The Aesthetics & Politics 2021 cohort has drafted a syllabus and schedule for a hypothetical CalArts course on Non-Fungible Tokens. As a group, we’ve taken on the role of an educator conducting a 3-hour seminar class. In doing so, we had a few goals in mind:
- We wanted to create a space in which our fictional students would be empowered to create or critique NFT art as it best fits in their own metiers, and to do so thoughtfully.
- We wanted to provide a variety of interdisciplinary contextual literature, equipping our students to articulately discuss “issues” surrounding NFT discourse such as: materiality, new media and gallery space, ownership, the environmental impact of crypto, etc.
- We wanted to include literature that we thought could specifically spark discussions, instead of a full roster of readings that would teach “at” them. Some resources are on topics adjacent to NFTs, some are humorous or playful, and many have vastly different agendas. Some are pieces written this year, while others are much older. Ideally, our students would add their own perspectives and our “Instructor” would learn from them in turn.
This syllabus provides a brief description of objectives, proposes two major assignments, lays out in-class expectations, and provides a calendar of readings and discussion. As this is not a real class, we have omitted some of the ‘housekeeping’ that’s present in most university syllabi (e.g., attendance, accommodations, policies, etc.).
If you’d like a copy of our links and resources, we suggest checking out our downloadable PDF! The proposed syllabus in its entirety is below:
IIMC-399 — The Game of the Real: NFT as New Media
This semester, we will be tackling discussions around non-fungible tokens as art objects. Interdisciplinary approaches and resources will aid us, so you will emerge with a significant critical understanding of NFT politics whether you are a critic or an aspiring artist of the form. We’ll discuss issues of exhibition and collection, artistic (re)production, monetary value, political impact, and more. For the first few weeks, you will research issues and critiques ‘against’ NFT, which should equip you for the later weeks when we will consider responsible, mindful artmaking and “what’s next.”
You will be assigned readings every week; please come prepared having already read the linked articles before class. Note anything that these readings evoke for you and ideas you may want to bring to the discussion. I have provided a list of concepts we will try to hit with every topic, and if you are so inclined you are welcome to participate in any optional research beforehand. You will be graded on discussion participation for the semester based on your ability and willingness to raise interesting new questions and offer thoughtful perspectives. Don’t be afraid of saying the “wrong” thing! In addition, you will be asked to complete two projects. Please keep a copy of this Syllabus in a PDF or .doc form, as many reading materials are linked directly.
- Artists Re: Thinking the Blockchain, by Ruth Catlow
- The Politics of Bitcoin: Software as Right-Wing Extremism, by David Golumbia
- Materiality: Whitechapel Documents of Contemporary Art, edited by Petra Lange-Berndt
Midterm Project: Present your Meme/Gif/Glitch Art & turn in 3-5 page write-up. Upload to the class Drive! For your midterm, you will give a short presentation (~10 minutes) on an object of Internet ephemera–such as a meme, gif, ‘aesthetic,’ or glitch art. Use some of the concepts we have learned in class in order to examine what you’ve found. What has interested you so far, and what interests you about the impact of this “object”?
Final Project: You will write a paper, create an art work, draft a curatorial project, or some other challenging creative endeavor of your choice. The focus for your Final can be in response to an existing work, an artist, or a concept. The requirements are open-ended, but the product should be befitting of a “Final.” You will be asked to draft a proposal beforehand and to schedule a meeting with me so we can hammer out the details. Remember that a presentation will be required, so you will have to speak to the class about your project. Proposals for your Final are due by Midterm.
Week 1: Introductions and Syllabus Overview
Week 2: NFTs in the News / Pop Culture: An Introduction
- Buy this Column on the Blockchain!, Kevin Roose for The New York Times
- How Beeple Crashed the Art World, Kyle Chayka for the New Yorker
- Meet FN Meka, the World’s First AI Robot Rapper who Sells NFTs, Cheyenne Roundtree for Daily Beast
- FELT Zine Issues 1-40, Digital archives/exhibitions from NFT artists; How is art consumption challenged in virtual spaces?
- Optional assignment: Bring an article that interests you and we’ll discuss it! We’re keeping it light this week.
In-class discussion: Beeple, Grimes, first impressions, predictions, artists’ practice, meme discourse
Week 3: Aesthetics & Politics of NFTs: Guest Speaker Arne DeBoever
- The End of Art (Once Again), Arne DeBoever
- The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction (1935), Walter Benjamin, in Illuminations, pp. 1-26
- In Defense of the Poor Image, Hito Steyerl
- Neither Gesture nor Work of Art: Exhibition as Disposing for Appearance and In Defense of Representation, Tristan Garcia
- Ghost in the Shell-Game: On the Mètic Mode of Existence, Inception and Innocence. Nandita Biswas Mellamphy
In-Class Discussion: political images, cartoons, exceptionalism
Week 4: Crypto & Blockchain
- “The Politics of Bitcoin: Software as Right-Wing Extremism”, by David Golumbia ***You will be assigned two chapters, and discussion will be led in groups.***
- Bitcoin Digibank Simulator Interactive ActivityIn-class discussion: Bitcoin & cryptocurrency, Big tech
Week 5: Physical Infrastructure and Environmental impact
- Should you worry about the environmental impact of NFTs?, Shanti Escalante-De Mattei for ARTNews
- A Guide to Eco-Friendly Crypto Art, via cryptoart.wtf
- MoMA Buys Amazon Rainforest to Offset Newly Donated NFT Collection, an April Fool’s joke by Hrag Vartanian for Hyperallergic
In-class discussion: physical machinery of the Internet, class and labor, carbon off-setting, meme-ing consumerism
Submit your proposal for your final project
Week 6: Midterm Presentations. Turn in your 3-5 page write-up of the object that you chose to share with us.
Week 7: Spring Break!
Week 8: The Cloud
- “The Nomos of the Cloud” in The Stack: On Software and Sovereignty, Benjamin Bratton, pp. 19-38
- “Time-Sharing and Virtualization” in A Prehistory of the Cloud, Tung-Hui Hu, pp.37-71
- “The Precession of Simulacra” in Simulacra & Simulation, Jean Baudrillard, pp. 1-42
- “The Genesis of Digital Objects” and “Digital Objects and Ontologies” in On The Existence of Digital Objects, Yuk Hui, pp. 47-73, 75-105
In-Class discussion: cloud computing, computer ownership, screens, digital objects, putting the “space” in “Cyberspace”
Week 9: Internet-y Art History
- Materiality: “Les Immatériaux,” Jean-François Lyotard
- Les Immatériaux: A Conversation with Jean-François Lyotard and Bernard Blistène, Tara McDowell for Art Agenda.
- Cyber-Feminist Manifesto
- The Mundane Afrofuturist Manifesto, Martine Syms on Rhizome
- Michael Connor’s Decade in (the end of) Internet, Michael Connor on Rhizome
- The Cult of CryptoPunks, Lucas Matney for TechCrunch
- CryptoPunks Explained: 10 Things to Know About CryptoPunks, the Original NFTs, Christie’sIn-Class discussion: new media, ephemera, performance, dadaism, plastic, gallery space and curatorship
Week 10: Scarcity/Copyright, Online Auctions, and Being Rarible “Verified”
- Can Copyright Teach Us Anything About NFTs?, Andres Guadamuz for TechnoLlama
- “Limited Edition: Producing Artificial Scarcity For Digital Art On The Blockchain and Its Implications for The Cultural Industries,” by Rachel O’Dwyer
- (Optional) Why I brought Pac-Man to MoMA, Paola AntonelliIn-Class discussion: institutional critique, ownership, collections, auction, working and self-employment
Week 11: Presentations
Week 12: Presentations
Week 13: Final Materials Due