Monday, December 10th: Blockstack hosted a panel entitled “Decentralizing Art: The Hype and Hope of Blockchain” at Foley Gallery on the Lower East Side of New York City.
Moderator and art historian Xin Wang led panelists Kelani Nichole of The Current, John Watkinson of CryptoPunks, Abbey Titcomb of Onward Labs and visual artist Tahir Karmali through a highly engaging conversation that touched on the following:
- Are CryptoKitties art? Who gets to decide what art is?
- What is Decentralization and how could that be applied to the art industry, which relies on centralized powers and decades of expertise?
- What is the relationship between art and scarcity?
- How can we explore blockchain as a medium for art?
- How do we conserve digital and blockchain art? How can the public participate in these mediums? Can decentralized storage help preserve these works with individuals hosting nodes?
- Can blockchain solve the need for preserving provenance in art?
Some of the most heated conversation came around how (if at all) blockchain is influencing the demand for art (both physical and digital). In a chicken-or-egg argument, the panelists argued over whether an application like CryptoKitties does more harm or good for the art industry: do the kitties expand the market for interested buyers in art with this new incentive and technological model for purchasing art or are the kitties degrading to the traditional art industry and thus detrimental to the art industry overall?
On the supply side of the art market, the panelists assessed whether blockchain deserves so much hype if a traditional database can suffice. For example, in the buying and selling of art, one of the main ways to judge the artifact’s authenticity is proof of provenance. Blockchains are one of many solutions to programmatically preserve provenance. This is especially true for digital art, because digital art has no physical manifestation whereby authenticity can be determined without proofs of ownership (e.g. you can’t carbon-date a CryptoKitty). Yet, blockchains are not the only mechanism for determining provenance as a database can work as well. A divide emerged between the panelists on the utility of blockchains for provenance.
A room full of artists, art lovers, technologists and business leaders witnessed the unfolding conversation as the panelists unpacked and sorted through nuances of the art industry, how artists work and how blockchains work. One audience member commented in the Q&A that the panelists seemed to speak past each other highlighting the lack of established conversation for these topics. We left the panel intellectually engaged and optimistic that there is much more discussion to be come on these topics.