“Please Don’t Feed The Artists”
This is a response to Oliver Roeder’s piece on FiveThirtyEight called “Blockchain Is Just Another Way To Make Art All About Money”.
Every month, my wife and I sit down and do the books. Every month my stomach churns because my self worth is inextricably tied to how much money I was able to make. Every month, I get angry at myself for buying into the lie that money is a measure of worth. And every month my wife says, “Hey Jonathan, can we finish this? I really need to pay these bills.”
I make my living as a freelance songwriter. Last year, I made a hundred thousand dollars. It’s a lot of money. But I live in the New York metro area and am the sole provider for a family of four.
Every month, it feels like barely enough money.
Don’t get me wrong!
This is not me complaining. I am unbelievably lucky to be able to do what I do.
This is all just to say that for most working artists, art is already about money. We live in a capitalist society that demands that art is about money. If you’re concerned that the blockchain will further entrench art and money — what you’re really concerned about is capitalism.
If I could wave a magic wand, this is what I would wish for.
For now, the idea of making digital assets provably rare, for the first time, genuinely seems like a promising new way for working artists of all kinds to get paid for their work.
And it most certainly is Work.
Read these lyrics that Lou Reed wrote about Andy Warhol:
I write a song a day. I’ve been doing this for over 9 years. Sometimes songs go viral, and lots of people hear them. Most of the time, hardly anyone does.
Whatever. It’s just work.
Our culture is steeped in myths about art and artists. You’ve got to suffer for your art. Remain pure for your art. Toil in obscurity for it to really be “Art”.
Any working artist will tell you: Bullshit. It’s just work. Artists work. Just like anyone else. And whenever possible, we’d like to get paid for our work. Just like anyone else.
In his FiveThirtyEight article, Oliver invokes the names “Damien Hirst” to represent the garish, hypercommercialized artist on the one hand and “Michael Heizer” as the pure, uncompromisng artist on the other.
I don’t know much about fine art. But I do know that most work is created by folks that are very much somewhere in between those two extremes. We’re not thinking about “higher virtures”, and most of us aren’t savvy enough to sell our work for bajillions. We’re just out here creating constantly, because we have to. And sometimes it’s for money, and sometimes it’s not, but every single artist I know just wants to be paid a fair wage for their work.
Crypto Art Right Now.
People love to talk about the digital rose that sold for 1 million dollars, or the HomerPepe that sold for nearly forty thousand. I’m guilty of this, too, and I get it. Big, shiny numbers.
But I’ve yet to see any stories about the working artists who have found a new way to generate income via DADA.nyc or Rare Pepe Wallet.
Eleven dollars here, one hundred seventy there — the numbers aren’t staggering. But it’s money in the pockets of working artists that wouldn’t otherwise be there.
This is where we are, here in the early days of crypto art.
So far, it’s only been visual artwork that’s been bought, sold and owned on the blockchain. But the real revolution comes with putting all types of media on there.
I’m working with John Zettler to bring my Song A Day project to the blockchain. (Shameless plug, please visit Initial Song Offering Dot Com).
Did it give me pause to learn that John and Tommy (the guys behind Rare Arts Lab), are/were denizens of Wall St.? Of course. I think billionaires should be outlawed.
But I’ve spoken with them at length and believe that their goal aligns with mine: Putting more money in the pockets of artists of all kinds. And the fact of the matter is that the infrastructure they’re building is open source. Tommy’s exact quote to me was, “If tomorrow you decide you hate us, you can take all your data and move to another platform, or build your own site with it.”
I have 3,355+ songs.
Each one has list of attributes (e.g. I’ve recorded songs everywhere from Baltimore to Vienna, on topics from economists to video games).
I’m working with an illustrator to make a series of images that reflect those attributes. I want you to be able to look at an image and say, “Ah, yes, this was from March of 2014, the topic was Science and it was recorded in Hawaii.”
Then everything — the song, the attributes, the image — will be turned into a token that lives on the blockchain.
Then, hopefully, someone will buy that token. Maybe that person will value my music. Maybe they’ll think this token that represents my song will increase in value. Most likely it will be a bit of both. Life and art mostly don’t operate at the extremes.
Look. I’m 35. I’ve been writing songs my whole life, and doing it for money since my early 20s. I’ve seen a lot of ideas come and go that promise to help working artists. I realize that all of this might turn out to be a big bust. The early signs are encouraging, but who knows?
Whatever happens, I’ll be here at my desk, every day, doing the work. Hire me.
…or leave a tip!