It’s easy to be pessimistic. Especially at the moment. If you go by feeds, timelines and the ceaseless ticker tape of the rolling news you would think that the apocalypse is imminent. And there are a lot of things wrong with the world and a lot of things that need to change. These last eighteen months or so have been a great revealer. But of course, you know all of this already. And besides, what good does it do, merely pointing to the deficiencies of the present?
I am not interested in either preaching to the choir or stating the obvious. I am not interested in pointing a finger at the iniquities of the present and offering a cheap take in the hope of garnering some internet points. There are others far more qualified for that, and there are others who have far stronger stomachs for rolling around in such muck.
See, what I am interested in is the future, and more specifically the future of art, because art and culture are upstream from that dirty world of politics. Creativity, art, fun, hope, camaraderie, building: these are the things that change the world. Civilisations begin with poetry and end with polemics. We need art and beauty, not screeds and scapegoating.
Fortunately, I believe that the future of art is—or certainly could be—very rosy indeed.
The Soaring Twenties Reconsidered
In October 2020 I wrote an essay called the Soaring Twenties where I laid out an optimistic appraisal of the coming decade. It was well received (possibly because people were feeling extremely deprived of non-delusional positivity regarding the future) but the world soon after doubled down on its madness. It seemed like I was wrong. It seemed like I had been naive. I thought so too for a while, but then I realised that rather than being wrong I had simply been early.
I had intuited the rumblings of something important underground- like an oil find that is waiting to be struck—but I didn’t know how it would manifest. Well now I have a better idea.
When comparing the upcoming Soaring Twenties to the Roaring Twenties of a century ago I said that ‘today, our Paris is the Internet’. This is probably the truest thing I have ever said.
The internet—specifically the decentralised internet of blockchains and crypto currencies and NFTs—is where the art that will usher in the Soaring Twenties is being made. People are making art with absolute freedom and uninhibited joyful weirdness, and more importantly people are making money by doing so. Good money. The kind of money that brings enthusiasm and hope and streams of onlookers and keen investors.
There are scenes, cliques, round tables, collaborations, hungry fans. People feel like they are a part of something, like they are in on the ground floor. The monoculture with all of its dull Marvels is now an absolute irrelevancy to the bright young things.
Since the internet began the idea that tech would allow artists and fans to both connect directly and grow together has hung in the air like a dream, like a prophecy. Well, we are almost there. That future is now.
I need to take a moment to clarify some things. If you have read much of my past work, you will know that I am seemingly anti-tech for the most part. I try to limit my screen time, I read physical books and spin physical records, my phone is a Nokia 3310. I moan about social media and its addictive and corporate ways with some regularity.
And yet here I am now, breathlessly enthusing on Web 3.0 and what it means for art.
The problem was never technology per se, the problem was not a mere knee-jerk hatred of newness out of a misguided nostalgic impulse. No, the problem was always the top-down, obtrusive, disappointing, privacy violating, dopamine hijacking nature of the Silicon Valley big boys. The problem was how one set of grasping monocultural dictators were usurped by a hoody and jeans wearing new breed who turned out to be just as blinkered, rapacious and uncaring as the cigar chomping moguls of yore.
The problem wasn’t the tech itself, the problem was how the tech was used to silo and hoodwink us. Well that doesn’t have to be the case anymore. The revolution will not be centralised.
The new world is a patchwork age, as Paul Publisher tells us. It is decentralised, private, exclusive, tight-knit, and the new world tech is built around such things. The monoculture simply cannot survive in such an ecosystem, whether people would want it to or not (and why would they, honestly?).
Fame in the old world sense is a prison. Why do you think so many celebrities go off the rails? And why would anyone court it, if they can make money, interact with their audience directly and as equals, and remain anonymous the whole time?
Why would you sign onerous contracts, give percentages to agents and labels, and let gatekeepers control what your artwork looks like, when your book/record/creation is released and how the marketing campaign is going to be rolled out?
Why would you cede control when you can simply have an audience invest in you, back you, support you as you all grow together with complete authenticity and complete creative control?
Like I said, people want to be a part of something. And people want to make money—people want the satisfaction of money in their pocket (or rather, ETH in their wallet) as well as the satisfaction in knowing that they bet on the right horse. That their taste and intuition and vision were vindicated by time and by the market. ‘I told you so’ is a powerful driver, as is FOMO, as is mimetic desire.
Audiences have never been able to tap into this like they can now. This is a Web 3.0 development. This is the engine of the Soaring Twenties.
Rather than feeling hipster disappointment when an artist who you follows since their first underground release blows up, you will feel joy. Because you are a stakeholder in the productions of that creator’s artistry. The value—both culturally and financially—has been captured and distributed between the artist themselves and their friends, fans and co-conspirators. Everyone grows together.
And like a stakeholder you have a say. The artist is no longer starving to death in a garret, nor are they an ivory tower abstraction, detached from both the people and the zeitgeist. They are someone who you can reach, who you can joke around with and give feedback to and talk with. Build your own patchwork of artists you believe in and whose work you enjoy and soon you will be surrounded by art that actually speaks to you and your lived experience.
It cuts both ways. As the audience gain value (in every sense), the artist will also feel valued. They will have the backing—both financially and emotionally—to take risks, to take on bolder projects, to build things. They will have the buffer to weather the failures that come with actually being on the edge and pushing their medium and their quest for mastery forward. Everyone wins, apart from the old world gatekeepers who have been winning at the expense of the artists and the consumers for far too long as it is.
This is what we have been waiting for for as long as we can remember. With the sheer amount of energy, creativity and will that this will unlock the Soaring Twenties are inevitable for those who choose to put some skin in the game and participate.
The future is bright. You just have to look to the beacons and away from the dark ocean of the collapsing top-down world.
Until next time,
Find Tom on Twitter.