I have no idea if it can hurt me.

That is exactly the feeling I had when I read that on Thursday a piece of digital art, an NFT— a non-fungible token— had sold in auction at Christie’s for $69 million. The artist’s is Mike Winkelman who goes by the name Beeple and he is a digital artist from Charleston, SC who until October of 2020 had never sold a print for more than $100.

Then came NFTs. Those cuddly non-fungible tokens.

Here’s where I fall through time and space.

I wish I could explain it to you but it feels like the translation of a language I’ve never heard of translated into a language that was just invented and is, yes, unknown to me.

The only thing I understand is the concept of attaching value to an object that is not contained in the value of the raw materials or labor that made it. That is the definition of art and most collectibles. For example, a painting is a token in that it has value attached to it.  But a painting that sells for $100 million dollars is not much different in real world terms from one that sells for $10,000.

The difference is that there is a higher value attached by the market– the potential buyers– that reflects its history, the artist’s reputation, its rarity and provenance and whatever the heck makes a painting worth $100 million. But even then, after the huge piles of cash have been exchanged, the buyer still has a tangible object in their hands.

Probably a closer analogy to NFTs is collectible cards like baseball cards. They are nothing more than a penny’s worth of cheap cardboard with an image printed on one side and some stats on the back. But value is somehow added to them to the point that some are worth hundreds of thousands of dollars while most end up propping up off level tables.

I still don’t know if I am explaining this well. Remember, I just got into this century from the 1788 with goat dung on my boots. Which makes the next part even more difficult to explain.

These NFTs are attached and sold via blockchain technology. Like cryptocurrency. Bitcoin. Ethereum. You know what I’m talking about, right?

I think Yogi Berra would be better equipped to explain this.

I tried at one point a couple of years ago to better understand cryptocurrency but I just couldn’t fully grasp it. It seemed so much like a giant pyramid scheme. But what made it even harder to grasp was that there are actually bitcoin mines.

Yeah, bitcoin mines.

I am standing here with goat stink still on me and I am trying to grasp the idea that bitcoins are mined — created, actually– by people around the world trying to solve the same mathematical puzzle using very large and powerful computers. About every 10 minutes, someone solves a puzzle and is rewarded with some bitcoins. Then, a new puzzle is generated, and the whole process starts over again. As more people become involved around the globe trying to solve this puzzle, it is made more difficult so that it is estimated that it will take ten minutes to come up with the new solution.

Every ten minutes. So, in order to be the first to solve this puzzle and get the bitcoins, one has to have computers that use enormous amounts of electricity. We are talking something on the order of 72 terawatts expended to create a single bitcoin. That is 72 trillion watts of electricity. Every ten minutes.

This first came to my attention when I learned that there was a proposal for a bitcoin mine to be built on nearly Seneca Lake. If I am not mistaken, it would use the water from the lake to run a hydroelectric generator to produce the huge amount of power needed for its computers. 

I still am in the dark on this and can’t even begin to explain blockchain technology. Remember, I am from a time when the Snickers Bar was still a 150 years from being developed and marketed. That’s a technology I can understand and maybe even explain.

So, here I am wondering how a digital file that anyone can download and display is somehow valued by its owner, a person who shelled out $69 million bucks. I really am confused and have all sorts of questions. 

Can this affect my own work? Might my work be stolen– this has happened to other artists– via these NFTs? What does this mean for the future of art? With all due respect to his talent, Beeple is now one of the most valuable artists in the history of art. I think that’s a statement even he would find laughable. Granted, its a lot easier to laugh with $69 mil in the bank. Or is it in cryptocurrency?

Good for Beeple. But the real question is: How do I do this?

The price for goat feed is a lot higher than it was in 1788.

I think I will go outside and bang my head against a tree. Now that I understand.



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