Shane MacGowan is dead. He was 65. If I’m honest I’m equally surprised he lasted this long, and that he didn’t pull a Keith Richards and live forever in spite of it all. As far as I’m concerned Shane was the greatest living Irish poet, which would put him high on the list of greatest contemporary poets period. He would argue that poetry and songwriting are the same thing and I wouldn’t argue with that.
His songs were simultaneously beautiful and horrific, heartbreaking and lustful. From The Nips, to The Pogues, to The Popes. Glorious. Disgusting. The picture that he painted of life, from the down trodden to the rebels to the lovers to the adventurers, was more vivid and authentic than anything his peers were doing at the time.
Contrast “A Pair of Brown Eyes” with “Boys From The County Hell” with “Old Main Drag” with “Sunny Side of the Street” and try to find that musical and topical range anywhere else. I dare you. Shane could write in a way that made a homeless drunk sound glamorous and aspirational, effortlessly bouncing between politics to religion to sex to every other aspect of the human experience. Poppy upbeat songs about the broken underbelly of it all right into slow beautiful songs about lost love. He could make straight edge kids want to drink whiskey with a song. God I fucking loved this guy. His ‘Friends of Shane’ is the only fanclub I ever joined, and in hindsight regret how many times I wrote in asking if Shane had been to a dentist recently.
I was introduced to The Pogues with “If I Should Fall From Grace With God” and it shattered my entire idea of what punk rock was and could be, and set me off on a journey that would lead to from Gainesville Florida to decrepit pubs in the back alleys of Cork, and basement record stores in Dublin. It’s possible that I may have taken some of the same roads that I did if I’d never heard of Shane but I think it would have been far less likely. I have all of his records, I hunted them down long ago and have listened to and sung them all a million times. I know all the lyrics by heart. And this has lead to wonderful moments like hearing “Sunnyside of the Street” in a random car commercial, delicately edited to make people think buying a car will make them happy, but knowing that the song is actually so much darker.
“Seen the carnival at Rome. Had the women and I had the booze. All that I can remember now is little kids without no shoes. So I saw that train and I got on it, with a heart full of hate and a lust for vomit. Now I’m walking on, the sunnyside of the street”
I was going to embed the perfectly recorded album version of the song, but decided this 1990 live version, at the height of his wreckage was more fitting. If you think punk rock is leather and spikes and mohawks you haven’t seen anything. There’s a tin flute in this motherfucker:
I could spend all day talking about his different albums and the songs and the impact each one had on me at different points, like the best writers he touched me with his words and imagination and helped me understand and see things in ways I never would have. This is what poetry should be. This is what punk rock should be. But I think some of that is meaningful only to me, and should stay that way. I will just take this moment to say say Goodbye Shane, and thank you for all the beauty and chaos you brought into this world. Your legacy will live forever.
Long live Shane MacGowan.
“Cram as much pleasure as you can into life, and rail against the pain that you have to suffer as a result.”
One of my favorite bands played in Vancouver last night. I’ve had tickets for the show since the day they went on sale 6 months ago. I was so excited about it, but as the date grew closer that excitement gradually turned into fear. I didn’t go.
Maybe I let the anxiety win. Maybe I’m feeling sorry for myself. Maybe both, but that’s where I am right now, in my head, one way or another. I was going to write about the band – Quicksand (for anyone who didn’t get the title reference, and naturally Gorilla Biscuits before them) and what they meant to me, the impact they had on my life and moments/memories they will forever be attached to. But as I thought about it, the band itself is kind of irrelevant in this whole story. Mostly. It’s more a me thing.
This tour was the 30th anniversary of the release of the first album. I tried to remember the last time I saw them play, I’ve seen them so many times, all these years later the shows kind of blend together in my mind. The feeling anyway. Packed in a crowd, surrounded by friends, all of us singing along to every word. This is something about growing up in the hardcore/punk that there’s no way to explain to people who didn’t experience it. As kids we didn’t fit in. We were outcasts and rejected by most similar aged peer groups, but it didn’t matter because with punk we had each other. Friends became family and you knew, no matter what, that they were there for you. It was the Cheers thing – a place where everyone knew your name and was always glad you came. Oddly important is that a lot of these situations were incredibly violent, but that’s probably a story for another time. The point is that we all gladly opted into a dangerous situation because it felt like home, the only feeling of home some of us had ever really had. It was a scary place, but it was our scary place.
This was my whole life. The music, the message, the people. Almost 40 years later and I’m still in touch with many of those people today, the bonds run that deep. In Florida and in Chicago when I’d go to shows I knew everyone. Literally. Every single person in attendance and in the bands and working the venues. I knew them all. We had grown up together. I moved to Los Angeles at 26 and didn’t really know many people in town, didn’t know what bands were around or where they might be playing. I remember several times that first few years feeling an overwhelming sense of disappointment when I’d hear, usually a few days later, that a band who I knew had been playing in town and I’d missed it. I felt like this hugely important part of my life was slipping away.
I eventually figured it out and started going to shows again but it was different. I didn’t know everyone anymore. I knew some people and that was great, but most of the people were strangers to me. It was weird because this thing, this place that had always been my briar patch didn’t quite fit anymore. It was like a favorite shirt that shrunk in the wash. So I’d go, and enjoy it, but also have this sinking sick feeling. And I went less often because of it.
That was multiplied by a million when I moved to Japan. The only way I could square it was when I knew the band or someone in the band and could go with them, so I felt a part of it somehow. I’d take pictures and hang out before or after the show with them and it was a wonderful way to feel like I still had some connection to this thing I loved. This thing that made me. But I’d also look at the audience, recognize what they were experiencing and at the same time know that I couldn’t experience it with them. If I was in the crowd rather than on stage, I’d feel surrounded by strangers rather than friends. I would always be an outsider. That was a hard one to reconcile let me tell you.
(Terror, Tokyo, 2019)
Over the last many years there’s been a handful of shows that I’ve bought tickets for and gone to on my own, alone. The last Murder City Devils show in Los Angeles stands out in my head as an example. I went. I danced. I screamed my heart out. I even broke a rib when some dude hit me at just the wrong angle. I loved every second of it. I also left feeling depressed and lonely. I didn’t know anyone there. I wasn’t going out after the show for food with anyone. I remember thinking about it as I drove home, weirdly that hurt more than my ribs.
So I’ve lived in Vancouver for over 3 years now and I’ve never been to a single show here. I barely know anyone in this whole city. 100% of my friend circle is online, in other places, far away. Friends I’ve known forever and love like family, and friends I’ve only just met through various shared interests. All impossibly distant.
And also, a lot of them are still together. Not all, some have drifted away to other lives and others didn’t survive this long. And sure some of this can be chalked up to social media posturing but I see my friends, people I love, hanging out together and having a great time. I buy records from various bands and see that my friends are doing guest spots, singing or playing on songs. I hear their voices and it makes me smile. And simultaneously bums me out. To be clear I don’t regret my choices or the direction I’ve gone, but that doesn’t mean I don’t miss the routes I didn’t take. And given the chance I wouldn’t do anything differently, so this isn’t a wallowing “gosh I wish I had a do over” or some bullshit like that. It’s just an observation of melancholy. I’ll avoid the infinite sadness joke.
So last night, as much as I love this band and these songs, I knew going would have been depressing. I would be a stranger. It would be a room full of people that I should have connections with, but don’t. The band on stage would be a friends of friends, but not friends. Know what I mean? In a different situation completely approachable with countless stories and friendships to share. But here, entirely out of reach. And a harsh reminder that I’m not a part of this thing I love anymore. That I’m now an outsider.
Of course not going is depressing too. So it’s not like I avoided that by not going.
I talk about punk rock and how we made our own world all the time, it’s an important part of my origin story and I apply the lessons and learnings from that to almost everything I do to this day. And there’s no simple narrative here, that world still exists but is also different. We aren’t kids anymore, and a bunch of old guys sitting around talking about their glory days gets obnoxious real quick. Nostalgia has it’s place, but it can’t be everything. You (and I mean me) still need to look ahead, to what is next, not just what came before. I think about this often when I’m playing guitar alone in my bedroom because I’m an almost 50 year old who still does that. But I’m not playing old cover songs, partially because I don’t know how, I’m trying to do something new. And that helps.
I think of myself as a community person, and there are all these communities I used to spend time in, and for one reason or another I don’t anymore. Mostly because I’m no longer physically near them, and I wonder how the next generation of people who grew up with friends online rather than in person will view things kind of thing. I often think about how when asked about why he left the Bujinkan, an old martial arts instructor of mine Charles Daniel replied “Who says I left? Maybe I just graduated.” I don’t know that I agree someone could ever “graduate” but I also liked that way of thinking, he was still doing “stuff” it was just different “stuff” and he brought with him everything he learned up to that point, the old stuff forever informing the new stuff.
So in the end I didn’t do something that I knew I’d enjoy because I knew it would also make me feel bad, and the next day I find myself wishing I had but also knowing why I didn’t. Sometimes everything makes sense, more often it doesn’t.
I was on the road and groggy with cold meds when this conversation happened, so I told my friend Rushkoff I’d get back to him when I was home and rested up. I thought that would be a week or so later. It’s been 2 months and I haven’t stopped thinking about it, in fact I’m still not entirely sure how to answer it. That complexity on its own is kind of interesting so I thought maybe exploring it in public might get a little closer to an answer, or if nothing else relieve my guilt of taking so long to respond.
I think the main question here is “is this replicable?” – that is, could another group look at what is happening in the cryptopunks community and mimic/apply/encourage something, and get similar results. But to answer that we need to answer another much more difficult question first – what is “community?” And that requires accepting that the word “community” has become a completely worthless buzzword in web3 thrown around by marketers who don’t know shit about what community is. Community comes from human relationships and shared experiences and camaraderie and giving a shit about each other. Community is not about profits, floor prices or bag holders.
So I first need to define what I think about when I think of community, and in thinking about how to do that, I tried to think of other places where I’ve observed or experienced something similar and what those relationships are. At the core, it’s a trusted familiarity that comes when you’ve known someone for a long time, or you’ve been through a difficult situation together. There’s a feeling of being able to depend on each other, and a little bit of understanding who the other person is that doesn’t happen overnight. I have a small group of friends who I’ve known since high school and we all still talk regularly. We’ve taken different paths in life but we know where we all came from, and no matter today’s differences we know we can count on each other. I think in many ways this is the idea of “family” that is so idealistic but is rarely attainable, at least in my experience. We have the family we were given and the family we choose. Or more accurately in today’s global always online world – the families we choose.
As a kid I moved around a lot and never had the chance to build strong bonds with other kids. It wasn’t until high school and finding punk rock that I found people I clicked with and related to. I had a very lonely childhood when I finally found a place where I fit in, I never let it go. Ironically the place where I fit in is legendary for preaching independence, being yourself, and standing up for what you know to be right regardless of what others might think of you. I like to think I’ve taken those ideals to heart. That could seem unrelated, but it’s not. Keep reading.
I’ve written before about this and how it’s certainly driven my lifelong fascination with communities and subcultures and how people relate to each other. So any discussion of what an awesome community is will be informed by those experiences. People are diverse, but the commonality that they share lets them understand something about each other, and this creates a higher level of baseline trust that you’d find in just some random gathering.
This is a kind of intangible idea so it’s hard to quantify, but it manifests in different ways: supporting each other’s businesses and projects is obvious, openly sharing connections and networks is another. Looking out for each other, in public and private. That could mean professional services, or personal advice. It’s something like… “If you need something, I’m here for you.” That seems overly simplified, and maybe it is, but sometimes simple things are the most powerful.
So how do you get that familiarity? Time. Time is the answer in 99% of situations. Put in the hours, prove yourself, and eventually the people who are still around have built something with each other. And when applying that to a group, when you put that time in is important. In most situations, most communities, you join and then work your way up or earn trust over time. Your cred in the group is tied directly to how long you’ve been there. However even though this is the most common I would argue that this isn’t always ideal. The well worn stereotype of the elder community member trying to squash the actions of the newer member comes directly from this. Sometimes the people who have been there the longest are also the most jaded and critical of anything they didn’t come up with themselves. Lots of ‘get off my lawn’ going in communities with age based seniority.
The other way provides some insulation against this, which is that a potential member has to prove themselves before being able to join. There’s a number of different ways this can happen which I’ll get to in a minute, but the result is attaining membership in the group itself becomes the vetting mechanism, so members can fast track through all the ‘getting to know you’ business and skip right to familiarity and trust with any other member they meet.
An example of this from pop culture is the scene in Chuck Palahniuk’s “Fight Club,” where Tyler Durden makes wannabe members of Project Mayhem wait outside of the Paper Street house for several days while constantly and repeatedly being insulted and told to go away. The idea being that anyone who wasn’t really committed to the cause would give up and leave, while the ones who remain despite the abuse would eventually be welcomed as family. The (factually questionable) story says this comes from ancient Buddhist traditions where a potential monk’s dedication was tested by forcing them to wait outside of a temple for 3 days before being allowed to enter. Entry isn’t about participation but commitment. The friction ensures that those who join aren’t mere onlookers. And the people on the inside know that the new arrivals are serious.
But this idea exists outside of the realm of fiction, one well known example is the culture of motorcycle clubs. Potential members go through a prospecting phase before receiving their full set of membership patches. During this time, a prospect is both under the protection of the club but subordinate to all members of the club and expected to do anything asked of them, immediately, without question. The severity of this fluctuates wildly depending on the club and the chapter, but in any case this lengthy trust building phase is designed to weed out people who aren’t serious, and ensure that once someone is officially welcomed in any other member can trust them completely the second they meet them just by seeing their patches.
A friend of mine, a full patched member of a well known 1%er club once described the experience simply – “once you’re in, you’re in.” The bond was immediate, and like family. And while the ritual of it all obviously plays a role, at the end of the day it’s not just about the jackets or the bikes; it’s about the shared experiences, the ethos, the passion. This dynamic is echoed, perhaps surprisingly, in niche communities like Cryptopunks. Despite the obvious different stakes, the essence of belonging is strikingly similar. Ask anyone who, after first getting a cryptopunk, was bombarded with welcome messages and a flood of “one of us” gifs in one of the gated chat groups what that felt like.
(As an aside, “one of us” is a reference to the controversial 1932 film FREAKS which, at its core, is a film about a group of people, carnival workers, who built their own community, having been ostracized by mainstream society.)
And yes I recognize the hilarity in drawing parallels between gritty, underground subcultures and a community centered around digital art collecting. And no, I’m not implying that owning a Cryptopunk turns you into a knife wielding badass. But I am highlighting a common dynamic that prioritizes a sense of belonging through shared experiences.
And it’s not just bikers or carnies, for almost 25 years now I’ve practiced an esoteric Japanese martial art which involves training with old, very senior instructors often at their own private dojos or groups. These locations and schedules are not published openly, by design. The only way you get there is by having trained with the right people, built trust and earned rank. So if you are there (and there often is someone’s home), it’s because you know enough to be there – so some level of trust is implied. Again, this isn’t unique. There was a time in various surf/skate/punk cultures where being in the wrong place at the wrong time – a beach, a ramp, a venue – could result in a trip to the hospital. You had to earn the ability to be there, prove yourself in the scene to get access. While these places were technically open to the public, the public was in no way welcome. But for those who had earned the right to avoid harassment, you also knew anyone else there had your back.
I’m belaboring the point here and you may be thinking I’m an idiot drawing this connection because all of these things require time and potentially blood, sweat and tears to earn your way in, but consider this: There are no accidental Cryptopunk owners.
As we approach the end of 2023, if you are holding a Cryptopunk that almost certainly means one of a few things:
You were very early to all of this, you saw the importance and potential and jumped at it. But even more, you didn’t sell and walk away when these things were going for $150k each. That you are still here means you believe, even with everything that has happened, this is still just the beginning.
You weren’t early enough to get in when these were free, but you understand the importance, and paid the very high price of entry because you didn’t want to miss out.
Or, someone in one of those first two categories believed in you so much that they felt you needed to be in as well, and gave you one (or a big discount on one).
The process may be different but the end result is similar: If you are here, you are here for a reason – and just the act of being here tells the other members something about you.
And this brings me to another important similarity. Most of these groups – bikers, skaters, punks, (even the fictional Project Mayhem devotees) experienced stigmatization. These people were viewed with suspicion or even disdain by mainstream culture. And we all know that NFT enthusiasts, with their “expensive JPEGs,” face sneers and scorn from skeptics who are still in the vast majority.
Being mocked or stigmatized for your interest can be painful. But at the same time these negative labels, when embraced by a community, become a badge of honor. It’s in the face of external social judgment that the true strength of a community shines. Finding solace among like-minded individuals can be empowering. Keeping this in mind, that FREAKS reference hits even harder.
Another example – the fiercely individualist Church of Satan describes its membership as a “mutual admiration society.” I love this phrasing. It underscores a base level of respect extended to each other automatically, especially poignant in a group that is totally diverse by design. These aren’t mere social clubs; they’re support systems. Strip away the surface differences, you find at the heart of each community the notion of mutual respect. This is huge, especially for people who may not experience that anywhere else.
And this gets back to one of the “awesome” things I was referring to in my original comment – unlike most interactions today, where disagreements almost immediately devolve into traded insults, communities built on mutual respect facilitate enriching discussions. Intellectual discourse allows people to disagree and still maintain a level of civility. In an increasingly polarized world, the comfort found in these communities becomes ever more attractive.
Don’t get me wrong – nothing is perfect. Bad actors exist everywhere and no community is immune to extractive leeches. And for sure there are some real goddamn assholes who own cryptopunks – but the high barrier to entry serves as a filter which keeps those to a minimum. Perhaps if you spend $100k to walk in the door, you aren’t likely to want to shit on the carpet. Conversely, if the cost of entry is only $10, there’s a certain kind of person who will happily pay up, then gleefully shit all over the place just to see the reaction.
Also, yes anyone with deep enough pockets could just buy a Cryptopunk tomorrow, but the opaque community structure and confusing web of unconnected chat groups almost requires a guide, some introductions and a bit of social vetting from within the community. It’s not exactly like being invited to a private dojo, an MC clubhouse, or a well protected surf spot – but it’s not entirely different either.
And similarly, there’s not just one thing. Just as Hell’s Angels have a different culture than the Mongols, and an SF chapter will have a different culture than a Venice chapter, just as skaters in New York have a different culture than skaters in Dallas, it would be silly to think all Cryptopunk owners are the same. And the community reflects this – the culture in the Discord is different from the culture in the Telegram group which is different from the culture in a local city group which is different from the culture in a private twitter group. There are subsections and they are drastically different by design, but it’s the commonality that they share which brings them together.freaks
So to find my way back to the original question of whether one needs to own a Cryptopunk to experience a similar community, the answer is as complex as the community itself. Two things I want to call out: Owning a punk doesn’t guarantee the same community experience, and similar experiences can be found in other communities. It’s also important to understand that none of this is static, people are ever changing and their communities with them – a community today is different from that community yesterday, and tomorrow’s will be different still.
While all communities have unique structures, I recognize some patterns – bottom up organization, mutual respect among members, and some barriers to entry. Having skin in the game, be it financial or sweat equity, feels important. It’s not explicit, but in a way we are talking about secret societies. Simply owning a punk isn’t an all access pass. The opacity of community channels and social vetting echo characteristics found in more traditional “closed” communities. Can’t ignore the irony there for a community built on a foundation championing indelible openness and transparency.
Cryptopunks aren’t the only multi-gated online community, and any number of other collections, open-source projects and even traditional social groups also offer pathways to similar experiences. So, while the Cryptopunks community cannot be copied, its core ethos is not unreplicable. As communities continue to evolve in the digital age, perhaps the more important question we should be asking ourselves is not how to get in, but what we, as members or hopefuls, bring to these spaces to make them more meaningful.
My brilliant wife Tara is on the cutting edge of AI developments and sends me things from time to time because I can barely keep up. Today she sent me this, and being an artist who simultaneously loves/hates knowing what anyone thinks of my work, I had to try it immediately. This is the prompt:
Assume the role of a stringent art critic with a discerning eye for quality and technique. Your task is to evaluate artworks with precision, providing scores on a scale from 1 to 10. In this scale, 1 represents art that lacks any technical skill, creativity, or emotional impact, often seen as amateurish or poorly executed. A score of 10 is reserved exclusively for artworks that exhibit exceptional mastery, innovation, and depth, setting new standards in the art world. Be meticulous and honest in your evaluations, consider factors like composition, color harmony, technical skill, originality, and emotional expression in your critiques. Remember, a high score is earned through genuine artistry and profound impact.
I figured I’d start this off with two of my most well known photos, not only because I wanted ChatGPTs approval (I do) but because I’ve heard enough people talk about these images over the years that I thought I’d have a good frame of reference for how GPT was thinking about them. So let’s see:
Composition: The way the artist has captured the bird in mid-flight amidst a busy cityscape is commendable. The blurred background not only accentuates the focus on the bird but also brings out the contrast between nature and urban life. The diagonal flow created by the bird’s trajectory juxtaposed against the bus adds a dynamic feel.
Color Harmony: As this is a black and white photograph, color harmony pertains to the tonal range. There’s a good distribution of blacks, whites, and greys, giving it depth and dimension.
Technical Skill: Capturing motion with clarity while blurring the surroundings requires skill, especially in a bustling environment.
Originality: The idea of capturing nature in urban settings isn’t entirely new, but the execution here is distinctive.
Emotional Expression: There’s a sense of freedom evoked by the bird in flight juxtaposed against the constraining city background. It’s a fleeting moment of nature amidst chaos.
Composition: The intimate moment captured between the man and the baby is touching. The woman’s gaze, directed outside the frame, adds an element of mystery and curiosity. The framing places the subjects at the center, inviting the viewer into the personal moment.
Color Harmony: The monochromatic palette brings out the emotional depth of the scene. Shadows and highlights are balanced, ensuring the details of the subjects are not lost.
Technical Skill: The image is sharp where it needs to be, particularly on the subjects. The blurred motion of the subway exterior further accentuates the stillness of the captured moment.
Originality: Candid moments in public transport settings are not uncommon. However, the genuine interaction between the subjects makes this image stand out.
Emotional Expression: The artwork captures a heartwarming and genuine human connection in an otherwise mundane setting. It speaks to the universality of human emotions and interactions.
I mean… honestly? Not bad.
But again, those are my most well known works for a reason so I had a pretty good idea how that would play out. But what if I gave GPT something more challenging and experimental to evaluate. My new Connections series is personal and challenging and untested in so many ways, so I thought I’d give that a shot. Connections is as much about the concept as it is about the output so I thought I’d just give the final output and see what it thought, and then give additional context and see if that changed anything. This was fascinating…
Description: A black and white photograph capturing the intricate maze of power lines, poles, and barren branches set against a light, almost white sky. The dominant features are the crisscrossing lines, both natural and man-made, which jumble together to create a complex and slightly chaotic pattern.
Composition (3/5): The image offers a layered perspective with power lines at multiple levels, offering a sense of depth. The juxtaposition between the natural lines of the tree branches and the geometric lines of the cables and power structures is interesting, but the focal point is somewhat lost amidst the busy-ness.
Color Harmony (4/5): Although the image is in black and white, the gradation of tones is evident, and the light background helps the darker elements pop. The absence of color serves to highlight the intricacies of the lines.
Technical Skill (3.5/5): The image is well-balanced in terms of light and dark areas. The contrast is clear, but some portions seem to blend into one another due to the dense layout of lines.
Originality (3.5/5): The theme of man vs. nature is not new, but the portrayal here is somewhat fresh. The chaos formed by human-made structures and nature intertwining is a silent commentary on urban encroachment.
Emotional Expression (2/5): While the image does convey a sense of chaos and possibly the encroachment of urban structures on nature, it lacks a strong emotional impact. It’s more reflective than evocative.
Overall Score: 6.5/10
Comments: This photograph succeeds in capturing the complexities of an urban landscape, juxtaposing man-made structures with natural elements. The interplay of lines, both organic and geometric, create a maze-like visual that is both intriguing and slightly overwhelming. While it is a competent representation of its theme, it lacks a definitive focal point or strong emotional resonance.
Then I pointed GPT to my explanation of the series and concept behind it, and asked it to evaluate the work again with that additional context. Kind of like asking it to read the plaque on the wall in the gallery.
Description: “Connections” is a series that delves into the intricate associations between nature, humans, and technology. The artwork fuses the organic with the artificial, compelling the viewer to reflect on the intricate mesh of relationships, dialogue, and interplay between humans and their surroundings. Derived from Bonner’s authentic photographs, the creation process itself challenges our understanding of reality, questioning the boundaries between human creativity and artificial intelligence. The artwork inspires contemplation on the delicate balance between inspiration and direction, as well as the fine line differentiating reality from an AI’s artistic perception.
Composition (4/5): With the added context, the intertwining lines of nature and man-made structures take on deeper meaning, symbolizing the fusion of organic and synthetic elements. The complexity of the piece can now be seen as a reflection of the intricate web of connections in our world.
Color Harmony (4.5/5): The monochromatic palette reinforces the theme of merging realities – the human and AI perspectives. The use of varying tones of black and white signifies the subtle nuances in these connections.
Technical Skill (4/5): Knowing that this piece is an AI interpretation based on original photographs adds another layer of appreciation for the technical execution. It showcases the potential of AI in artistic expression and its ability to recreate reality.
Originality (4.5/5): The concept of exploring connections is given a fresh take with the amalgamation of human and AI creativity. The choice to make it initially available only in person at select events further emphasizes the value of genuine human connections in a digital age.
Emotional Expression (4/5): The image now carries more emotional depth. Knowing the backstory and intention, viewers are not only intrigued by the visual complexity but also by the underlying themes of human-machine collaboration and interconnectedness.
Overall Score: 8.5/10
Comments: With the added context, “Connections” by Sean Bonner transcends its initial visual impression. It stands as a testament to the potential harmony between nature, human ingenuity, and machine intelligence. The series, starting with this piece, offers a thought-provoking commentary on the evolving relationship between man and technology, urging viewers to reflect on the true nature of connection in an increasingly digital world. The piece’s exclusivity and method of distribution further reinforce its themes, making it not just an artwork, but an experience.
So this was a pretty fascinating experiment. I genuinely enjoyed seeing how GPT saw my work. One thing Tara is always telling me is how she works with GPT to improve her prompts before using them. So rather than saying “please help me do this” she’ll say “please pretend you are a GPT prompt writer who needs to get X done, and help me write the prompt to get the best result for that” and goes back and forth several times before landing on the prompt she’ll actually use for the main request. I thought I’d ask GPT to consider the initial prompt I used here, and see if it would benefit from a revision. GPT said the prompt was quite good already, but if I wanted more thoughtful and detailed criticism I could edit it a bit to solicit that. I didn’t go back and redo the evaluations with the new prompt, but thought I’d add it here on the end just in case anyone wanted to try it out themselves on their own work.
New revised prompt:
Hello. Assume the role of an exacting art critic with an acute sense for detail and a passion for thorough analysis. Your mandate is to dissect artworks meticulously, providing scores on a scale from 1 to 10. On this scale, a score of 1 is given to art that is devoid of technical prowess, originality, or emotional resonance—often seen as rudimentary or lacking in execution. Conversely, a score of 10 is reserved for artworks that are paragons of technical mastery, creativity, and depth, truly revolutionizing the artistic landscape.
Your evaluations should be systematic and uncompromising. When evaluating artworks, adhere to the following format:
Contextual Understanding: (If provided) What narrative or background information is given about the artwork? How does this influence your interpretation?
Composition: How are the elements arranged in the piece? Does it guide the viewer’s eye? Is there a balance or intentional imbalance?
Color Harmony: Is there an effective use of color or lack thereof? How do the colors interact with each other, and what mood do they convey?
Technical Skill: Beyond the basic execution, is there evidence of advanced techniques or a particularly deft touch?
Originality: How fresh or innovative is the artwork? Does it bring a unique perspective or technique to the table?
Emotional Expression: What feelings or messages does the artwork convey? How effectively are they communicated to the viewer?
Overall Score: Based on the detailed analysis above, assign an aggregate score out of 10.
Always remember, while scores are numerical, the essence of art is found in its subtleties and nuances. Delve deep, appreciate the intricacies, and be forthright in your assessments.
Please commence your evaluation of the following artworks.
When thinking about community, I always stress the value of intentionality. Often people first think of rules and what they don’t want in their community because that’s easy, but I always try to encourage moderators and community managers to reframe that and instead try to identify what they do what. Try to describe the community that you want, that you want to hang out in, by what it is, not what it isn’t. Try to write every point as a positive not a negative. It’s actually harder than you think to do this, but I believe it makes a powerful statement and attracts people who want the same thing as you as well as helping you fine tune your own intentions.
Two guiding documents I helped write that I’m really proud of are the Safecast Code and the Cryptopunks V1 Discord server etiquette.
For Safecast, the environmental non-profit I helped start in 2011, we wanted something for our volunteer community to act as our guiding principals, so in 2014 we published this:
We’ve been thinking about what describes the Safecast project as a whole, and came up with a list of 10 things that we try to incorporate into all of our efforts. This is something like our code of conduct, what are we doing, what we should be doing. We try to check ourselves against this list and encourage others to do the same.
ALWAYS OPEN – We strive to make everything we do transparent, public and accessible.
ALWAYS IMPROVING -We can always do better so use agile, iterative design to ensure we’re always refining our work.
ALWAYS ENCOURAGING – We aim to be welcoming and inclusive, and push each other to keep trying.
ALWAYS PUBLISHING – Results are useless behind closed doors, we try to put everything we’re doing out to the world regularly.
ALWAYS QUESTIONING – We don’t have all the answers, and encourage continued learning and critical thinking.
ALWAYS UNCOMPROMISING – Our commitment to our goals keeps us moving closer towards them.
ALWAYS ON – Safecast doesn’t sleep. We’re aware and working somewhere around the world 24/7
ALWAYS CREATING – Our mission doesn’t have a completion date, we can always do more tomorrow.
ALWAYS OBJECTIVE – Politics skews perception, we focus on the data and the questions it presents.
We are inclusionary and you’re welcome here. No matter what you look like, where you come from, what you have or your beliefs; you’ll be treated with respect.
We are here to have fun but not at the expense of others.
We celebrate CryptoPunks and Web3 Punk culture in its entirety. We recognise the visionary of our creators, LarvaLabs; the current owners of the brand, Yuga Labs; and all of the wonderful Punk derivatives. We reject repeated, intentionally divisive or derogatory comments towards any in the Punk ecosystem.
We show respect and positivity because we want to be respected by the wider community.
We share our interests, achievements and current projects without incessant shilling. In general, if you’re repeatedly bringing up a particular topic without prompt, that could be considered shilling.
We’re all at different stages of our journey and continuously learning. Teach others about your experiences, learn from others about theirs. All questions are good questions and our chat is an open forum.
We recommend you turn off DMs and be extremely careful in the interactions you have here. Phishing, impersonation and all manner of trickery are persistent threats.
If you post a suspicious link, NSFW/NSFL content our mods might act to ban or mute you immediately. If in doubt about whether something is acceptable, it’s better not to post.
Mods are here to clear away bad actors and facilitate positive discussion. If a mod asks for a discussion to move on, or to an alternate channel, or reminds you of these guidelines; please heed their advice.
We Punks are ultimately the moderators of our peers. If you see something that isn’t constructive to the community we’re building, say something.
While I’m not trying to suggest these are perfect or pat myself on the back too much, I think these are two really good examples of directional documents that can help a community shape itself rather than just leaving things up to chance. If you are a community steward, manager, curator or janitor I can’t recommend doing something like this enough.
Social Media is on the decline. Not just any one site but all of it. The entire idea. Traffic everywhere is down. What we once saw as a way to stay connected to our friends became a tool to be used against us. By advertisers after our attention, by politicians pushing their propaganda. Any passing thought potentially turned into ammo for haters years down the line, influencers and thought leaders trying to lead and influence our thoughts. People getting fired for likes and retweets, or executed for daring to speak out. It’s no surprise that these sites are less appealing than they once were. But where are people going instead? Private chats, direct messages, curated groups and gated discords. Back to our friends, away from everyone else.
Some of you might remember the running joke on Twitter circa 2009 where anytime anything bad happened we’d explain it by saying “Brands.” Why was the price of gas going up? Brands. Why weren’t my friends seeing my tweets? Brands. Why did the radio keep playing this song I hate? Brands. You get the idea. Thats about the time the site shifted from being a place to talk to your friends to being a place for brands to sell you things. Social media was exciting when it was a place to learn the news from locals talking about their own experiences, but that was quickly taken over by major media who wanted to capitalize on the attention. “That’s where people are, so that’s where we’ll go!” At one point I was arguing “we don’t need to say social media anymore because at this point all media is social” though at the time I thought that was a good thing, I thought that was a sign of news outlets giving in to our way of working, but it was actually them co-opting it for themselves.
At some people people started writing safety protocols for the younger generation signing up for the sites filled with thoughtful precautions none of us had ever taken ourselves. It took almost 20 years, but our worst fears all came true. I talked to my son about this and he bluntly said there’s nothing appealing about any of these sites, it’s just people trying to push shit on him and he doesn’t see any reason to ever spend time there. No one sees his posts anyway. He’d much rather hang out in a voice chat with a few of his friends. Thinking back to my own childhood and how much time I spent on the phone and how exciting 3-way calling was and even the introduction of Party Lines (though I was never allowed to try them) I can’t really argue with his logic.
The thing that made the internet so exciting, the chance to connect with other people, has been turned into endless commercials and non-stop surveillance. That’s what we were trying to get away from in the first place. Writing this I don’t know why I still spend any time there either. If the algorithms don’t even let me see posts from my friends who I intentionally follow, what’s the point? Maybe I just want to see how it all ends.
I do find myself getting much more out of the private telegram groups and gated discord channels. Secret societies without all the pomp and theater, (not that there’s anything wrong with the pomp and theater) just people with shared interests connecting and hanging out. In a way, it’s what we wanted from Social Media in the beginning, but could never be done correctly by a company. We just needed a protocol that worked, a way to connect A to B without a need to jack up user numbers or meet profitability goals. Let Zuck and Elon and all those other fucks have the castles they built. They’ve become useless to us and we’re moving out.
I write that knowing it comes across with all the earnestness of a 7 year old storming into the kitchen and informing his parents that he’s packed up his favorite toys and is running away because he can no longer live under the oppression of their mandated bedtime. But I’m not pounding my chest acting like we’ll go build our own site and show them! I’m just saying that for most of human history people were able to communicate with their friends directly and it worked out pretty well, and for the last couple decades we tried letting companies be the intermediary to those relationships and it was a disaster, so we can just go back to talking to each other directly. Those sites need us, but we don’t need them. Sure there’s an entire generation or two that don’t know how to communicate without Facebook but the algo will get them too, or red pill them or whatever else causes their families to stop talking to them and they will have to pick up a phone. The change won’t be overnight, but it’s inevitable. RIP social media. You had your moment, and it was fleeting af.
“If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.”
Obi Wan Kenobi, Star Wars
Navigating the intricacies of 21st century life, we find ourselves wedged between the tangible and intangible. This delicate interplay, threading through all aspects of our lives, resonates most significantly in the realm of art. The convergence of physical artworks and their digital counterparts, alongside the rise of novel, purely digital art forms, prompts a reexamination of our deep-seated notions of creativity, ownership, and value.
Burning, a process of sending digital artwork to an inaccessible wallet address, presents an intriguing paradox. The work becomes both present and absent; observable by all, yet owned by none. Destroying a physical artwork is destructive and sometimes an act of violence, but burning an NFT is different as the work isn’t destroyed so much as made immortal. Over the past few years, this duality has come into focus with the burning of several Cryptopunks.
For those unfamiliar, Cryptopunks is a genre-defining generative art collection from 2017 consisting of 10,000 individual characters which acted as a catalyst for the Non-Fungible Token (NFT) boom witnessed in 2021. It has spawned innumerable derivatives, causing a cascade of influence across the current artistic vista. Yet, Cryptopunks transcend the realm of mere collectables having been adopted as a form of digital self-expression.
At one point utilizing a Cryptopunk as a profile picture bore resemblance to wearing a T-shirt from an obscure band–more than a mere fashionable statement, it became a conduit for conveying one’s identity and personal interests, a form of digital street cred. The emotional bond established with certain Cryptopunks is as profound, if not more so, as the deepest reverence we feel for any emotionally charged piece of art. Consider Cryptopunk #3831, now part of the LACMA permanent collection, is this a piece of digital art of a portrait of a famous collector? Depending on your perspective, perhaps both.
The loss of these important art pieces strikes a painful blow to our collective consciousness, as they are irreplaceable fragments of our cultural tapestry. However, unlike these lost treasures, burned Cryptopunks are not compromised in the visual sense. Rather, they transition into a form of digital ‘commons,’ disrupting conventional perceptions of ownership and value. Should financial potential alone dictate value, thereby rendering a non-sellable entity worthless? Contrarily, I would argue that such a shift positions cultural value squarely in the spotlight.
When an NFT, symbolizing some collection of exclusive ‘property rights’ to a digital artifact, is burned, it propels us into a complex discourse on ownership, copyright, reproduction rights, and the overarching legal structure of digital assets. Artist Dmitri Cherniak, for instance, played with this paradox in his “Dead Ringers” collection, where each piece was dispatched to a randomly generated wallet address, rendering the NFT effectively ownerless, and at the same time allowing everyone to view and even print out a copy for themselves. The artist stated he considered this a celebration of “birth, life and death” and we can contextualize this duality of owned/unowned by everyone/no one similarly to Schrodinger’s Cat, simultaneously occupying both states.
Digital ownership, as exemplified with NFTs, lacks a clear historical parallel. Unlike museums that possess certain rights to their displayed works, the digital realm operates under a nuanced, distinct set of rules. With no recognized ‘owner,’ the rights attached to these burned Cryptopunks come into question.
The motives behind burning these Cryptopunks, like physical art, vary: accidental—through erroneous address copying or incomplete transaction submissions; deliberate—as a publicity stunt or conceptual commentary. As these digital assets appreciate in value, so does the weight of these actions, amplifying past actions and errors.
As collectors, we are custodians of this art and we should consider the responsibility of safeguarding our possessions for future generations. While traditionally, destruction signifies loss and cultural regression, the implications of such ‘loss’ in the digital space are more open to interpretation. What constitutes ownership and possession in the digital realm, and how do these intersect with monetary and cultural value?
Burned Cryptopunks serve as a potent reminder, a warning, and perhaps a promise. As we traverse digital landscapes, we don’t discard the societal and cultural dynamics rooted in the physical world. Instead, these dynamics transform and amplify, their full implications still unfolding before us.
[this article is cross posted from my new site focused on documenting this – burnedpunks.com]
I am an art collector. This is a confession and a point of pride. I love art, I love seeing art and experiencing art and being surrounded by art. It’s inspiring and makes the world a better place. Here are some observations I’ve had recently that, while unrelated, somehow fit together…
One: I have been collecting art for over 30 years. When my family and I moved to Tokyo from Los Angeles, we put it all in storage with the intent to have it crated up and shipped up once we got settled long term. Visa struggles and what not, that didn’t end up happening so we never shipped the art. Then we moved to Canada and thought we’d get it then – but COVID and border closures threw a wrench into those plans. Now we’re not sure how long we’re staying in Canada so the thought of spending a bunch of time and effort to move art here seems perhaps ill advised. The result of all this, is that the vast majority of our physical art collection is sitting in storage in another country, and we haven’t seen any of it in almost 7 years.
Two: Being an admitted art collector, over that time I’ve continued buying art from artists I love. Many of these pieces were shipped to me rolled up and as any art collector knows you do not want to keep flat art rolled up for too long. In the old days, when I co-owned an art gallery, I had flat files as a safe and secure place to keep unframed art. I no longer have flat files and have committed to framing work so that I can hang it and enjoy it. I recently took about 10 pieces to a local framer and while the results look amazing the multi-thousand dollar bill was a reminder that everything about collecting art isn’t always fun or easy. This print by Sean Higgins looks amazing though.
Three: Once I got those pieces back I had to find room to hang them. In some cases that meant moving other pieces around. This is fun, but also not fun. It’s hard to explain but if you have made a habit out of hanging and rehanging and rearranging art, you know what I mean. If you have any kind of ADHD then you really know what I mean.
Four: When art collectors get together a very common topic is “how do you find new artists?” and earlier this month while I was in Tokyo hanging out at Bright Moments this topic came up a lot. The answer to that question, time and time again, was Deca. I’ve had an account there for a while now but I confess to not really understanding it. After that trip I spent some time exploring and playing with the galleries that you can create, curating collections and art into many different easily browsable pages and I easily made some little galleries showing off some of the photography and generative work I’ve collected, as well as separate galleries for artists like Derech, Piv and Crashblossom from whom I have many works, among others. It’s also incredibly easy to browse around and see what work other people are putting into galleries and quickly find curators or groups you want to follow because you have similar tastes. I’ve really enjoyed looking through the genart group for example. It became very clear to me why collectors are spending time here.
Five: Deca isn’t the only way to show off digital work, I’ve long had a gallery space in Voxels and have enjoyed looking through galleries others have created in OnCyber. I have some OnCyber galleries myself but haven’t had the chance to update them recently. There are at least a dozen other gallery platforms people are using as well. Point being, people are spending a lot of time building ways to curate blockchain based digital art, and collectors are dedicating just as much time to showing off what they have.
Then it hit me.
If I’m out, anywhere in the world, it’s very easy for me to pull up an online gallery and show off artwork that I love. It’s very difficult for me to show off physical work that is hanging in my house (or worse, in storage). If I move (as I’m known to do) it’s very easy (and free) for me to bring my digital collection with me. It’s very hard (and expensive) for me to bring my physical collection with me. Worse if it’s international.
Six: Another thing that became apparent to me in Tokyo while visiting several galleries is how quickly the “digital canvas” products are improving. Currently Whim and Grail and other digital art displays are quite pricey, but Infinite Objects frames are super reasonable and satisfy the object lust thing quite well. And truthfully when you consider professional framing can cost $400 for a single piece, a digital canvas that shows your entire collection being $4000 isn’t insane, it’s steep for sure, but that price will come down over time as well. And as we more museums exploring ways to show off digital artists like Refik Anadol people will continue to get more comfortable with this idea of real art on screens.
Just to argue against myself for a moment, for more than 20 years now I’ve had friends telling me the wonders of dumping their CDs, DVDs, Books etc in favor of digital libraries & streaming. I’ve largely resisted, and while I’ve mostly transitioned to a digital movie library to be honest it’s not the same. I miss scanning the spines of DVDs and being reminded of a favorite film I want to watch again. This is why I still have all my books and vinyl, I can’t imagine not browsing or holding the objects in my hands. But yes, this comes with a cost – both in space around the house and a monetary one if/when I move. Not to mention the stress. But it’s worth it, because if I don’t see these items, if I’m not accidentally surrounded by them, I don’t experience (and enjoy them) the same way.
As someone who has been buying and collecting physical art since the mid 90’s, and loves looking at the texture and process in physical work, I assumed my position would forever be the same here too. I’m not saying it’s changed, but I’m more open to it than I might have been before. I was never opposed to digital art, don’t get me wrong, but I see a much larger use case and adoption potential now than I did say even 5 years ago. Consider these bits of conversations I’ve had recently:
“I never cared about art until 2 years ago when someone gave me an NFT, now it’s all I think about and I’m buying new art almost every week.” – An accountant
“I used to spent money on 5 digit wine, now I buy jpgs.” – A lawyer
“A water pipe broke and flooded my basement, at least 10 large canvas pieces were ruined” – A collector
“I used to go crazy when I was away from the studio, I had ideas and no way to move on them. Opening myself up to working remotely with my iPad, I can’t imagine ever being so locked down again.” – An artist
That last comment piqued my curiosity and it didn’t take long to find out that Procreate, the most popular professional iPad illustration app is primarily used by “younger artists” with official recommendations that it can be used by kids as young as 8, and unofficially as young as 4. While artists today might have a hard time learning new tools (and honestly, they don’t need to), looking ahead 20 years from now, artists who grow up with them aren’t going to think twice about it. They will be making natively digital art already. Qubibi is an artist I learned about in Tokyo and immediately bought a piece from, this is work that couldn’t exist physically.
The problem with digital art has always been provenance – if all copies are the same then where is the motivation to collect an original, of course NFTs and blockchains solve this (as well as many other problems artists have had like attribution, royalties, etc) and again this next generation of younger artists are growing up with this knowledge inherent. While the old people, the “thought leaders and influencers” argue and fret about it, the young people are embracing it and moving forward. The old people will die and the young people will take over, just as always.
And to be clear I’m not arguing for a move from physical art to digital art, I’m just observing that I think the adoption of digital art is going to be massive. As an art collector I’m always excited to walk into someones house (or office) and see an original piece of art and I think in the very near future people will have displays showing off their bad ass 1 of 1 (or small edition) digital art collections. And to people who might worry about the new wave of digital artists putting the physical artists out of work – that’s nonsense. First of all many artists who have successful careers making physical art have easily integrated digital into their world, just as they did prints or any number of other things before. I think the world is big enough for all kinds of art in various formats, and I think the ease and access that digital art provides is going to introduce way more people to art than we could have ever anticipated. I’m also so excited about new opportunities for artists and collectors – for example I’ve been lusting after the hardware customizations by tachyons+ for over a decade and their work inspired a lot of what I did with CMHHTD, recently I learned they were not only making hardware but also now selling digital art produced with their own devices and I was able to buy this piece. I love it, and might have to get an Infinite Objects frame for it.
I’ll always have physical art, I’m not going to pretend otherwise, but if I’m honest, I think it would be pretty amazing to be able to swap out all the art in my house with with a different “exhibition” from my collection with a single click. Lets see where the future takes us.
DC. Bradenton. Chicago. Los Angeles. Vienna. Paris. Tokyo. Vancouver. I've lived all over the place.
I've run hackerspaces and blog networks, an art gallery, a design firm, a record label, an environmental non-profit and have been an Associate Professor at Keio University and a Researcher at the MIT Media Lab. I write, take photos, make noise, and spend a lot of time thinking about art and Web3.