Travel guides encourage tourists to visit Kotor’s ancient city and stay at luxuriously converted naval facilities turned resorts in Tivat or Herceg Novi. Unfortunately, most visitors are not history buffs with a deep love for cave paintings. Consequently, they drive past untouched prehistoric Illyrian art, dated 8,000 to 10,000 B.C.
Clickbait headlines about Profile Picture (PFP) NFTs, high-priced auctions, and secondary market bids are like the travel guides. You can have a great time on a travel guide-driven vacation just as you can enjoy the communities surrounding PFPs.
But, there is so much more under the surface and beyond the guides. There are entire communities and subcultures of highly engaged fine artists and photographers in the NFT world. There are artists with fascinating art practices who don’t make the headlines or, in this example, the guides. So, if you think off-the-beaten-path travel is intriguing, let me invite you into our world.
The First Nautical Map
Coasting down the Adriatic highway, a modern roundabout directs drivers towards Kotor. Welcome to Lipci, Montenegro, a blink, and you’ll miss the village located on the Bay of Kotor. Turning up the first road a few moments later, you’ll see a faded red sign that reads Lipci with an arrow pointing to a tiny, slightly overgrown, and rocky trail. A short walk past caves and chimney bellflowers, line illustrations reveal themselves on the mountain face under a rocky overhang. The depictions of two hunters on horses in movement and geometric patterns may not arouse your interest. However, there are other debated paintings.
Some scholars believe Lipci Rock contains a rendering of sailing ships and a map of the Bay of Kotor. An artist using a mixture of local lime stained red by iron ore, possibly bound with kaolin thickly painted on a rock surface with a brush, wood, or spatula, may have been the first to depict regional sailing and invented the nautical map.
Technology is a Tool
Artists are communicators, interpreters, revitalizers, and cattle prods of bygone eras and our time. Our expressions evolve, and practice refines itself. Every time we create, we face internal and external struggles, constraints, and choices. Pushing through our boundaries and playing with mediums, we find ways to express ourselves and our generation.
That is why as artists, we practice a craft. As an interdisciplinary artist who came of age during the internet boom, I believe that I owe it to my art to inspect and assess new technology and its applicability or potential to influence my practice. Today, with technology seamlessly interwoven in the fabric of humanity, I can easily say that technology has dramatically influenced my work for over a decade.
However, there was a time when I did not pay much attention to it. While my cohorts had heated debates about how digital cameras were destroying photography, I wandered downtown streets with a pinhole camera I picked up at a garage sale. My little black box and six film frames hopped on public transit to find something interesting to capture.
Navigating Streets and Twitter
After being hassled by one too many Paul Blart: Mall Cop-types in a post-9/11 America, I began to question my medium and practice.
Taking pinhole exposures requires testing, which means recording the length of time the aperture stays open, developing the film, then returning to the location to capture the final frame. The series I was working on required me to return several times to a few sites.
Out of general frustration, I sought a more unassuming tool when I completed the collection. Mobile phones were not yet ubiquitous and did not raise red flags for security guards. During this period, people tended towards annoyance at those oblivious to their surroundings as they chatted on their Bluetooth headsets and pecked away on their Blackberries.
My foray into digital began with the original Samsung Galaxy S phone. I adjusted the settings until I could replicate my analog images. Then, after a few weeks of testing, I set back out on my dérives.
Around this time, the media lauded Ashton Kutcher for reaching one million followers on Twitter. There was a simultaneous frenzy for genuine community amongst creatives, brands trying their hand in a new marketing channel, and local governments and non-profits using Twitter for grassroots movements.
As I sat on public transit sharing my black and white #phoneography and Los Angeles art scene events, I began interacting with accounts across these sectors and using the conversations to pick starting points for my dérives. I found artist comrades and openings to Los Angeles subcultures that only intertwined on Twitter. It was a blissful time to be a street photographer. No one paid attention to me, and my subjects were all upright and looking ahead.
Bringing Work to the Blockchain
Last year, when I began inspecting Web3 and NFTs, I pondered how the technology would change or influence my practice. Ultimately, I decided that it could only enhance it. Despite my early acceptance of integrating the internet into my work, I was now very cautious because of Web 2.0’s trappings.
Artists heavily rely on others being forthright and honest to eat and pay the bills. Unfortunately, notably under Web 2.0, individuals and corporations have had zero hesitation in pilfering artists throughout history. Aware of the stories, I pulled back on the internet and never shared or attempted to sell my most significant works online during the Pirates of Web 2.0 era.
Blockchain technology helps to correct these negative undercurrents. NFTs are a medium, distribution method, and account manager. On the one hand, it is canvas and paper, and on the other, it is an extension of paint and film. Furthermore, it inherently provides additional benefits and advantages across value pillars: royalties, security, and provenance.
The Secondary Market Should Be a Retirement Plan
In March 2020, a contingent of artists agreed that Web3 needed to be different. It needs to respect the artistic mind and provide a path for lasting sustainability and retirement. The majority of the world’s most respected living artists do not receive any benefit when their works sell for millions at auction. Instead, they must continue to grind out pieces to stay afloat in what should be their retirement years.
Moreover, the last twenty years have been especially financially and emotionally draining on the creative community. As a result, artists hesitate to ignite their creative spark because offers of pay in exposure or the need to chase past due payments have dampened our spirit one too many times.
NFT art is the origin story of how we, as a generation, can rise above the cliched starving artist route and change the landscape for future generations. Our years of pessimism are turning over into brightened optimism at the prospect of earning automated royalties from our creative endeavors like our artistic brethren in music, writing, film, and television.
The Blockchain’s Genuine Power
The blockchain, just as the Illyrian artist probably experimented with materials to find a permanent paint mix or when Frenchman Joseph Nicéphore Niépce developed a photograph on paper lined with silver chloride, is a way for artists to immortalize their work.
Web3 allows fine artists to reach the broadest possible audience and protect intellectual property rights and ownership. We’re freeing ourselves from the confines of physical space, pirates, and gatekeepers. As Claire Silver so eloquently put it, “NFTs is representative of Millennials first expression of genuine power.”