In the year 2022, you can buy everything online, even colors. With Crypto, you can buy NFTs, apes NFT, avatars, or even the long-lost Semper Augustus tulip, a flower that was so valuable in the 17th century that it once sold for as much as a house before its price dropped.
Each one is made up of a long string of code that is supposed to be unique. This code is called a token, and you can either keep it or sell it to someone else. Ideally, you can get more money than you paid for it, but it usually goes for much less.
You won’t get any bulbs, monkeys, or pigments for your money. You’ll get a string of code and rumors about how much it’s worth. (This is why the red-and-white “broken” tulip picture from the Netherlands is a good, if niche, joke about the dangers of overheated markets.) you can even buy your favorite shade of blue at a store called the Color Museum.
Are Color Squares really an Art?
The question of whether these color squares should be considered art is harder to answer. Even more challenging: if they are art, what does that mean for the practice of art? For people everywhere?
NFT supporters say that these tokens offer a chance to push the boundaries of economics, art, and culture in the modern world. But the focus is always on the first of these three categories full of symbols. It’s not a secret that NFTs are expensive makes them essential. Like many other things, their primary purpose is to make money.
The founder of the Color Museum, Omar Farooq, said: “We’re going to turn colors into money.” Farooq admitted that he “can’t draw like these artists out there,” but as a longtime Bitcoin believer, he did have the tools to form a blockchain collective and make a platform for buying and selling digital images. The idea behind the Color Museum is that users will buy colors, and when artists sell digital works that use those colors, the user will be able to get a cut of the sale, making royalties off of hex codes.
Do people see Color NFTs as art?
Farooq wrote in an email that his project is “both an experiment in shared capitalism and a piece of collaborative art.” Usually, worker-owned businesses like Johnny’s Selected Seeds or King Arthur Baking are the only ones to use the term “shared capitalism.” But recently, crypto advocates have been using the language of labor struggles to talk about their own businesses. It’s hard to say if the Color Museum is a form of shared capitalism or collaborative art without knowing more about who owns it and how it makes art. Farooq says that this museum is still “in the art business” and that “our art is our business.” He also says that one of the community members said, “The idea of owning a color is something new.” This project makes a pretty good case for itself in contemporary art.”
The claim that owning a color is a new idea is easy to disprove. Tiffany & Co. has owned that bright turquoise color since 1840s, even though the brand didn’t get a trademark until the 1990s. Owens Corning fiberglass insulation got the first official trademark for color—a nasty intestinal pink—in 1985. Since then, UPS, T-Mobile, and John Deere have been among the companies that have claimed their own colors in context. You can also patent pigments. Both Yves Klein Blue and Vantablack are trademarked chemicals, but they are made of different chemicals.
I agree with the second part of what that community member said, though. The Color Museum is a perfectly reasonable project compared to other contemporary artworks, like Tim Steiner’s “human canvas” or Richard Prince’s printed Instagrams. That means that buying and selling colors makes sense. Everything else, we buy and sell. There is no sacred space that capitalism can’t reach and no experience that is too valuable to be sold.
Chronology of Art
Once, when kings got royalties, all art was considered an “art object.” it was, by definition, something material. People sometimes made art to sell, but sometimes it was made for other reasons. We think that early people carved stones and painted cave walls to show respect for their gods, but some likely did it just to express themselves. In her newsletter, Notes of an Aesthete, Alice Gribbin makes a graceful case for art for art’s sake. She says that this idea is “as old as the first works of art.” She writes, “A simple desire runs through our species: to make, to make things other than tools, and not just to solve problems, but because it is in our nature to make.”
Even though it has become popular to see art as a way to teach, get closer to other people, or heal, Gribbin takes us back to the basics. Art can teach, express, calm, and bring people together. But sometimes art is there because someone made it. Someone wanted to carve that bone, paint that wall, and make that tapestry. Someone wanted to see what kind of thing they could make, and they did.
For a long time, art was all about things. Each piece of art was different and real. This is still true to a certain extent. There may be a lot of sculptures with round bodies representing fertility, but there is only one Venus of Willendorf. But with books, magazines, cameras, printers, computers, and handheld screens, you no longer have to be in the same room as work to see it. We can all see art from afar, but people still want to go to museums, temples, and galleries because something special happens when you get close to the object. Closeness is important, and so are our senses.
Walter Benjamin, a philosopher, came up with the word “aura” in 1936 to describe the unique quality of a work of art in both space and time. He said that a work’s aura depends on its physical qualities and how real it is.
You want to see the Venus of Willendorf, not a copy of it because you know that the millions of eyes that have already looked at it have given it a sort of psychic weight. An aura is a type of power based on being unique (or one-of-a-kind) and getting more and more attention. The ambiance makes you feel like the art is looking back at you, like it’s a little bit alive and aware.
NFTs True Nature
NFTs speak to the same need for a unique experience, but they do so differently. Instead of emphasizing how important it is to be in the same room as a work of art like Benjamin did, NFTs emphasize how important it is to be able to own an authentic piece of the symbolic order.
“Authenticity is now a feature of the NFT that represents the original, and statistical uniqueness is the only way to prove authenticity today,” Julia Friedman and David Hawkes write in the Athenaeum Review. “The cries of fear and loathing at the thought of destroying a Basquiat drawing or a Banksy print are not naive defenses of the artwork’s lost integrity. They are angry protests against the postmodern condition that can’t be put into words.
In another piece, these same writers say that the “confusion and scorn” that many people feel about NFTs is “no mere backwoods Luddism.” As a somewhat hard-to-understand Luddite from the country, I have to say that I agree.
People don’t like NFTs because they don’t like the idea that color can be bought and sold (even though it can be in this case). They don’t like how tech is getting into every part of their lives (even though it can be very helpful at times), and they feel, logically or not, that there is something very wrong with where the digital world is taking us. L.M. Sacasas said that we live in a “human-built world that is not built for humans,” and that’s not what we want.
It’s not just that late-stage capitalism has made so much of our lives profitable, although that is a big part of the problem. It’s also because we still have bodies and are still people who need food, water, shelter, love, and beauty. We haven’t uploaded ourselves into the singularity, the matrix, or whatever.
You can’t do that. We can still die from not having the things we need. Even in cyberspace and the metaverse, we still have needs that can’t be met. I think that many of these needs are physical, even if we don’t like to admit it. Food can’t be replaced by digital food; that much is clear. But I think it’s harder than the tech world thought to replace face-to-face communication and experiences of art. Not only is the technology not good enough to send smells or tastes, but the auras are also gone.
The art is just as beautiful and interesting as it was before. Even though I’ve seen all of these things before, I still know beauty when I see it. I can still feel that these works from different times and places are still alive. Another thing art gives us is that it makes our inner webs stronger. It adds markers to the landscape of our memories. When I see a deer in motion, I can see a bit of what those ancient cave painters saw, what Marc saw, and what Disney illustrator Jake Day saw when he drew those whitetails.
This could be done with digital art, so NFTs could do it, and maybe they already do. When Jimmy Fallon looks at his Bored Ape, he might feel a thrill of deep recognition and kinship. It’s possible that Paris Hilton is very proud of her Iconic Crypto Queen image. Even though I think it looks like a Will Cotton nightmare with its baby-blue colors and empty eyes, this could be a true piece of self-expression for Hilton (with help from designer Blake Kathryn, since Hilton, like Farooq, isn’t very good at drawing). Even though I’m not too fond of it, it’s still art.
I have to say that these NFTs have made me feel bad. They are works of art, strong, and important in a way that most of my life and work are not. I’ve seen and considered them, and now they have entered my inner world as symbols. But when I see the Bored Ape, I don’t think of monkeys; instead, I think of Community and a similar sense of share market.
I think of “abstract capital,” which is money that isn’t tied to a piece of gold, a house, or anything else I can bite or touch. These pictures make me think of nothingness, things that try to have meaning but don’t have any, and things that don’t have any weight or color. It used to have a color, but now it has millions of colors. This means, of course, that it has no real color at all. It only involves lines of code.