NFTs & Me - The Science Of Art: Will NFTs Endure As An Artform?

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2 years ago

What are NFTs?


Then what is art?

Something @quillfire said to me the other day got me thinking . . . But more about that later.

Art it seems, like anything else in the human realm, is anything we say it is.

If someone wants to gather the contents of a trash can, spread it all over a gallery floor and call it art, there is absolutely nothing stopping them.

By the same tenet if another person comes along, a cleaner for instance, and they decide that in fact it is trash and proceed to throw it away, then who are we to blame them?

Of course I'm referring to the times when "artworks" by Damien Hirst, Gustav Metzger and Sala Murat were thrown away by cleaners working at the various galleries the works were displayed in.

All of those incidents sparked furious debate as to what exactly art is.

Some claimed that the very fact the pieces were not universally recognised as art told us everything we already knew. After all, no gallery cleaner would ever mistake the Mona Lisa, or any other painting for that matter, as trash to be discarded.

But is it that simple? Is visual art restricted to paintings and sculptures?

Or is it more than that? Can art ever truly be defined objectively?

The Science Of Art

Renowned neuroscientist Dr V S Ramachandran coined the term neuroaesthetics in a a 1999 Journal of Consciousness Studies article, titled The Science of Art: A Neurological Theory of Aesthetic Experience

Ramachandran later expands on this in his lay book, The Science of Art.

In the book Ramachandran claims that the apparent subjectivity of art appreciation is almost entirely illusory. Rather, he states, that artistic appreciation is a by-product of our evolution.

Much like the ability to speak a variety of languages, or see in colour, Ramachandran opines that art appreciation has evolved across the human species and thus there is an objective measure of what exactly constitutes as art.

Almost needless to say, his views are not shared by everyone in the scientific community. Whilst Ramachandran may have had some interesting results, he has not been able to conclusively prove his hypothesis via experiment.

However in his book The Tell-Tale Brain he does point out that things that we find artistic do have a certain rasa.

Rasa is a Hindu word best translated as taste or juice. Ramachandran uses it in the spirit of the original word. That is to say the rasa of an art piece is summed up as the feeling the art gives you.

It is the unglimpsed, the light around the corner that you can't quite see.

Rasa is a feeling you can recall perfectly in your mind, yet if you tried to articulate it into words, you'd be at a loss. The words seemingly making their way from your brain to your lips, only to evaporate like mist on a cold day.

The central philosophy of Ramachandran's hypothesis is that all art either enhances, transcends, or distorts reality. To this end all art is caricature.

He states that he does not mean this literally, however;

*"... it is true surprisingly often”

Ramachandran claims that artistic appreciation stems from an original evolutionary function called peak shifting.

Peak shifting has been demonstrated in the Herring Gull Experiment, whereby baby herring gulls were stimulated with a set of props.

The female adult herring gull has a red stripe on its beak. When she flies back to the nest to feed her newborn hatchlings, she lowers her beak which the chicks then proceed to tap. This in turn triggers the mother to regurgitate her food directly into the hungry mouths of her babies. (Cute and disgusting in one fell swoop.)

In the now famous experiment, scientist Niko Tinbergen discovered that he didn't even need to use a false beak to initiate the tapping in the chicks. As long as whatever he used had a red stripe on it the chicks would tap away expecting to be fed.

Perhaps the most interesting discovery in the experiment was the more red stripes Tinbergen painted onto his lollipop stick, the more enthusiastically the chicks responded, with three stripes seeming to be the optimal amount to get the chicks wild with excitement.

Ramachandran attributes this behaviour to the fact that the chicks are hardwired to find red stripes attractive as it is crucial to their survival, therefore the more stripes the better. It's almost as if they are thinking;

'Now THAT'S a beak!'

Ramachandran states this hardwired peak shifting is why we like caricatures so much. Because a well drawn caricature, takes a face and exaggerates all its best features in a flattering way.

He also states that is why photo real artists who can draw incredibly detailed scenes that look like photographs, are not the most famous artists on Earth, even though they are arguably the most gifted.

Of course we must temper these revelations with the knowledge that throughout human history art has changed dramatically. It was not always about peak shifting and caricature.

Renaissance art was very much about recreation, for every Picasso example there is a Turner.

Although I would humbly throw in an argument here, perhaps renaissance art was a form of peak shifting.

The use of perspective in art didn't start till the early 15th Century. Before then by today's standards all art looked decidedly childlike. So when we started drawing with perspective that set off a type of peak shift in our brain.

Indeed truly abstract art only became a thing after the invention of photography, film and later television. Once we could see the world around us created in print, or on a screen, perfect artistic representation started to wane in popularity, we yearned for something that was more than real.

Don't Believe The Hype

Whether our artistic appreciation is subjective or not really doesn't matter when it comes to what people are calling art at any given time.

It is about what is being hyped at the time, often it seems the mere act of a bunch of people calling say a bag of trash art, becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy. The trash will then go on to be displayed at a prominent gallery and possibly sold for a large amount of money.

However hype is not just for the unusual, initially everything needs to be hyped.

Imagine I invented a cure for baldness that could also increase penis size. You might immediately say; "you'd become the richest man in the world!".

However I'd only become rich if I started an advertising campaign, set up social media groups, and all the other tricks of the advertising and PR trade in order to get people using, buying and talking about my amazing product.


Using this analogy exposes something fundamental about the hyping of a product, be it a penis enlarger or a piece of art. At some point its got to be able to stand on its own two feet.

We can use an art example to illustrate this point, Damien Hirst reportedly uses investment consortiums of which he's a part, in order to buy up his own pieces of art for huge sums. Most notably his jewel encrusted skull For The Love of God which first sold for $50 million and later $100 million.

Once a piece has been hyped to a certain amount, then if the work has what we might deem as artistic merit, it will at least hold its value.

Perhaps that's my main worry with NFTs, or at least the ones that arguably behave solely as art, in that they only exist for existence sake. They have no other function other than to be collected, admired, sold or destroyed.

NFTs all have hype teams behind them, mostly on Discord, Twitter and Insta, however there are many IRL hype trains in motion. From the mainstream media, to billboards in Times Square. The hype train is at full steam.

But what happens when it all stops?

Facing The Future

Of all those profile pic NFTs you were looking at (what normal, non-crypto people would call "stupid cartoons"), which one awed you with the insight or talent required to create them?

Which one required the genius of Beethoven, Shakespeare or Da Vinci? Were any of them ... extraordinary?


I read the words above and they resonated deep down, with a reverberation so low and ponderous, it stained my soul with its stolen whisper.

Those words did not come to surface until I found myself staring into what at first seemed like the abyss. The face above is an NFT from a collection currently on the Ethereum chain titled Psychedelics Anonymous.

To say I was blown away by the above is to cheapen the emotion experienced. Perhaps you may think me melodramatic when I say I was close to tears. Not the type that spring forth from the ducts in your eyes, but the kind that leaves a yearning deep within, a feeling that can only come from truly beholding a thing of beauty.


However my feelings weren't pure, a feeling of ambivalence washed over me. There was another nagging feeling cloying at the edge of my subconscious.

What was it?

As I browsed through the various images on the Psychedelics Anonymous Heads, I suddenly understood Quillfire's words floated up to gently break the surface of my conscious mind.

"Of all those profile pic NFTs you were looking at (what normal, non-crypto people would call "stupid cartoons"), which one awed you with the insight or talent required to create them?"

Oh my God!

Of course!

This is what fills me with awe, wondering about the talent and insight used to create them.

I immediately rushed to the DucklingsNFT Discord and sold all of my NFTs in the collection for around $60, bringing in a slight loss I have not bothered calculating.

It was as if a very powerful flashlight had been shone on my naivety. Of course the Ducklings can't survive without hype. They are just trying to cash in on a zeitgeist and the hype behind them has died down to a distant murmur.

They will not survive.

I continued to stare at the heads, every now and again getting up a picture of one of my NFTs and comparing.

Obviously not the quality of the art, that is clearly not in question.

What I pondered was how the Ducklings and all the other NFTs made me feel, and I realised that Quill's words had been in my heart all along.

"When the music stops, the vast majority of people buying shit NFTs [...] will find themselves without a chair."

Art We Can All Agree On

And he's right, when the hype dies down only the ones that we all objectively consider to be art will have any value at all.

Because the biggest measure of any human system is the agreement that exists within it.

In other words things only begin to work once an unknown critical mass of people start to agree it should progress.

Good old social proof.

Many people claim not to be swayed by social proof, citing their individuality as a reason that they do not follow the crowd.

However I'm guessing almost all of those people will read customer reviews of products they want to purchase, or read, watch and listen to popular blogs and podcasts about an investment their thinking about.

We all use social proof to some degree pretty much all the time, and art is no different.

For a while a few artists tried to tell us trash was art, but after a few cleaners told us it wasn't, nobody is trying to push that particular claim any more.

"People dramatically underestimate the magnitude of the
madness that can overtake crowds in the short-term.

In the long-term, though, some version of sanity always re-asserts itself because madness is inherently unstable and human beings, as a whole, will always seek to balance novelty with certainty.

It's how we're wired and such instincts can't be overridden."

Perhaps Ramachandran and Quillfire are right, art is in fact objective, there are of course subjective tastes held within. But what constitutes actual art, whilst perhaps difficult to define, is easy to dispute.

After all the madness ends where will we be?

Well we can only surmise that some NFTs will endure as pieces of art, however most, and it's probably obvious which ones, will not.


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Avatar for Amoryarte
2 years ago