Genuary was scorching and humid this year in Melbourne. I spent the month, happily, at the extreme far left edge of the curve of all the graphs - eg. the midwit graph, the Dunning Krueger. Hanging in the ‘you don’t even know that you know nothing’ zone is not an achievement, but it is an open space for play. In this short piece I draw some dots between creation and ownership in this open play zone, revealed in the digital art via NFT landscape.

Some of my best friends are coders and their coloured text on black screen { tap tap tap semi-colon } activity always seemed puzzling yet deeply uninteresting to me - runes for a dumb computer. Then Daniel Shiffman arrived in my life via hundreds of youtube videos and The Coding Train - short tutorials teaching p5.js creative coding from the beginning. The beginning. This guy, Shiffman, is a hero and an icon. In an age of alleged soft skills and storytellers, there is only one (it’s Shiffman) who can so clearly and enthusiastically communicate fundamentals of code to non-coders.

I hope it's sweet for u too, Daniel
I hope it's sweet for u too, Daniel

Starting with nothing (literal blank screen, empty brain) and creating something is an amniotic miracle. Doing it in the open play zone of childlike wonder, before your own (let alone others’) expectations have caught up, is a joy. The strict ‘rightness’ or error of code gift a solid scaffold for the skill-free to learn creatively - through iteration, experimentation, trial and try again.

As you learn more you start to panic, internalised capitalism asking: What are you making? Why are you doing this? What will you gain? Yet, still, when I open each ‘work’ on my phone I feel a rare emotion of satisfaction and ownership. I smile watching the loop animate, and I send it to friends (sorry) as if I were proud of it (I am).

I want to say that this private and shared emotion of pride and ownership (could we call it a thrill of belonging?), and this mental space of joyful open play and experimentation is the fertile grounding for digital online on-chain art. I want to draw lines between the making and the having, because they are the same ripples.

Like other forms of art ownership, NFT digital art ownership wraps together object, story, and moment.

The object is the work itself. Obviously the thinly-generative things I’m creating with Shiffman’s guidance are not art, yeah ok some of the generative patterns sold as NFTs are not Art, a lot of it definitely is. At the beginning of an epic conversation about poetry and (digital / physical) primacy, David Rudnick talks about art history as per the perspective of Christopher S Wood, who traces the cultural actions and relations by which artifact becomes artwork. The art object Wood is interested in is not only the object of extreme value (the painting, the sculpture), but the components of collective visual culture. The objects embedded in the culture not outside of it.

Art (as objects of extreme value) moved into the public gallery, but we still want to own it. That’s me in the gallery gift shop, buying the exhibition postcard because seeing the work moved me to purchase a token. What am I gonna do with this card? Look at it and remember, maybe feel that same thrill. The emotional connection to the work isn’t aesthetic or technical judgement, but a personal story of witnessing it, layered in a wider (changeable) cultural story of what it means and why it’s of value (for now). The story builds the link between the object and its meaning.

Shoehorning this in here, talk about Story!… Peter Schjeldahl, long-time art critic at The New Yorker, describing collecting bits of the wall that 1989 night in Berlin:

“A small hammer I bought in Berlin at the beginning of this month dislodged only sparks and dust from the Wall - that sucker is hard - so I had to glean bits from tailings left by better armed others. Had to? It did occur to me as I grubbed in the dirt that such keenness for crumbs of concrete, with or without the traces of spray enamel that elated me when found, might be idiotic. But yeah, had to. That’s the way with collecting, which no sooner battens on a species of a thing than it applies a hierarchy of qualities - size, presence of spray paint - for greed to glamorize. Once you let something symbolize - let a wall be the Wall - you are lost to yourself and must possess it to be whole again.” (7 Days, December 27, 1989)

The moment is the abundant occasion of bringing the art/Art into being (shopping, hunting, catching it). In a recent essay Waiting for the “Drop”: Crypto-art and Speed A. V. Marraccini captures the pace of minting (“You will miss the drop. there will be 10,000 pieces of new work before you wake up in the morning.”). But rather than being a lonely solo 4am AEST experience, minting from a launch is fizzy with (online) social build up and release. If you’re buying from mint you are probably also on the discord, and bearing witness to a collection release and sell out. The joy is greater than just that of the financial value pump ascribed to your piece of it, although that of course plays a part. This feeling is important. Even if what you’re buying is serious Art, minting is play, flipping is (can be) play, collecting is (can be) play.

There’s an obsession with scarcity and rarity features of NFTs. This obsession is also play. For the creator, NFTs have abundance features. Artists like Case Simmons and Figure31 have talked about the expansive reach and the joyful looseness of being able to experiment and disseminate generative work online like this. (Case: The infrastructure of the traditional gallery can't hold all the artists to make the community thrive; Figure31: Trying to print 1000 images in a dark room, it is so much fucking work). These are artists at the other (expert) side of the graph, but it feels like they are also having fun activating the open play zone for us.

It’s all fun and games until someone loses an eye. Malicious scams, theft, pump and dump, financialization accelerationism, boring or derivative or bad work produced and replicated, the dilution of Art, a pile of non-stop stuff building up without humans parsing it for meaning. Hanging in the edge of the Dunning Krueger has value, as long as you realise you are there. The damage happens in the painful transition between knowing nothing and knowing something, and determining what that something is.

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