Making a Statement About NFTs Through a Kickstarter Campaign
Yes, there are a bajillion articles about NFTs now, as they’re the hot new thing that is poorly understood, often mischaracterized, and completely oversaturated right now.
As an artist who works both digitally as well as traditionally, I think that NFT’s are super interesting, yet was also concerned at the huge energy costs associated with them and Proof-of-Work cryptocurrencies (ie. Bitcoin, Ethereum, etc.) in general.
I wanted the campaign itself to be the art piece.
So I created a Kickstarter campaign that hawks NFTs — but physical ones. In the past, I’ve made monster-themed enamel pins, but for this campaign I wanted the campaign itself to be the art piece. In this case I’m selling a series of limited-edition, numbered, sustainably-produced wooden pins (think enamel pins, but texture-less and printed on wood), as well as Certificates of Authenticity signed by “Blockchain” (a person, not a piece of technology), and one-of-a-kind, hand-embellished versions of the main pin design.
Sure, if funded, I will actually produce physical pins and everything else I’m promising in the campaign, but I thought that it would be interesting to see if I could create a crowdfunding campaign that was sort of a piece of art in itself.
I know there’s a lot of definitions of art floating around out there, but I prefer to think of art as something that moves a person — whether through thought or feeling. So I hope that this fleeting, time-sensitive campaign (engineered this way to drive scarcity — just like the allure of digital blockchain NFTs are) can say something by itself about the way that we think about the purchasing, sale, and consumption of art. Whether it makes you laugh, feel angry, or encourages you to do a deeper dive into the understanding of digital NFTs, blockchain technology, and/or cryptocurrency, if the campaign has moved you in some way, then I guess a crowdfunding campaign can be a work of art on itself.
So if you haven’t checked out the campaign yet (and really, it’s helpful for the context of this piece) the general gist is that the campaign is created from a persona of someone who is definitely mocking those who are paying ridiculous sums of money for a digital signature without really knowing anything about art, blockchain, or the artists themselves.
Sure, it’s definitely not my place to tell you that you shouldn’t spend $10,000 on a one-of-a-kind, hand-embellished, certified wooden pin, but should you really? Really?
The fact that I could just sell these “physical NFTs” on my own webstore isn’t lost on me, but I think something about the relationship between crowdfunding and the hype around NFTs is especially meaningful. Perhaps it’s also that Kickstarter is a gatekeeper in it’s own right — I feel like my satirical campaign already is successful in the way that Kickstarter initially denied my campaign as it thought I was selling cryptoassets (which are currently forbidden on the platform). I had to file a formal appeal to ask them to re-evaluate it, even though I’m clearly (and repeatedly) letting people know that I’m not trying to fund digital signatures, but physical, limited-edition wooden pins.
I think I can safely say that this is the first ever Kickstarter campaign to offer NFTs — at least this is the first ever Kickstarter to offer NFTs that are called NFTs. After all, NFTs are just non-fungible tokens, meaning things that are basically non-exchangeable for equal value. The wooden pins will all be numbered, from 1–100, and so each one is of different value, especially being that the pledge tier for the #1 pin is $7,500.
This has been the hardest campaign to market, as I’m not sure whether or not I even want the campaign to be funded. I’m torn, as I’m basically making fun of people who might drop thousands of dollars for a wooden pin based on the number on the back, and I’m not really sure if I want someone to back at the higher levels or not.
Sure, it’s definitely not my place to tell you that you shouldn’t spend $10,000 on a one-of-a-kind, hand-embellished, certified wooden pin, but should you really? Really? I mean, the value on art only goes up, usually, sometimes, right?
To be honest, I’ve been going back and forth in my mind about whether or not I want some super-backer to drop $10k on my campaign. And if someone does, is it because they got the joke? Or is it because they didn’t get the joke? If the latter, should I take the money or cancel the entire campaign? Where’s my responsibility in all of this? Would it be different if a gallery asked that much for a painting and someone bought it, even if I didn’t think my work was that valuable?
I realized after making this campaign live that perhaps my mission to create art was successful in the way that at the very least, it was making me think long and hard about all of this, including my place in the art world at large, capitalism, and the very nature of value and money.
What the problem with NFTs really is
It’s not lost on me that I’m writing about a Kickstarter campaign, and the line between self-promotion/marketing and dissecting the campaign itself is basically non-existent. And I think that, in some ways, is part of the point.
Today we’re so desperate to cut through the hype and noise in order to stand out that we’re always doing the song-and-dance sales routine, especially if we’re not super well-established with thousands of fans clamoring to get more of us. Given that, I’m not sure if we can talk about a commercial project without selling it in some way, shape, or form. While this isn’t a bad thing itself, I think that the sudden potential for artists to get paid what they’re worth is a shock that creates a sense of desperation for us.
And I think that desperation really gets at the core of why the hype around NFTs are troubling.
Artists are forced to compete in a deathmatch of sorts, incentivized to capitalize on their gifts, where winners become artist celebrities with large fan bases, and losers become the stereotype of the Starving Artist who struggles to pay their monthly bills. There is also the Etsy-fication of the world, where art isn’t ever seen as a hobby, but as a side-hustle to be started, further capitalizing art and increasing the pressure to sell sell sell.
On top of the very real market pressure, there is also huge societal forces at play. Artists are routinely seen as unimportant, unnecessary, and offering little commercial value, even when this is largely not the case in a world that is largely driven by appearances. Case in point — would you rather your child grow up to be a fine artist painter, or a software engineer?
So of course, NFTs that have sold for ridiculous sums of money are going to create a new, hyper-crowded, hyper-competitive, oversaturated market. People are already minting NFTs of random things to try and cash in on the trend, and it devalues the thoughtfulness and time spent for a lot of artists out there who are just trying to get by in life.
If it’s unclear, I don’t have any issue around artists making money off of their art — I’d love it if the market supported MORE artists making amazing things. I have an issue with the hype around NFTs, and the way that money makes people dance like monkeys in an organ grinder’s show.
And in a way, perhaps me creating this campaign that ostensibly is asking for money and support is me doing my own dance for money. Is my problem with taking people’s money because I’m worried about whether or not they got the point of the campaign, or because I’m worried about whether or not they got the point of the campaign and that has a direct correlation to my value as an artist?
So can a Kickstarter campaign be art?
To answer the question I posed in the subtitle, I do think that a Kickstarter campaign can be art, if at the very least, for the person creating it.
Does that make it art? Yes. Does it make it good art? I guess that’s up to you, the viewer, to decide.