The Invisible Economy: Art As Currency
DADA’s radical separation of art from the market includes a new form of exchanging value in which tokenized digital drawings (NFTs) are the medium of exchange.
By Beatriz Ramos and Yehudit Mam
Part 12 of 12
Part 11: The Commons
The Invisible Economy organizes economic activity based on interdependence, creativity, and altruism. It leverages the wisdom of the crowd by avoiding the pernicious effects of the market. People are rewarded with a basic income for their contributions as they create long-term wealth through the commons.
Information networks create value as they grow through network effects, hence the value of the token is directly related to the growth of the network. This means that we can think about value creation beyond sales and traditional models. In the words of bitcoin investor Richard Li, “Web3 (blockchain) represents the Internet of Value, not in terms of the exchange of value but rather an entirely new approach to value creation. Whereas Web2 companies are revenue driven, Web3 companies are value-driven by stakeholders.”
Today, we have the opportunity to experiment with new forms of value. The Sumerians invented money and writing, and thanks to this combination it became possible to scale transactions to millions of people. But money and currency are not the same things. Currency is the medium in which money becomes real — it is a vehicle for transferring value. Since research in behavioral economics shows that just thinking about money changes our behavior from social norms to market norms, and since we want artists to create art without being beholden to the market, in DADA’s Invisible Economy art will be used as a form of currency.
DADA’s radical separation of art from the market includes a new form of exchanging value in which tokenized digital drawings (NFTs) are the medium of exchange. This introduces new ways of thinking about how value is transferred. Value exchange does not have to be strictly economic; it can also be subjective or symbolic. It enables a barter economy where people may exchange an old laptop, a night of babysitting, or a concert ticket for an artwork.
When drawings are a medium of exchange they add subjective value on top of their economic value.
We are experimenting with the concept of payment with meaning, by which artists can pay with drawings and add symbolic or artistic value created or selected specifically for a given transaction on top of its economic value. For example, an artist can make a payment with a custom drawing, like a portrait of the seller or a drawing related to a specific event like Covid-19, Black Lives Matter protests, or a personal milestone.
Since DADA is governed by social norms and everyone is incentivized to contribute based on their intrinsic motivations, developers and technologists are considered creative collaborators. Beyond building tools for artists to use, DADA’s experimental environment should foster collaborations in which technology is used as a medium to create new forms of art. We are inviting technologists who are curious, creative, and passionate to work with artists and push the limits of what technology can do without any pressure to produce specific outcomes.
In DADA’s Invisible Economy artistic work is not made to satisfy a market. Artworks are created freely by artists, without specifications or constraints. Once value is created, people can consume it, curate it, use it, buy it, and trade it. But since value creation is not only dependent on revenues, not all art needs to be on sale.
A recent example is “No Justice No Peace” an art project by the DADA Collective in support of Black Lives Matter and police reform. There seems to be a wall of silence in the media around the names or photographs of the police officers that have been accused of killing unarmed Black people. They are very difficult to find. Realizing this, the DADA Collective created a list of NFTs immutably registered on the blockchain with the names and faces of the perpetrators, as well as the names of their victims and the circumstances of their deaths. These tokens are not for sale, can’t be censored, modified, or taken down. This is an art piece that speaks truth to power and uses blockchain technology as a creative medium.
Even if the proceeds went to charity, putting these tokens for sale would have made it about the sales and could be perceived as opportunistic or self-serving, distorting their powerful message. Instead, a wallet was created in the name of each victim. Each wallet holds a token with the image of their killers. The private keys of the wallets that control these NFTs have been destroyed, so no one has control of these NFTs.
We envision a system in which artists can make art in the most authentic, experimental way possible.
The creation of this art has value in and of itself, and its meaning and cultural significance are directly captured into the value of the token. This means that artists can make art that is deeply personal or controversial without the commercial impositions and self-censorship that come from catering to markets or cultural institutions. Since the DADA token accrues value as the network grows and more people find it valuable, art could accrue value without being commodified or financialized.
Perhaps this is better explained with an analogy to the Black Lives Matter movement. BLM is a global decentralized network with massive network effects that have proven to have unquantifiable value. The message “Black Lives Matter” became viral and spawned unprecedented protests worldwide, and even more unprecedented, the seeds for actual legal reforms against police brutality in the United States.
Now imagine if this global community which is deeply invested in the moral and ethical values of the movement was coordinated through a BLM token. The more people that would join the movement, the more value its token would accrue, and the exponential growth of the network could create a critical mass for the movement to fund itself and become self-sustaining. While the community could still power the economy by making donations or selling BLM merchandising, the real value would be in the size of the network and people’s interactions which are expressed in the value of the token. Since the entire community is the stakeholder, and the organization is decentralized, it can collectively decide to distribute resources towards the social justice causes that the movement espouses, amplifying its impact exponentially.
The same can be imagined for DADA’s worldwide creative community, governed by social norms, in which people contribute and collaborate motivated by intrinsic rewards. It is now possible to imagine millions of people around the world freely making impactful art without any external constraints. Since DADA is a means of communicating visually, in DADA’s Invisible Economy exchanging value through digital artworks becomes a form of expression in itself.
In DADA’s Invisible Economy art is the currency, and DADA itself is a work of art made by artists, technologists, and art lovers around the world.
This art adds value to the network without having to be transacted. For the first time in history, we can think about art accruing value beyond its commodification, financialization, and institutionalization. We can think about artists not having to depend on donations and grants, or holding multiple jobs, leaving no time for them to be the artists they are. It is now possible for artists to make art at scale independently of the market, and for this art to have and grow in value without having to be marketed. It is now possible for artists to live off their art without feeling the pressure to conform to the whims of the market. Imagine a global art movement as revolutionary, vital, and meaningful as Dadaism but on a much grander scale, empowered by artistic freedom and by information networks in a creative economy in which the beauty of art, its social impact, and cultural significance continuously evolve, grow, and create wealth, all held within the DADA token.
This paper is a blueprint of our vision for a new paradigm for artists and for art in which art is liberated from its exclusive and unapproachable domain and the system thrives by more people making, having access, and appreciating art. Implementing this vision and launching the DADA token will require a lot of experimentation and the involvement and feedback of our community at large. But it is a solid step in the direction of finally cracking the problem of the starving artist.
We have proven that we have made a meaningful difference in the lives of our artists by creating a space where they are free to draw, collaborate, find community, and be valued by new friends and appreciated. But we have also made a difference in economic terms. Artists like María García in Venezuela, who works at a car wash, has made more than 10,000 drawings in DADA, has met friends from all over the world, and was the subject of a show at CADAF. The income from sales of some of her drawings has helped her survive the economic crisis in Venezuela. With a guaranteed basic income Maria’s economic problems would be solved.
The artists who play at DADA are happier when making art and making friends, finding community, and finding validation from their peers and art lovers alike. They have created unquantifiable beauty and value for DADA and this is the way in which we give back to them and to the world.
DADA is Living Art.
We are deeply grateful to Lenara Verle, Michael Albert, and Primavera De Filippi for sharing their knowledge and for their conversation.