Experiments in Aesthetics and Politics

The Game of the Real: A Course Syllabus on NFTs as New Media (Proposal)

Published on: May 24, 2021
By: Maureen Phelan

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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

Fall 2021

Course Description

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.

Recommended Materials:

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

 Week 3: Aesthetics & Politics of NFTs: Guest Speaker Arne DeBoever 

Week 4: Crypto & Blockchain

Week 5: Physical Infrastructure and Environmental impact 

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

Week 9: Internet-y Art History

Week 10: Scarcity/Copyright, Online Auctions, and Being Rarible “Verified

Week 11: Presentations

Week 12: Presentations

Week 13: Final Materials Due

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