Editions

Notes on Collecting Crypto Art, Chapter 2

Part of my Notes on Collecting Crypto Art series.

Chapter 2 - Editions

When I think about or refer to #CryptoArt in my various posts, I am almost exclusively referring to 1-of-1 editions.

My ultimate goal is to build a unique, valuable collection with Artists that I can really get to know well. I want every piece in my collection to have its own story and I want the ensemble of the entire collection (“the collection as its own work”) to be un-replicable, its own 1-of-1 work.

Art vs. Collectibles

If we’re being intellectually honest, Crypto Art exists on a broader spectrum of NFT-based Crypto Collectibles.

When you mint a multi-edition (several identical copies of the same work), your identical art editions start to compete with dedicated collectibles projects like CryptoPunks and CryptoCubes which are better optimized for the multi-edition format and have ways to generate uniqueness within a capped set.

Collectibles have a clear advantage over multi-editions because the Creator thinks about the interaction of the individual collectibles within the context of the entire set. They are all similar but deliberately not the same.

When a Creator creates a new Collectible, they don’t think about the individual NFTs being created, instead they are designing a system. The entire Collectible set is itself the work and the individual NFTs are just pieces inside of it. Thus, individual collectibles are better optimized to be both widely available (distribution + community) and unique within the collectible set itself (value).

When an Artist creates a new multi-edition, the choice of how many editions to mint is, most of the time, arbitrary. Why mint 5 vs. 50 vs. 500? Is it an optimization of price? An attempt to get more widely distributed?

This also begs questions like: Is “fine art” supposed to be cheap and widely distributed? If an Artist minted 10,000 copies of a piece that everyone universally liked, would people start using it as a semi-liquid token and tradable asset?

I’m not trying to straw man the case for multi-editions, but where does the line get drawn? and why?

We dismiss the “Crypto Art is stupid lol, I just took a screenshot of your work 🙄”-crowd as ridiculous haters because they don’t understand digital scarcity and provenance of creation from the Artist, but if we are not minting overly scarce work and they don’t have overly unique connections to the Artist - then at what point do our rebuttals become significantly weakened?

Again, owning an identical piece in a broad multi or open edition set is not the way to establish a unique collection - which ultimately is my goal here.

Some Concession

I understand there is no actual “correct way” to do this whole Crypto Art thing, so I will make a couple quick concessions here.

Two potentially valid arguments I can surmise for multi-editions:

  1. You can own an Artist’s work that you love and wouldn’t otherwise be able to have access to or afford. This is a totally valid reason, seriously, but again these are just notes on my own collecting style. Even then, if your goal is to build a unique, interesting, and maybe even someday valuable collection, co-owning work that a bunch of other people also own identical copies of feels antithetical to this aim.

  2. The individual pieces are actually part of a meta-aware or performative work. In that instance, you are not purchasing a single piece of art, you are paying to participate in a work of art. The work is actually a ticket for admission into a bigger show. This style is new to the medium and not well-understood yet, I’ve so far only seen this done once (again, Pak’s ‘The Title).

…Open Editions?

As you might imagine, if I have some issues with capped multi-editions, then I am not really interested in open editions.

The only reason I can think for an Artist to do an open edition instead of, say, a capped multi-edition of 20 copies, is money.

Again, I DON’T fault Artists for this and I am truly happy for them that they can make cashflow this way - I fancy myself a bit of a commercial-fucking-animal as well 😏 - but it’s just not going to be my cashflow.

The multi and open editions just aren’t really the right fit for my collection.

Uniqueness

So, now that we’ve narrowed the set all the way down to just the 1-of-1s, a few reasons why I actively prefer 1-of-1s (instead of just via process of elimination):

  1. An argument from connection - At the end of the day, the art that I am buying still needs to speak to me. More than that, for the art to really justify the price, I need to develop some sort of connection to it. If I can develop this connection, I honestly don’t want to have to share it with someone else. I want to own it for myself, because it brings me personal happiness in some way.

  2. An argument from intention - The Artist that created the work had some specific vision in mind, some unique intention - and that intention is often very personal in nature. Artists appreciate when Collectors have an understanding of their intention as they collect the work, and can form a bond over the individual piece. To have multiple versions of the piece out where some of the Collectors understand the intention and some are just trying to flip your work totally sucks. 1-of-1s are the way to share these personal intentions properly.

  3. An argument from monopoly - Great businesses are monopolies. However small the niche may be, great business people are ultimately trying to corner the assets of the market that they operate in. Art’s “use case” is inherently subjective, it is cultural and sentimental in some nebulous way - and beyond that, each individual work of art is its own unique “art market.”

    1-of-1s are natural monopolies, you immediately corner the market on that specific resource (that Artist’s specific piece). When you have a monopoly over that piece, you control at least half of the pricing equation (the sell side) for the entire market. If you own the piece, you get exclusive authority to set a floor on the price and can’t be under-cut by someone else holding the same asset. Furthermore, because value is subjective, a new buyer convinced that he or she must specifically have THAT PIECE (which you own) has no other option than to come to the table and negotiate only with you, because there is no other market for the asset. 1-of-1s give you this power.

It’s all fractal: unique Artists -> unique works -> unique collection -> unique Collector.

It’s 1-of-1s all the way down, baby.


-Colin Goltra, January 2021

Part of my Notes on Collecting Crypto Art series.