Brian Eno on NFTs: "Now Artists Can Become Little Capitalist Assholes as Well"

Crypto is "a way for artists to get a little piece of the action from global capitalism, our own cute little version of financialization"
Brian Eno on NFTs: 'Now Artists Can Become Little Capitalist Assholes as Well'
In spite of its fluid end-rhyme with his surname, prolific composer Brian Eno hasn't bought into the current commotion around crypto.

The artist who spearheaded ambient music gave a recent interview with The Crypto Syllabus, sharing his thoughts on the widespread proliferation of NFTs (non-fungible tokens) in the arts and its wider political significance.

"I've been approached several times to 'make an NFT' — so far nothing has convinced me that there is anything worth making in that arena," Eno said when asked about why he hasn't chosen to dabble in the world of cryptocurrency.

"'Worth making' for me implies bringing something into existence that adds value to the world, not just to a bank account," he explained. "NFTs seem to me just a way for artists to get a little piece of the action from global capitalism, our own cute little version of financialization. How sweet — now artists can become little capitalist assholes as well."

In terms of the impact on the arts sphere, Eno isn't witnessing the level of technological innovation that NFTs seem to be lauded for. "I imagine there can and perhaps even are now interesting creative uses of crypto technologies; as yet, I don't see them," he continued. "Most of the conversation I hear is asking the question, 'What could we do with these technologies?' — which doesn't mean 'How could we change the world into a better place?' but 'How could we turn them into money?'"

And Eno has questions himself: "Can NFTs be a contemporary form of Robin Hood-ism? Is it possible that artists can use these tools to divert some of the global trillions off into some more productive and humane directions?" he asked. "This is what I would like to understand, though it presents the interesting moral question as to whether clean things can be done with murky money."

(But the NFT sale of the "Charlie Bit My Finger" viral video from 2007 is set to pay for the kids' college tuition, so maybe it's possible?)

The artist added:

All the foregoing doesn't mention the biggest issue: that in a warming world, a new technology that uses vast amounts of energy as "proof of work" — that's to say, simply to establish a certain badge of exclusivity — really is quite insane. All that energy is making nothing that we need. I know there's 'proof of stake,' but I don't know if that can actually work unless everybody changes over to it. And even if it did, it doesn't address the other issues that bother me.

I can understand why the people who've done well from it are pleased, and it's natural enough in a libertarian world to believe that something that benefits you must automatically be 'right' for the whole world. That belief is a version of what I call "automaticism": the idea that if you leave things alone and let something or other (the market, nature, human will) take its course unimpeded, you will automatically get a better result than you would by tinkering with it.

Much of the energy behind crypto arises from the very strong need that some people feel to operate outside of a state, and therefore outside of any sort of democratic communal overview. The idea that Ayn Rand, that Nietzsche-for-Teenagers toxin, should have had her whacky ideas enshrined in a philosophy about money is what is terrifying to me. But I still don't really understand what it is they think they've done. Maybe I just don't get it!

Whether or not he gets it, he raises some interesting points.

Last year, Eno shared his first official music video for "Decline and Fall" and scored climate crisis short film Extinction Emergency, the latter making his concerns about the environmental impact of NFTs come as no surprise. Likewise, artists like Mother Mother have backtracked on their crypto ventures, taking down NFTs due to their excessive energy consumption.

In other nifty music industry news, Arcade Fire recently made their live return at a Las Vegas crypto gala and Live Nation is planning to digitalize ticket stub collections as NFTs.