Artist Interview: Shawn C. Bailey

Q: First, can you tell us a little bit about yourself as an artist and your artistic practice? 

A: Hello! My name is Shawn, or Tronald—once known as Tron when I was 12 on the internet, but later given the name Tronald by a loving internet community: mIKes ReVeNGe, or mR. My practice is one of collage, in a sense, but also an exploration of digital tools. I like the act of transformation: through mediums, through placing things next to each other, through bringing things in and out of the computer, by changing old photos and reusing them. It’s like the use of personal archives with the addition of media, both new and old.

I often want my work to look constructed. I want the digital to be obvious. I do not want to hide the pixel… Some of the information has been lost on it. What you might be able to scan contains either short poems or phrases.

Q: What do you think are some of the key influences that led you to develop your artistic style and process?

A: You know? That’s hard. My 1st influences, who will always have a place in my heart, are my Alfred University friends. Following them, Rothko, Frankenthaler, Kandinsky, Newman, and the rest of the normal canon of colour field and abex painters. In my formative years as an artist, I was watching as many YouTube videos as I could find on art history and artists, now anonymous to me due to the amount of time that has passed. I can better describe the mindset that I garnered from these friends and artists. I didn’t know what skills I would need, but I knew this: I had to do my best to create freely, let go of feelings of failure, understand that there are hundreds of works left to be made, and commit to finishing a work despite its quality. One of the biggest influences was my ceramics friends at Alfred, not on just my art but my life. I’d see these people labor on their work only for it to fail at so many different points, and you know what they did? They would take 10 minutes tops (with a cigarette, depending on the person), walk out of their studio, then come back in like nothing happened and get back to work. That stuck with me.

That all said, it’s hard for me to point to specific visual influences, especially during my beginning years simply due to the fact of how voraciously I consumed art.

Digital Art by Shawn Bailey
Self Portrait of the Artist from: Detail “Watching a Sun Set, 1 & 2” by Shawn C. Bailey 2021

I can point to three non-visual artists and an author, however: AJJ, John Staurt Mill (I’m always surprised when I say that too), and Kurt Vonnegut. AJJ were originally a folk-punk band. Now, well… something different. I’ve been listening to them since I was a freshman in high school, and their lyrics range from anywhere from heartbreaking to touching to absolutely wackadoodle. Some songs sound like they just used all their intrusive thoughts for lyrics. But it’s the creative, sometimes disturbing, sorta placed-together imagery of their songs that stuck with me.

My brother suggested to me during my Alfred years that I read an essay by Mill. Misinterpreting him, I read his entire book On Education.1 This book helped me understand better how structures are fallible, how their self-bias grows over time, and accept the fact that I will always be at least a little wrong about things. Structures will cycle into other imperfect structures. Further, this book helped me understand something key to my dissatisfaction with traditional education: one is not allowed to learn how one learns best. They are given a learning model to follow, despite their wants and differing abilities. One learns how one learns best when they are allowed to follow their interests naturally, to make their own model. This is where a sort of obsession with structure and failure started for me.

Kurt Vonnegut is a relatively simple influence on me. His books got me reading, something I had never seriously done before. In his writing, he matter-of-factly and nonchalantly places people, things, and events next to each other. It’s absurd and serendipitous, but the way he writes it, it simply is.  

It’s because of these influences it’s not unoften you’ll see other structures implied in my compositions that extend out of frame or are hidden or obscured in some way. I suppose there is something else I should mention: epicycles. When I learned about epicycles in physics, and how long and hard physicists of the time kept fighting for the theory… safe to say it’s worth looking into.  

The last influence I can think of is dance. In my improv sessions, I can potentially reach a certain place in my imagination and have very strong visuals in my head, and I have used these directly before. See my works with a hand and googly eyes. Every creation in my life, my music, compositions, dance, writing, all speak to each other. 

Shawn C. Bailey, Hand, thinking to itself, 3D render, 2020

Q: As a multimedia artist, you employ a diverse range of both digital and analog media in your artwork. What got you interested in digital art, and does your creative approach differ when you work in digital vs. analog media? 

A: After studying abroad, I realized I needed a change in the course of my life. When I went back to Alfred University, I took as many art courses as I could, one of which happened to be a digital drawing course that combined Photoshop and traditional drawing. Actually, I should note that I nearly didn’t go back to school. I almost dropped out. After that year, and in the process of transferring to Sarah Lawrence College, my brother, a 3D generalist, encouraged me to take online classes in 3D modeling. From there, I was lucky enough to have Shamus C as a professor in Blender 3D modeling.

I feel like one of my 1st loves in art were the media in and of themselves and how they mixed. I liked playing with phone cameras on full zoom where the pixels were obvious. On reflection, transformation was one of my main curiosities, not only between mixed media, but how images and information could be transformed when projected, when zoomed in on—how something can transform through a digital medium back out into the physical world.

I chose digital. I looked around me at my incredibly talented friends, these painters, sculptors, glass artists, ceramics artists, and I felt some pressure. There were many traditional foundational skills that went along with these media, and, though I was young, I felt time’s pressure. I saw digital media as something lacking traditional standards or foundations, something I could just start doing. I also chose digital media for this quality. It was fresh, new, unexplored, and constantly expanding. Everyone involved is still figuring things out together.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t come forward with the fact that my continuation in digital media is also due to economic considerations and space. It was a joy in college to work with wood, plaster, clay, cardboard, and metal, but those aren’t particularly realistic for me to work with, other than small-scale clay or cardboard work. With a computer, all one has to do is buy a nice one every few years.

So, does my approach differ? Other than my use of equipment, it has, but I’m not sure if it does these days. Everything I have made in the past year and a half has been in service of some final product with a clear goal in mind, for better and worse. I started figure drawing again and just drawing again in general very recently. I kinda just want to draw right now. I think a “freer” period is coming on.

Q: Can you expand on the role of memory in your artwork, both in terms of your artistic process and how you translate memory processes visually? Do visual mnemonic techniques, i.e., ars memoriae, play a part in either?

A: Specific memories have not yet been fully represented in my work. It’s kinda like if I took the structures of my memories and filled them up with other things as a remix of sorts. I more often respond to memories from time to time. My works, to me, are often “mixed spaces,” discordant things placed together. There are many reasons why I choose to do this. There is no pleasant way of putting this; one of those reasons that has to do with memory is the fact that, for a period of my life, I had to deal with flashbacks. I’d be sitting in a room in one place, and I might have been somewhere else. In a horror film, what’s the point of seeing the monster? You can lose so much when you say things out loud. There are good and horrible things, and their emotional content (truth?) and potency can be severely damaged by putting them plainly. 

As far as how I translate memory visually, well. There are literal representations in my work in the way of photos, and I use them as backdrops to my compositions or use them as covers on 3D objects. Although, I think memory is more influential on my process and how I think about making. Something next to memory that also influences how I think: we all have our internal contradictions. We shouldn’t be afraid of those, nor the fact that we have many aspects of ourselves with loosey-goosey boundaries (or none, I’m not a professional lol). I guess your question has me quite focused on how much of our memories make us, and all I have to say in regards to that is I’m pretty sure we probably aren’t just a fishbowl of collected experiences.

Q: Your artwork is highly informed by your personal experiences, and yet it also conjures a sense of popular nostalgia. How do you navigate between the personal and the popular in your approach to image-making? 

A: I’m not a particularly nostalgic person. Too much nostalgia is, like anything else, bad to debilitating. I think people read nostalgia in my work due to the use of warm colours, dreamlike scenes, and low-fidelity 3D models. My work is in part personal, but it’s also a response to popular digital/media culture—and that means, for me, using its aesthetics, which quite often can be nostalgic. In responding to such a day and age where nothing seems new and everything seems to be a callback in this never-ending loop of recycled content, it feels appropriate to appropriate some of that in my work. I mean, the end game of attention-grabbing algorithms is to find the perfect balance, to completely suck oneself in—mostly to sell you things or ideas. Maybe by providing an example I can help answer this question. I would like to mention first, for clarity, I am not anti-nostalgia. I think there is too much cynicism surrounding, well, actually everything, but also nostalgia. Anywho. 

Shawn C. Bailey, Wildcat’s Apparitions, 3D render, 2021

Let’s focus in on one part of Wildcat’s Apparitions. In large part, this work is inspired by a character in a song I found. When looking through the records on my grandmother’s Victrola my family inherited, I listened to “Don’t Fence Me In” sung by Roy Rogers. The character in the song was named Wildcat Kelly, perhaps an outlaw, or just a GUY who got caught up with damn Johnny Law. I combine this character with 2 infowar libertarians I regularly served at my retail job. Finally, the cowboy hat is recurring in my work, and this is where something more personal comes in: I grew up watching, like, every single John Wayne and Clint Eastwood movie plus a ton of other cowboy movies. The American Cowboy individualism is of great personal interest. Though the work didn’t start out in this way, it ended up being partly a libertarian fever dream in response to the uprisings happening that summer.

So it’s like, whose imagery am I working with? Whose time period? How is it meeting me? How do I think they are compared to the world we are living in, and how is it constructed? See the obvious photo backdrop? I often want my work to look constructed. I want the digital to be obvious. I do not want to hide the pixel. The photo on the houses is an old polaroid I took in… 2012? I mean, this is long-winded as is, but on the flip side, on the personal, as someone who grew up in a suburb, there is this feeling that climate change will not touch us, that rising fascist violence will not touch us, that we have the height of the American dream, and that we are the freest we can be. Suburbanites: tamed cowboys. There in the center, you have the shipping label drawn over, dissolved with hand sanitizer, scanned, then digitally manipulated. Some of the information has been lost on it. What you might be able to scan contains either short poems or phrases.

Q: On that note, what does art mean to you personally?

A: Well. That’s a big question. 

Personally, it is the effort of taking my brain vomit and putting it together in a coherent way in hopes of communing with it and understanding it: if this doesn’t come to fruition then, at the very least, it was a practice in follow-through, and self-honesty, and disciplined effort. This is my art in the best conditions. I like learning things, I like putting things together; this brings me joy. But these days, I’m not really sure if understanding what you make is that important—in the moment or maybe even ever. I don’t know anymore. The effort to try to understand something can often be a hindrance to actually getting it. 

Q: Congratulations on your first exhibition in VR, by the way! As a digital artist, do you see any potential applications for VR for exhibiting your artwork that would be unrealizable in traditional gallery settings?

A: Digital spaces can go as far as code can take them, and that’s pretty hecking far! In many ways, it feels like an equalizer. I mean, anyone can come and show up from anywhere. I can look at anyone’s work from anywhere in the world in an immersive environment. It feels like a great addition to a global internet community. 

Q: What’s the latest project you’re working on? And where can we find you?

A:  Animation! From time to time, I like to revisit animations that have elements that loop and don’t loop. And I’ve been drawing/sculpting in VR. I’ve also been playing with making 3d environments and treating my camera like, well, a camera. I set it up at one angle, compose, then set it up at a different angle and fill in the spaces. Occasionally, I make these different angles look like postcards, or magazine covers. I want these renderings to feel like different parts of the same world or a world next to it. I’ve been playing with freight crate imagery. You know? I don’t know what is next, and that’s okay. I’ll just keep making until the other shoe drops.

You can find me @Tronald_Charles on Instagram. You can also find me where I currently am, if you’re so motivated—if I don’t see you first, that is.

Shawn Bailey is a mixed-media digital artist whose work centers around the transformation and collage of images and memory through analog, chemical, and digital means, bringing subjects in conversation with their own histories in transformed contexts.

Shawn’s Solo Exhibition “Memento Loci” is currently on display in the VR Gallery. Events with the artist will be scheduled for Art Gate International 2022, TBD.

1  John Stuart Mill, On Education (New York: Teachers College Press, 1971).

Non-Fungible Cultural Revolution

While media abounds about NFTs revolutionizing the art world, this essay argues that NFTs can instead be understood in terms of Fredric Jameson’s concept of “cultural revolution.”1 In trying to create a decentralized and somewhat Utopian alternative to a specific nightmare induced by commodification, NFTs produce an imaginary space shaped by the structural features of that same nightmare.2 In fact, it could be said that NFTs produce a more efficient future moment in the history of capitalism, allowing the culture industry to control and profit from the digital art landscape in ways that were previously not possible.3 

In the 1980s, American museums introduced a series of financial models and exhibition practices that transformed and continue to dominate the institutional zeitgeist.4 In “The Cultural Logic of the Late Capitalist Museum,” Rosalind Krauss describes the effects of these policies as a shift from viewing the museum’s collection as a form of cultural patrimony or embodiments of cultural knowledge to viewing the collection’s contents as capital.5 Part of the change she observes is the activity of markets restructuring the aesthetic original to change it into an “asset.”6 Krauss relates her experience of the late capitalist museum to Jameson’s “cultural revolution.” She describes the notion that an artist, in resistance to a certain manifestation of capital, produces an alternative to that phenomenon that can also be read as a more ideated or rarified function of the thing to which the artist was objecting.7 

Though Krauss specifically draws upon the Minimalist movement for her case study, artists working across a multiplicity of aesthetic movements and media have rebelled against the market practices of contemporary arts institutions by proposing alternative methods of purchasing and selling their artwork. These artistic interventions in the art market have been particularly important for artists whose artwork is in some way resistant to the art market’s usual methods for inventing value around a work of art, yet who are also subject to the pressures of commodification. NFTs are part of this tradition of artistic intervention—they were envisioned as an escape from the stranglehold traditional finance has on the art world and the increasing control the same corporate entities wield over online arts communities. This new model for an online art market was designed to empower all independent artists and creators but especially artists working in digital, video, and audio media. 

Digital art is simultaneously treated to the sales tactics of the art market, which transforms it into an asset, and the culture industry, which levels art and artists alike with commodities. This changing view towards art as a financial asset betrays the connection between the art market and offshore finance, the latter of which was instrumental in the institutionalization of the contemporary global art market in the 1990s.8 When selling their artwork on the traditional market, both digital artists and non-digital artists alike are treated as brands whose products’ speculative worth is tied to the reputation and hype of their brand name, often resulting in unfair compensatory practices.9 

The Warren Buffet – Decentral Eyes NFT series by Coldie, for example, comments on the entanglement of global finance and the art world (Fig. 1).10 The series’ fourth installment lampoons Buffet’s statement that he will never own cryptocurrency because it is an “asset that creates nothing,” which the artist quotes behind a reconstruction of Buffet’s head in the intaglio style of paper currency with colorful US dollar signs arranged to form a mohawk.11 By juxtaposing a symbol of corrupt global finance with the countercultural value of decentralized cryptocurrencies, the series expresses optimism at the prospect that NFTs will disrupt the former’s domination over the artistic sphere.  

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Fig. 1: Coldie, Warren Buffet – Decentral Eyes – Variant 04, non-fungible token (gif), 2020, Coldie/Nifty Gateway

Digital art is also, however, often overlooked by the global contemporary art market due to its non-physical format, which prevents institutions and investors from easily speculating on how digital works of art will appreciate as assets based on established valuation criteria.12 Additionally, mass media is hosted on the same online platforms on which digital art resides, furthering the association of digital art with popular, free web content produced by the culture industry. The latter characteristic makes monetization increasingly difficult for digital artists due to the growing centralization of the internet in the hands of corporate stakeholders. Media conglomerates are more capable than ever of optimizing algorithms to advertise their own products, thus devaluing smaller creators’ artwork through underpromotion and association with corporate content. Meanwhile, the same ‘personal branding’ logic still applies. 

Though NFTs were designed to solve the problems that traditional finance causes within the art world and its online equivalent, NFT communities’ reliance on the same marketing tactics creates a space that applies and even advances the same market pressures. For example, the art market often relies on markers of difference and artificial scarcity models to sell digitally or mechanically created art at a higher cost than the market value traditionally associated with those production techniques.13 This tactic is similarly employed by popular marketing firms to sell limited edition products and collectibles. To surmount the added challenge of digital art’s free reproducibility and intangible format, NFTs invent value using nearly identical logic but go further, inscribing difference through a monetary transaction in the very DNA, i.e., the code, of the NFT. In doing so, they go further than the established postmodern art market in transforming art into a financial asset—a valuation practice emblematic of the globalist financial interference they set out to solve. According to Krauss, “in the world of commodities it is this difference that is consumed.”14

NFT marketplaces also explicitly borrow marketing practices from multinational consumer retailers. For example, Nifty Gateway includes a section on its website for “Drops” that announces when collections are going live.15 Drops on Nifty Gateway allow artists to curate collections of their work and sell them directly to the public with increased visibility due to the website’s dedicated listing section.16 However, the term “drop” references a specific fashion marketing technique in which brands “drop” limited edition runs at their brick-and-mortar stores that are never re-released or restocked and are only resold on second-hand markets.17 This is designed to incite a buying frenzy among dedicated brand followers due to an artificial scarcity model, a tactic that is now successfully employed in NFT marketplaces despite the reproducibility of digital images.18 

NFTs monetarily benefit independent artists working in hard-to-sell formats by marrying decentralized cryptographic technology and financial practices with the market logic of multinational capital in a way that intends to result in a more ethical art market. Doing so solves the problem of these artistic media’s supposed unprofitability, for which there are few precedented solutions within a traditional market context. Unsurprisingly, the culture industry and global arts enterprises have taken note of this success and have quickly sought to replicate it, undermining the intended goal of NFTs. 

For example, pop musician Grimes has had success selling her digital art as NFTs on Nifty Gateway, volume one of her WarNymph collection selling for roughly $6 million in total (Fig. 2).19 Her involvement in creating NFTs is representative of a larger move on the part of the culture industry to digitally monetizing their products using blockchain technology, often overshadowing smaller creators on NFT platforms and introducing policies that benefit them over said independent artists. 

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Fig. 2: Grimes x Mac, Battle of the WarNymphs, non-fungible token (jpg), 2021, Grimes x Mac/Nifty Gateway

Grimes’ foray into NFTs also demonstrates the impossibility of breaking free from the real-world impacts of late capitalism even in decentralized online marketplaces. For example, Grimes’ partner and billionaire CEO of Tesla Elon Musk recently Tweeted that Tesla would no longer be accepting bitcoin due to the environmental costs of the cryptocurrency, causing the price of bitcoin to drop 15%.20 While Grimes and other pop culture creators remain largely unscathed by Musk’s ability to flippantly tank cryptocurrencies and NFT marketplaces, the same cannot be said for smaller creators who are invested in crypto-art communities. Though NFTs may be decentralized, they are still subject to the logic of late capitalism in which power is centralized in the hands of the global elite. 

The postmodern art market has also involved itself in NFTs recently with the sale of Beeple’s Everydays: The First 5000 Days, a montage containing every image in Beeple’s ongoing digital art project in which he created one image per day for 5000 days starting in 2007 (Fig. 3).21 The NFT sold for roughly $69.3 million, making Beeple one of the richest artists alive.22 While the sale is a major accomplishment for Beeple and digital artists in general, Christie’s involvement may speak to further interference from the corporate side of the art market in the crypto-art world. Likewise, Sotheby’s announced that it would be accepting bitcoin and ether for its recent Banksy auction and last month released Natively Digital, a curated NFT sale that doubly functioned as an advertisement for sponsored Samsung products.23 What the postmodern art market’s stake in NFTs means for independent artists and the technology remains to be seen. NFTs have given artists, arts institutions, and the culture industry more effective means of capitalizing on digital art, for better or for worse. 

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Fig. 3: Beeple, Everydays: The First 5000 Days, non-fungible token (jpg), 2021, Beeple/Christie’s

Sarah Ganzel is a New York-based graduate student of art history and curatorial studies as well as the Curator of Gallery in VR. She has a background in medieval Icelandic studies and philology, and she is currently interested in exploring new critical approaches to everything from illuminated manuscripts to NFTs.

1 Jameson’s proposed cultural revolution is based on his interpretation of the Chinese Cultural Revolution. Though it was not accurate to the realities of its original context, it serves as an interpretive framework for other postmodern revolutions. See: Xian Wang, “Traveling Theory: Fredric Jameson’s Interpretations of the Cultural Revolution and Maoism,” CLCWeb: Comparative Literature and Culture 20, no. 3 (2018): 3.

2 Rosalind Krauss, “The Cultural Logic of the Late Capitalist Museum,” October Vol. 54, (Autumn, 1990): 11,

3 Krauss, “The Cultural Logic of the Late Capitalist Museum,” 11.

4 Ibid., 4-5.

5 Ibid., 4-5.

6 Ibid., 6.

7 Ibid., 11.

8 Laura Lotti, “Contemporary Art, Capitalization and the Blockchain: On the Autonomy and Automation of Art’s Value,” Finance and Society 2, no. 2 (2016): 96, doi:10.2218/FINSOC.V2I2.1724.

9 Lotti, “Contemporary Art, Capitalization and the Blockchain: On the Autonomy and Automation of Art’s Value,” 100.

10 “Warren Buffet – Decentral Eyes by Coldie,” Marketplace, Nifty Gateway, accessed July 4, 2021,

11 Nifty Gateway, “Warren Buffet – Decentral Eyes by Coldie.”

12 Due to the medium’s infinite reproducibility, it is, in fact, impossible to do so based on any valuation criteria within traditional finance. 

13 Rachel O’Dwyer, “Limited Edition: Producing Artificial Scarcity for Digital Art on the Blockchain and Its Implications for the Cultural Industries,” Convergence 20, (2018): 4, DOI: 10.1177/1354856518795097.

14 Krauss, “The Cultural Logic of the Late Capitalist Museum,” 10.

15 “Drops,” Nifty Gateway, accessed May 21, 2021,

16 Nifty Gateway, “Drops.”

17 “Drop Culture,” Fashion Dictionary,, accessed May 21, 2021,  

18 O’Dwyer, “Limited Edition: Producing Artificial Scarcity for Digital Art on the Blockchain and Its Implications for the Cultural Industries,” 5.

19 “WarNymph Collection Vol 1 By Grimes x Mac,” Grimes, Nifty Gateway, accessed May 24, 2021,; “Grimes sold $6 million worth of digital art as NFTs,” The Verge, accessed May 24, 2021,

20 “When Elon Musk tweets, crypto prices move,” Vox, accessed May 24, 2021,

21 Beeple | The First 5000 Days,” Online Auction 20447, Christie’s, closed March 11, 2021,

22 Christie’s, “Beeple | The First 5000 Days.”

23 “Disruptor of Art Meets Disruptor of Finance: Sotheby’s To Accept Cryptocurrency Via Coinbase for Banksy’s Love is in the Air,” Sotheby’s Press Release, Sotheby’s, accessed May 24, 2021,; “Natively Digital: A Curated NFT Sale,” Digital Catalogues, Sotheby’s, accessed July 2, 2021,  

Seriality and Value in Digital Art

Seriality presents a challenge to the notion of value in contemporary art. This challenge is perhaps the most pertinent to digital and web art above all other media—what constitutes value, financial or cultural, in an endlessly reproducible medium to which everyone has unlimited access?1 Digital artists have introduced financial and artistic interventions that attempt to rectify the valuation gap between their art as art and their art as an informational commodity in an infinitely reproducible format. From NFTs to collaborative web art projects, this essay discusses the relationship between value and reproducibility in digital art. 

Digital art’s online medium necessarily locates it on the same platform as mass media. However, by nature of its platform and technological format, digital art is also uniquely suited to exploring technicization.

Walter Benjamin explored seriality in relation to photography and film in “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.” Benjamin proposes that while art has always been reproducible to an extent, a change occurred around the turn of the century when “technical reproduction had reached a standard that not only permitted it to reproduce all transmitted works of art and thus to cause the most profound change in their impact upon the public; it also had captured a place of its own among the artistic processes.”2 

Mechanical reproduction caused a paradigm shift in the value and reception of works of art. Prior to the age of mechanical reproduction, an artwork’s value rested in its ritual or cult value, which was tied to its authenticity and aura.3 Authenticity requires the presence of an original work of art; it is “the essence of all that is transmissible from [an artwork’s] beginning, ranging from its substantive duration to its testimony to the history which it has experienced.”4 Aura corresponds to an artwork’s “presence in time and space, its unique existence at the place where it happens to be” and is connected to its embeddedness in tradition and ritual use.5 

Technical reproductions diminish the aura of the original by removing the distance between the artwork and the viewer, divorcing it from tradition and thus from its original ritual use value.6 In the case of digital art, the illusion of distance is gone entirely. Viewers can bring digital artwork that bears the same appearance as the original file into their homes or with them on their commutes. As such, the “original” work of art and its specific temporo-spatial context is no longer a site of reverence. Instead of ritual value, the artwork now carries exhibition value, which depends on the art object’s availability to audiences and the viewing pleasure derived from it by the public. Benjamin associates this new mode of reception with collectivity and ‘distracted’ mobilization, in which he saw the potential for political manipulation.7 However, this mode of viewing also allows for a more open discourse between the public and the art with which it engages.  

Technical reproductions also deplete the aura of works of art by disclosing the artwork as techne, as technical in its essence.8 Benjamin likened art in the serially reproducible media of film and photography to objects of mass manufacture. This comparison held true for many at the time, so much so that the postmodern art market had to invent new ways to create value in works of art produced using mechanical or technical media. For example, the art market often circumvents the lower perceived value of artworks made using mechanical or digital production techniques by reinscribing value through markers of difference and artificial scarcity.9 In doing so, they attempt to restage the authenticity of the traditional art object in the eyes of the viewer by simulating the sense of uniqueness associated with an “original” work of art. These sales tactics are commonly employed in markets for collector’s items such as trading cards and tend to invent value around the speculative worth of an item’s or maker’s cultural capital. The market for art in traditional media, on the other hand, tends to generate value around an artwork’s provenance and the verification of its originality.10 

Digital art as it exists online is perhaps the most easily reproducible art form, allowing viewers to copy images exactly and immediately with the click of a button at no cost. Though it shares this reproducibility with film and photography, the way in which it is serial is dissimilar from goods of mass manufacture. Rather, digital art exists in the information age. It is thus more comparable to other forms of data online, such as webpages or memes, than it is to mechanically manufactured consumer products. Importantly, digital art’s reproducibility derives from its intangibility and its resulting ability to be present in many places and times at once. In other words, digital art has the most exhibition value of any medium, with few limitations on space, format, social context, or viewership. 

Though the comparison to data can be reductive, the medium’s particular form of seriality is perhaps digital art’s most radical characteristic. Due to the medium’s reproducibility, artists can promote and disseminate their ideas freely and have them shared by the public without the same barriers imposed on artists exhibiting their work in institutional settings. Both the reproducibility and mutability of the non-physical medium also potentially allow for a more collaborative and interactive art-making process by permitting more people to add to and modify the existing artwork while keeping the original file intact, creating a more open discourse within the artwork itself. 

For example, Rosa Menkman’s A Vernacular of File Formats visualizes the mutability of file formats by compressing a single source image in different compression languages and then encoding the same (or a similar) error into each file (Fig. 1).11 In doing so, she exposes the otherwise unnoticeable compression language embedded in each copy, thereby illuminating the transformative power of reproducing and sharing digital images.12 Each reproduction has the potential to encode new meaning. 

Fig. 1: Rosa Menkman, A Vernacular of File Formats, Photoshop RAW, JPEG, JPEG 2000, PNG, BMP, Photoshop, TIFF, GIF, Targa, 2009-2010, Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam/Rosa Menkman.

Digital art’s online medium necessarily locates it on the same platform as mass media. However, by nature of its platform and technological format, digital art is also uniquely suited to exploring technicization. According to Krzysztof Ziareck, “Entertainment, because of its technological hype, keeps us playing the game of technology, drawing us more and more into it to divert attention from the question of technicization; art, by contrast, makes technicization into the very question of its existence.”13 This is the crucial distinction between digital art and entertainment. It adds to the importance of art residing freely and accessibly on the same platform as mass media as a countershot to globalist power dynamics that otherwise determine the way information is organized in online settings.

For example, inspired by what he saw as the potential for dating apps’ predictive algorithms to influence human genetics, Harm van den Dorpel created Death Imitates Language (Fig. 2).14 In this project, the artist started a web platform that contained a large quantity of speculative works. He then made use of the web art medium’s reproducibility to ‘genetically’ program the website to generate new works of art from the existing files, each new creation inheriting sequences of information from its ancestors.15 The population is subjected to genetic selection via the artist’s input as well as the audience, whose engagement drives certain traits to live on and others to die.16 Once a work of art reaches its ‘optimal’ state, it is frozen and potentially translated into a physical copy.17 By leveraging the digital medium’s reproducibility and exhibition value to generate new forms, the artist creates the best possible version of the existing visuals. In doing so, he invents social and monetary value around the work of art, while also critiquing the technologized state of being in the information age. 

Fig. 2: Harm van den Dorpel, Death Imitates Language, software, 2016, Harm van den Dorpel

Unfortunately for many digital artists, the discursive value of digital artwork does not always easily translate to monetary value or compensation.18 NFTs propose to remove barriers to profitability by reinstating the authenticity of the work of art through a direct connection to the artist, a new sense of ownership, and rarefication locating the artwork in a specific time and place. NFTs also renew a sense of private communion with the artwork despite the public accessibility of online art. Like with technically produced artwork on the postmodern art market, NFTs restage authenticity away from the “original” to unique copies. However, in doing so, they move towards a view towards art as a financial asset—a valuation practice representative of the established postmodern art market they problematize. 

Much like with artistic prints, NFTs’ uniqueness is linked to differentiation in their production process. Artistic prints are made unique when the artist prints, signs, dates, and optionally numbers limited copies. NFTs, on the other hand, are made unique when they are minted, i.e., purchased. In other words, authenticity is manufactured in the print before it comes to market, while authenticity is manufactured in NFTs through the market itself. 

While NFTs leave open the question of technicization and do not prohibit the circulation or modification of the image they tokenize, NFTs shift the discourse of the image to its purchase. They encode the tradition and provenance into the work of art by tokenizing the transaction between artist and purchaser. This link to the artist gives the purchaser the sense that the artwork is authentic, much like a signature would, and ties the artwork to a specific time and place. However, the once non-physical artwork’s objecthood and authenticity now derives from the event of the financial exchange inscribed in it. The NFT’s singularity, its thingness, is entirely a product of its having been sold. 

YELLOW LAMBO by Kevin Abosch exemplifies this phenomenon by materializing the financial character of his work. YELLOW LAMBO is a ten-foot-long yellow neon sign containing 42 inline alphanumerics representing the blockchain contract address for the artist’s earlier cryptographic token YLAMBO (Fig. 3).19 The Lamborghini is an aspirational status symbol for a large community of cryptocurrency traders who use “#lambo” to represent their quest for profit via their crypto-investments. This sculpture commemorates the sale of the artist’s NFT inspired by this phenomenon, embracing the transactional nature of his art as a form of empowerment, if in a self-parodic manner.20 YELLOW LAMBO sold for $400,000 in 2018, more than the price of a yellow Lamborghini.21 

Fig. 3: Kevin Abosch, YELLOW LAMBO, neon sculpture, 2018, Studio Kevin Abosch

This is also complicated by the fact that part of the financial value of NFTs is due to their free reproducibility as images and files online, which allow them to circulate and accrue reputational capital.22 NFTs of memes such as Nyan Cat are valuable because they are memes, not despite it. Likewise, it is unlikely that Beeple would have gained such prominence selling NFTs had he not made his work freely and publicly available for years on his own website and social media channels. NFTs are valuable in part because they rely on this reproducibility against which their singularity is compared. They highlight the fact that “While a digital artwork – like any digital asset, such as a synthetic derivative – exists only as bits of code, the ‘thingness’ of the work derives from the perception of its ‘value’ conveyed through the socio-technical apparatus the work is embedded in.”23 At the same time that NFTs invent new models of authenticity and ownership that more accurately reflect the lives of works of digital art, and the prerogatives of digital artists, they also center the thingness, the being, and the coming into being of the work of art in its financialization.

Sarah Ganzel is a New York-based graduate student of art history and curatorial studies as well as the Curator of Gallery in VR. She has a background in medieval Icelandic studies and philology, and she is currently interested in exploring new critical approaches to everything from illuminated manuscripts to NFTs.

1 This essay discusses digital art that exists primarily online and on computers.

2 Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” in Illuminations, ed. Hannah Arendt (New York: Schoken/Random House, 1969), chap. Ⅰ.

3 ibid., chap. Ⅳ-Ⅴ.

4 ibid., chap. Ⅱ.

5 ibid., chap. Ⅱ-Ⅲ.

6 ibid., chap. Ⅱ.

7 ibid., chap. Ⅳ-Ⅴ; Krzysztof Ziareck, “The Work of Art in the Age of its Electronic Mutability,” in Walter Benjamin and Art, ed. Andrew Benjamin (New York: Continuum, 2005), 219,

8 Ziareck, ibid., 214.

9 Rachel O’Dwyer, “Limited Edition: Producing Artificial Scarcity for Digital Art on the Blockchain and Its Implications for the Cultural Industries,” Convergence 20, (2018): 4, DOI: 10.1177/1354856518795097.

10 Laura Lotti, “Contemporary Art, Capitalization and the Blockchain: On the Autonomy and Automation of Art’s Value,” Finance and Society 2, no. 2 (2016): 103, doi:10.2218/FINSOC.V2I2.1724.

11 “Order and Progress,” Rosa Menkman, beyond resolution, accessed June 10, 2021,

12 ibid.

13 Ziareck, op.cit., 218.

14 “Death Imitates Language,” Series, Harm van den Dorpel, accessed June 7, 2021,

15 “Death Imitates Language online genealogy,” Work, Harm van den Dorpel, accessed June 7, 2021,

16 ibid.

17 ibid.

18 For the same reasons it has such high discursive value, no less. 

19 “YELLOW LAMBO (2018),” Studio Kevin Abosch, accessed May 22, 2021,

20 Studio Kevin Abosch, “YELLOW LAMBO (2018).”

21 “Kevin Abosch,” SOMA, accessed May 22, 2021,

22 Lotti, op.cit., 103.

23 ibid.

NFTs: Mapping Postmodern Hyperspace

Postmodernism has been defined by several features shared by artistic and theoretical works of the latter half of the twentieth century through the present, among them a leveling of cultural spheres, a disintegration of the distinction between “high” and “low” culture, and incredulity towards metanarratives.1 Though there is no singular definition that unites or applies to all postmodernisms, this essay interprets non-fungible tokens (NFTs) within the framework of Fredric Jameson’s view of postmodernism as “the cultural dominant of the logic of late capitalism” through cognitive mapping.2 

Though the leveling of artistic and mass cultural spheres is characteristic of postmodern art in general, it is perhaps most fundamentally a part of digital art online, and NFTs in particular…

NFTs form part of a postmodern culture which is the superstructure to a multinational, yet American, late-capitalist infrastructure, and which can be further characterized by the dissolution of an autonomous sphere of culture.3 Instead, culture now extends to all aspects of the social realm, from economics and politics to the psyche itself, all of which are now “cultural” reaffirmations of the corporatist infrastructure.4 NFTs are both expressions of and reactions to the financialization and commodification of art in postmodernism as well as the expansion of the cultural superstructure into all realms of social being. In the case of NFTs, these features are particularly notable in their relationship to technologization as a form of personal and artistic commodification and in their integration with traditional and online pop culture.

But what does that look like exactly? Where are NFTs situated within postmodernism and how can they help us map the hyperspace that is the financial corporatist internet landscape—a space which is “grandiloquent but no longer masterable by the subject, seeming to surpass the reach of understanding like an inscrutable emblem of the multinational infrastructures of information technology or of capital transfer?”5 The internet as hyperspace corresponds to Kevin Lynch’s problematic of the alienated city in which people are unable to mentally map either their own positions or the urban totality they inhabit.6 Jameson’s model of cognitive mapping combines Lynch’s exploration of urban alienation with the Althusserian redefinition of ideology as “the representation of the subject’s Imaginary relationship to his or her Real conditions of existence” to reorient the individual and collective postmodern subject within the world space of multinational capital.7 

NFTs are both expressions of and reactions to the financialization and commodification of art in postmodernism as well as the expansion of the cultural superstructure into all realms of social being.

Many artists are drawn to NFTs’ underlying blockchain protocol due to its transparency and decentralization in a move away from online spaces architected on traditional finance. These spaces regulate users’ experiences in ways that further centralize the concentration of power in the institution of global capital, usually to the detriment of independent artists.8 While, in some ways, NFTs and NFT marketplaces intervene in the practice of using algorithms to structurally create and sustain the current systems of power via the logic of financialization, they are far from rejections of financialization itself. By leaving certain parts of the underlying online infrastructure exposed via the blockchain but not rejecting the premise of its logic, NFTs and NFT marketplaces make visible the vastness and incomprehensibility of online hyperspace—a space that has become so entangled with the logic of consumerism that it is unnavigable without financial signposts as spatial markers. Meanwhile, the leveling of cultural and social spheres leaves the technologized postmodern subject stranded on an endless plain (or adrift on an OpenSea) with only financial markers to guide them. 

In Jameson’s analysis, he points to one fundamental feature of all postmodernisms: “the effacement in them of the older (essentially high-modernist) frontier between high and so-called mass or commercial culture, and the emergence of new kinds of texts infused with the forms, categories, and contents of that very culture industry so passionately denounced by all the ideologues of the modern, from Leavis and American New Criticism all the way to Adorno and the Frankfurt School.”9 This is a function of the integration of aesthetic production into commodity production.10 Though the leveling of artistic and mass cultural spheres is characteristic of postmodern art in general, it is perhaps most fundamentally a part of digital art online, and NFTs in particular, both in terms of their subject matter and their cognitive-spatial relationship to multinational capital. 

Much like the media of film and photography, digital image, video, and audio files can contain both artistic and pop-cultural subject matter and often blur the distinction between the two.11 NFTs themselves represent a diverse array of artistic media and practices as well as pop culture collectibles, all of which coexist on the same platforms. Alongside contemporary works of art, some of the highest-grossing NFTs include pop culture memorabilia such as Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey’s first tweet, digital trading cards of LeBron James dunking, and memes such as Nyan Cat12. Though not all art listed on NFT marketplaces references pop culture, the highest-grossing artists on said platforms often explore pop cultural themes and motifs, both critically and as pastiche. For example, Beeple, a digital artist who has recently risen in prominence due to his NFT sales, regularly incorporates both pop cultural and political figures in his images (Figs. 1 and 2).

A picture containing floor, indoor

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Fig. 1: Beeple, Untitled (detail from Everydays: The First 5000 Days), non-fungible token (jpg), 2021, Beeple/Christie’s
A picture containing tree, outdoor, grass, nature

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Fig. 2: Beeple, CROSSROADS, non-fungible token (jpg), 2021, Beeple/Nifty Gateway

His use of low-detail 3D body renders is another stylistic feature that artists in the NFT space frequently employ (Figs. 3 and 4). This style evokes the appearance of 3D avatars that users create for themselves in interactive simulation games such as The Sims, Second Life, or VR chat. In this sense, both viewer and artist locate themselves within the NFT marketplace by way of a technologized avatar who inhabits the same space as media figures and collectibles. 

A picture containing text, sculpture, dark

Description automatically generated
Fig. 3: Jawdane, Etheria, non-fungible token (3D animation, gif), Jawdane/SuperRare
A statue of a person with antlers

Description automatically generated with medium confidence
Fig. 4: Unnamed,Ártemis, non-fungible token (3D model, jpg), Foundation (FND)/OpenSea 

Furthermore, the spatial layout of NFT platforms, such as OpenSea and Nifty Gateway, illustrate the financial corporatist structure in which artists and members of the public must orient themselves in online settings, even on decentralized platforms. For instance, OpenSea is organized into Marketplace, Stats, and Resources. All NFTs are listed under the Marketplace tab, which is given the handle “assets” in the site’s URL. Asset subcategories range from art, to trading cards, to domain names.13 All spheres of culture are leveled under the banner of the free market. Though users can filter the marketplace by subcategory and select “Art,” the art category is just as likely to feature images of Dogecoin and Elon Musk as is the collectibles category.14 Also notable is the heavy presence of CryptoPunks-style avatars for sale in both categories. Both artist and viewer navigate through a sea of commodities on the same terms as commodities themselves. Artists are then ranked according to the volume and price of their collections, implying that the hierarchy of cultural spheres has been reduced to a purely financial hierarchy.15

The infusion of culture industry products into art is symptomatic of the subsumption of all cultural spheres under capitalism, a reality which has become even more pronounced in the present day due to the expansion of technology into all facets of daily life—“A technological rationale is the rationale of domination itself.”16 NFT platforms’ decentralized nature provides a potential means of resisting the monopolistic control that such rationales propagate; their architectural skeleton is exposed in its impression on the platforms’ financialized landscapes. While at the present NFTs and the platforms on which they exist can help visualize the postmodern technologized subject’s orientation within the online world space of financial systems, whether they can serve as tools of disalienation in the future via cognitive mapping or otherwise remains to be seen. 

Sarah Ganzel is a New York-based graduate student of art history and curatorial studies as well as the Curator of Gallery in VR. She has a background in medieval Icelandic studies and philology, and she is currently interested in exploring new critical approaches to everything from illuminated manuscripts to NFTs.

1 See Jean-Fraçois Lyotard, “Introduction to The Postmodern Condition” and “What Is Postmodernism?,” in Art in Theory, 1900-1990: An Anthology of Changing Ideas, eds. Charles Harrison and Paul Wood (Oxford & Maiden: Blackwell Publisher’s Ltd & Blackwell Publisher’s Inc, 1992), 998-1000 and 1008-1015; Jürgen Habermas, “Modernity—An Incomplete Project,” in Art in Theory, 1900-1990: An Anthology of Changing Ideas, eds. Charles Harrison and Paul Wood (Oxford & Maiden: Blackwell Publisher’s Ltd & Blackwell Publisher’s Inc, 1992), 1000-1008.  

2 Fredric Jameson, Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (Durham: Duke University Press, 1991), chap. VI. 

3 Jameson, Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, chap. I.  

4 Jameson, Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, chap. VI.  

5 Rosalind Krauss, “The Cultural Logic of the Late Capitalist Museum,” October Vol. 54, (Autumn, 1990): 12,

6 Jameson, Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, chap. VI.

7 Jameson, Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, chap. VI.

8 Laura Lotti, “Financialization as a Medium: Speculative Notes on Post-Blockchain Art,” in Moneylab Reader 2: Overcoming the Hype, eds. Inte Gloerich, Patricia De Vries, and Geert Lovink (Amsterdam: Institute of Network Cultures, 2018), 91,  

9 Jameson, Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, chap. I.  

10 Jameson, Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, chap. I.

11  This can technically be true of all artistic media, but the more recent technological media of film, photography and digital imaging, and recording software are most associated with products of the culture industry.  

12 Jack Dorsey’s first tweet sold for $2,915, 835.47, making it one of the top ten most expensive NFTs ever sold. See “Jack Dorsey’s first tweet sold as an NFT for an oddly specific $2,915,835.47,” The Verge, accessed May 24, 2021, LeBron James dunking was sold as part of the NBA Top Shot series for a total of $208,000. See “The 10 Biggest NBA Top Shot Sales to Date: LeBron Dunk Goes for $208,000,” Action Network, accessed May 24, 2021. Nyan Cat was sold directly by the original artist for 300 ETH (around $590,000). See “Nyan Cat NFT Sells for 300 ETH, Opening Door to the ‘Meme Economy’,” Coindesk, accessed May 24, 2021,  

13  “Marketplace,” OpenSea, accessed May 21, 2021,

14  Digital art of meme-based cryptocurrencies is postmodern above all else.

15  “Rankings,” Stats, OpenSea, accessed May 21, 2021, This is not dissimilar from how artists are listed on art auction ranking sites. See “ArtRank,” ArtRank, accessed May 24, 2021,  

16 Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno, “The Culture Industry as Mass Deception,” in The Dialectic of Enlightenment, excerpt,