No, it’s not okay to physically assault NFT critics (even if it’s just a slap)

If fans of non-fungible art can’t take criticism, it might be because their fandom has less to do with art and more to do with Number Go Up


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Pulitzer-prize winning art critic Jerry Saltz has had it with NFTs.

He tweeted last Monday:

“I have found that about 90% of the people in the space of AI and NFT infatically [sic] DO NOT want criticism. Their reactions to it prove it. I tried. And tried. One guy hit me on my wrist when I walked past him on Hudson Street & West 12th St. And yelled something about NFTs. Sigh.”

If you don’t know who Saltz is, he’s been the senior art critic at New York Magazine since 2006. But just because he’s a mainstream critic in the traditional art world doesn’t mean that he’s predisposed to hate all crypto art — in fact, in a Vulture piece from 2021, he writes, “Someday, there may be a Francis Bacon of NFTs.” 

“Perhaps one day an NFT will cast curses, conjure Gods, watch over armies, or give us visions of Elysium. For now, most NFTs seem to have taken less time to make than they do to look at […] With NFTs my motto is what it always is: Art first; all else will follow.”

Saltz has also been quoted as saying that “anybody that rejects digital transmission of art is like a garage band that’s too pure to sign with a company.” And Saltz has even created and sold one pretty meta NFT collection himself, with the proceeds donated to charity. This puts Saltz in a rather exclusive category: real-world art critic who has also actively participated in the NFT creator economy.

Last week’s literal slap on the wrist was likely inspired by Saltz’ recent criticism of a large-scale AI artwork currently displayed in MOMA — while not an NFT, Unsupervised is a 24-foot tall screen with moving, abstract AI images inspired by MOMA’s collection.

Saltz called it a “half-million dollar screensaver.” The artist responded with “ChatGPT writes better than you.” Beeple made a mash-up of the two locked in a fictional battle. NFT collector and DJ 3LAU wrote “no one remembers a critic when they die.”

It’s important to underline that Saltz is clearly not a digital art skeptic. Instead, he’s someone who took his career in art criticism and turned his critical eye to this new medium of art. Sure, he criticizes a lot of what the NFT market currently is, but that’s what art critics are supposed to do — take new forms of art seriously, and critique them.

What artists, or even more weirdly, the superfans of a particular artistic movement, are not supposed to do is hit art critics on the arm in the streets of New York for writing honestly about digital art.

Cryptocurrency and the various niches that it has spawned has led to the creation of a very specific type of superfan. Say that you don’t like, for example, XRP on the internet, and you’ll be attacked by a group of people who literally go by the moniker “XRP Army.” Say that you aren’t a fan of the yen on the internet, and be greeted with silence. 

Case in point, I once referred to a dog-themed cryptocurrency project as having Ponzi-scheme-like qualities on a podcast and was bombarded with Twitter DMs, my favorite of which just said “and you dare to call yourself a woman!”

I’ll grant crypto superfans as having a slightly different perspective than most superfans. After all, the technology they stan is supposed to quite literally change the world for the better forever (and make them rich along the way).

NFT superfans don’t get the same pass. If fans of non-fungible art can’t take criticism, it might be because their fandom has less to do with art and more to do with Number Go Up.

Because as Saltz himself said, his job is to critique art, not critique the industry that created that art: 

“My job is to notice things & then say what I noticed. That’s it. We don’t have to agree. I want all artists to be successful. The good, the bad, and the very bad.”

So if you truly love NFTs, for whatever reason, but also want to legitimize an industry that has been embarrassed by cartoon apes and weird, and sometimes illegal, celebrity promotions, the next time you see a Pulitzer-prize-winning art critic who is a fan of NFTs on the street, keep your hands to yourself. 

No need to make your hate phygital.

I don’t care much about tech, I don’t care a whole lot about finance, either. I care about writing stories and watching weird things unfold. And that’s why I’ve ended up in crypto.

But because I’m missing that passion for what crypto and blockchain are all about — finance, tech, privacy, yadda yadda — I’m going to write instead about what I am actually interested in. Everything about crypto that has very little to do with crypto.

That’s what this column will be about. All the tangential stories that come out of the blockchain and crypto space, what I think about them, and how I navigate it all as a skeptical former Russian literature major.

It’s precisely my perch as an outsider that lets me do what I do: Opine on all sides of any crypto issue, no strings attached, no skin in the game.

If you want to talk crypto with me, let’s go off topic.


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