“There’s only one thing worse than being talked about, and that’s not being talked about.”
She was talking about her life as an artist.
“I guess,” I said.
We were five creators around a table at a pub. Sipping beer and lamenting the fixed and fickle nature of appreciation. Some get all the attention. Most get little bites, a short-lived tease.
The evening’s conversation started in hefty terms: “What determines aesthetic immortality? Who gets talked about beyond the grave?”
Blockchain came up. “Cryptoart.” Most had heard of it. Some eyes rolled. I tried: “Provenance is forever; some art is encoded on the blockchain forever; some of it changes dynamically forever…”
But it wasn’t what we meant, really.
A portfolio, your creations, they’re part of you. And they live on, sort of. So if your work secures that fixed attention, it lives forever.
“So what makes an artist immortal like that?” she prompted.
Silence. The pensive quiet of self-pity.
With glass and voice raised, she answered her own question:
Common examples were discussed. It didn’t lead to clarity. We were all a bit tipsy anyway.
The last pints were sipped. Street lamps outside the pub’s window seeped into the dregs of our glasses, glowing golden bubbly incompletions like the conversation itself. We parted.
I wandered the dimly lit street towards my apartment.
In that conversation, the word “art” had a fixed interpretation: “You’re dead, and your art is now this fixed repository. Your survival in the minds of others depends only on a set of specific and very finite things.”
But this isn’t entirely true. At least not in principle. Generative art lives on blockchain now. The code is forever. We can extract the code. Play with it. Make more.
But we’d have to mint our own. It wouldn’t be by that earlier artist, at least not exactly.
What if you, the artist, wrote usable code that created art forever?
The algorithm can be on the chain, and can produce new pieces. It would be limited, simple, constrained by the chain. But it will obey the rules you put in place. And you can have it mint forever. (Or, as long as that blockchain is sustained.)
You could vie for that fixed attention centuries beyond the moment you deploy your contract. Someone can still find it. That someone could press a button and have that part of your mind make more of your works.
It was a liberating thought. That refreshing kind of thought that justifies professional cynicism: “So who cares about attention anyway when I can send that part of my mind long into the future to keep trying!”
I shambled up to my dark doorstep. A jingly duel with keys ensued.
Another thought. Surely shaped, in part, by the moment’s mild tipsiness.
But worthy of a modest pause.
“That contract keeps creating little on-chain works. Reproducing, replicating tokens. Until-then-unseen renderings of your mind. All of them brought into the world as new, unique brain children.”
In a simple and strange computational way, you’d still be alive.
I visualize and write and enjoy banter.
Visit my website, follow me on Twitter, or join takensxyz.
Some related writing with links to many other creators:
- Souls of Immortal NFTs (Etherscan Blog)
- “I still don’t know the artist…”: A little gumshoe adventure in cryptoart
- Token Update: 2084
- layer_two: A little experimental NFT project exploring the conceptual and technical curiosities of “L2” in Bitcoin and other chains. (layer_two is also inspired, in part, by the ideas in this short story.)