It was a matter of synchronicity. Just as I happened to rediscover tubes of my Grumbacher water paint, brushes, and paper, the New York Times ran a story about “NFTs” (non-fungible tokens). I rarely buy newspapers, but Singsong, my canary, needed fresh paper for lining the bottom of his cage. I knew the cheapest paper was in value packs and other advertisements, but Singsong is an aristocrat and deserves something better, so I splurged on a copy of the New York Times. And there it was!
A prominent artist had painted several thousand simple pictures and offered them online for a fixed price. He gave his ardent collectors the choice of having the real painting or the virtual representation, known as an NFT (Non-Fungible Token). To his surprise and mine, many buyers preferred the virtual version and purchased them at the same price as the physical version. After all, the virtual one required no physical space for hanging, special storage to maintain its quality, or concern about ownership and security. These, it turns out, are some of the many benefits of NFTs and the underlying record-keeping system, called blockchain technology.
The most well-known blockchain for such transactions is the Ethereum network, which uses the cryptocurrency called “Ether”. In overly simplified terms, every transaction is recorded and distributed across many computers spread around the world, without relying on a concentrated set of institutions. In many ways, this began to seem like the common person’s answer to rising distrust of large Wall Street banks after the great financial crisis and the transactions of corrupt politicians around the world.
I was astounded by this revelation. Why would collectors pay for nothing when they could, for the same price, have something? It turned all my thoughts about buying and selling upside down. Esoteric Science, by Rudolf Steiner, helped provide some insights. I had carefully studied all the phases of that evolutionary story and accepted that our universe really could, in its very beginning, be physically nothing and reach the present stage of being physically something. I had rejected the claim by some scientists that no beginning is possible without a physical something; that matter is eternal, and the real God is empirical science.
In other words, the idea of going from nothing physical, only virtual, to almost fully physical seemed like a creditable imagination of evolution. Is this clumsy early experimentation with virtuality an instance of humanity’s struggle to become involved in what the world will be like in the next evolutionary phase of the earth? Will what we create virtually today become the new physical reality of the very distant future? Why should we stand by while others are shaping and qualitatively inputting their ideas, feelings, and creative activity into the next world in which we will have to live?
This article is the story of one man’s journey into an unknown world in which cryptocurrency is considered a new reality and digital belongings are considered equally valuable, and in some cases even more valuable, than the physical counterpart.
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There are multitudes of intelligent people who shift in and out of virtuality at will, like miners disappearing into a virtual mine and re-emerging miraculously with real gold. Is cyberspace the 21st century version of that other gold rush in early America?
As a student of Anthroposophy, how should I position myself in this electric, tumultuous current of activity? It may be real, or it may be fake. It could be permanent or temporary… a fad. It might be a manipulated plot by a few or the start of a social movement enhancing the freedom and well-being of the proverbial “everyman!”
One person I consulted described the crypto world as the new “wild, wild west.” Currencies appear and disappear in the twinkling of an eye. Virtual platforms, exchanges, and wallets grow and die even faster. For some time during Covid, blockchains seemed to multiply at a greater rate than rodents. Fortunes are made and lost, just like the Ol’ West of our country. Laws and regulatory controls are lagging far behind in effectiveness, and some traders seem to like it that way. In virtuality, we evidently have found a non-place where we make the customs as we move along.
Those connected to the world of Anthroposophy need to be at the table in some way, even if greatly outnumbered. For once, those of us devoted in service to the spirit of our time should be involved earlier rather than later, when everything is set in concrete. Once we as humans know something, we can’t un-know it. Besides, what would we do today if the printing press had never been developed?
Almost a year ago, I began to look for kindred spirits who were unafraid to tangle with the unknown and who knew more about this world than I did. Gradually, as though somewhat out of the hidden crevices of Anthroposophy, they emerged one at a time. Then there were eight of us meeting virtually in different constellations every Sunday in a virtual room on Zoom.
Looking back, I am in awe of the amazing individualities who climbed in and out of the project with supportive ideas, examples, options, and suggestions. While I was trying to get safely into virtuality, they were urging, “Jump, you’ve got to jump. You’ll never know anything until you’re in because it all changes when you are in it. Stop planning! Stop knowing it all! Stop wanting to be safe! It will all be different anyway by the time you get there.”
They were all so far ahead of me, already so much more at home in virtuality. I know now that I was a drag, struggling to understand and learn what to do with all I was hearing and learning from them.
A few decisions fell into place relatively early. The focus for this project would be on the fruits of Anthroposophical endeavors. NFTs were not the place to offer philosophy, idealism, or complex thoughts, although some soundbites might be useful. Western culture tends toward “show-me-ism.” A US corporate executive claimed that we generally value “whatever works!” It seemed appropriate, therefore, to focus on the fruits of Anthroposophy; eventually the Waldorf school culture, as the source of this highly practical and deeply spiritual fountain of artistic output, seemed like a model worthy of imitating. The Holiday Fairs of many schools rose as a kind of inspirational model for the project.
Another insight was that NFTs are not what many of us define as art; they are often imitations of art, like posters or postcards. We would be commercializing imitations, not the art itself, in a similar way to how music, movies, books, and poetry are now overwhelmingly consumed through their digital forms. This proved to be an important distinction for the purists among us.
Then arose the many questions around profit and money, and very strongly the issue of risk. Motives gradually crystallized into clarity. This project was to bring about something intended to provide long-term support for the Anthroposophical movement with special attention to Waldorf education. The verb “support” was viewed as being many-faceted to include financial but also increased visibility, enhanced cultural understanding, and true inclusivity.
The dream was to create a virtual community of stores or fairs that featured NFT’s minted by anyone within the Anthroposophical movement for viewing, donating, selling, and sharing potential profit with the charitable entities selected by the parties involved in each transaction. That was the dream. Spirit Matters, a charitable organization created by RSF Social Finance to support Anthroposophical initiative, provided fiscal sponsorship for the initial research phase. It also was able to receive some welcome gifts on behalf of the group to experiment with various platforms and approaches.
While this research was going on, stories began to surface of problems in paradise. Many of the crypto creatives were locating themselves in countries which had lenient laws and/or weak enforcement. Many countries did not accept the currencies within their banking system; China even banned one of the best-known currencies. Several banks did not allow crypto currency transactions. The SEC was investigating Binance for money laundering, among other things. Some active traders of cryptocurrencies had lost their savings, lost their currencies, their wallets, or the ultra-important private key to their wallet. The New York Times ran a story of how one trader claimed losses of 1.2 million.
What began as excitement around the technology and its capabilities had turned into a game, fueled by greed, to make a quick profit, but as happens in all cycles, stories about major losses due to over-leveraging and technological errors became more frequent and gradually overshadowed the stories of miraculous profits in short-term gains from NFTs and virtual currency transactions.
I decided I was not in a position to build a custom-made Community of Fairs from scratch. As many experienced during the rise of the internet age, some companies that were leaders in the 2000s are no longer relevant today (think Yahoo or AOL). While I am sure this technology is here to stay, I don’t know which providers will prevail.
The value I could add to the anthroposophical community would be my high-level thinking about the potential of this technology for the future of our communities. This was at first a big let down for me. The ambitious idea of creating a Community of Fairs would have to be left to a future generation, perhaps to someone inspired by this article.
I also wanted to use myself as a guinea pig. Employing the most widely known and seemingly most legitimate technologies, I would attempt to become the test case for students to come. The result of my experiment can be found on Opensea, if you search for “AnthroArts.”
What follows is my experiment, which I hope can serve as just one of many examples of the power of this technology and provide a glimpse into the potential opportunity. Above all, I hope this can inspire others to take this project far beyond where I did, limited by my capabilities.
RETREAT TO ADVANCE
In order to move forward with this experiment, I made several decisions.
- If I was going to do anything, it would have to be at my own risk. This was a major turning point in the project. We no longer met as a group. “We” now had become clearly “I.” It seems Cyberspace also has a threshold. Only the singular I is permitted to cross. It also has guardians at the threshold, making it difficult for any group to make it across.
- Since the chief risks were financial, and I was mainly interested in supporting not-for-profit initiatives, I would be largely giving away any potential profits. This could provide some moral protection in action.
- The recipients of such gifts could receive the gift in a cryptocurrency and could immediately exchange it for dollars. As an example, suppose one of my NFTs sold at an auction online. As the artist and creator of the NFT, I would receive into my wallet the full price in ETHERs minus 2.5% deducted as a fee for the platform involved and any gas fees from the Ethereum network. I would have the option to keep it in my wallet or cash it out in US currency. The virtual gain or loss would have tax implications, as would the sale of any good or service.
- Whoever purchased my NFT could list it again in the virtual marketplace. Should it sell again, the seller would receive into his/her wallet whatever the offer was that he/she accepted minus 2.5% for the platform, gas fees from the blockchain, and now 10% to the artist creator of the NFT as part of the royalty smart contract that had been attached to this one NFT for its lifetime.
How rapidly the rules change! Overnight, Opensea added the option to share this 10% royalty with three additional parties at the time of its creation. The creator of the NFT could now share his/her 10% royalty with a Waldorf school, the Anthroposophical Society, AWSNA, any entity with a wallet.
- Suppose this NFT were never to sell or sold for very little even over a long period of time. It still might be valuable to the movement. It might attract a great deal of attention. People in far-off lands might see it and become touched by its values or intentions. It might lead to inquiries of all kinds, to the schools, the Society, biodynamic farms, doctors, etc. Any of the initiatives might become more visible under a good banner!
- What I was doing could be done by anyone interested in sharing something of their creative talents with the world. A key, though, would be to avoid the natural hunger for profits and wealth. We would need to be clear about our motives and whom we ended up serving.
I understand this is all new territory for many of us. We have a natural fear of being so involved with the computer, especially on the internet. The good potential within it is that we will develop new strength and new capacities to deal with the challenges that inevitably come with technology. The world of cryptocurrency is even further out on the limb.
My best guess? It is not going away. It will not only be here to stay, but it will also eventually overwhelm everything we now know as Western culture.
WHAT I HAVE DONE
I discovered that I needed youth to guide me. Whatever I did was only possible with the help of my son, granddaughter, and grandson. My granddaughter and son helped me to conceptualize the idea and were my sounding boards. My grandson plunged fearlessly into photoshop and the crypto world to pull us both through. Old people can share old knowledge. Young people have new knowledge to share. Reality has so much operational wisdom in it.
My grandson and I decided to use Opensea as a platform to list the NFTs, and we opted for Ethereum as the operational platform and Coinbase as the Exchange and Wallet.
So, on July 6, 2022, three months after my 90th birthday, I opened an account with Coinbase and held an empty wallet for my eventual use. At the same time, I established AnthroArts as a gallery or collection on OpenSea, using Ethereum to build into it whatever we could of our intentions. The collection can be found by typing https://opensea.io/collection/anthroarts into any web browser.
I was painting and writing all along to maintain my sanity while all of this was transpiring and was more than ready to create an NFT or, as they say in crypto land, mint an NFT. I wanted these paintings to challenge the soul of the viewer. The eyes are naturally important. Feelings are also a kind of organ for perceiving a deeper, more inward landscape. I suspect we pay too little attention to what our feelings reveal to us if they are cultivated to perceive more. I want these NFTs to open the eyes of the soul and reveal its secret content to us. Colors are more the medium of the soul, even though they are also visible to the outer eyes of the body.
I had the option with the titles and the NFT description to guide anyone viewing the collection in the hope that they would view these NFTs also with eyes of the soul. I decided I would launch the entire collection with paintings and language that would leave no doubt about what and why I was doing this. The logo expresses that clearly and the content under the DESCRIPTION button for each unique NFT is meant to strengthen the viewer’s ability to that end. I also had the option to elaborate further on my description under the “UNLOCKABLE CONTENT” button, which only becomes viewable to someone who has purchased the NFT.
MINTING AN NFT
Almost any file can be made into an NFT. Mine are mostly visual PNG files. One can mint an NFT of a song, bits of music, a short story told by a teacher, a teacher’s blackboard drawing, a chart, a therapeutic exercise, etc. All are potential material for an NFT. Most inhabitants of crypto-land tend to surf rapidly through the landscape. In that sense, my paintings demand more pondering, suggesting a more meditative approach to visual experience.
I ended up finding an incredible photographic studio called Image Flow. I was delighted with their professional and sensitive staff. For $35 each, they photographed all my twelve paintings, cropped and made slight adjustments to each one to satisfy my artistic feelings and thoughts. My grandson made an investment in Photoshop and became an overnight expert in making further adjustments, such as different border colors, color intensity, and balance.
Creating an NFT never improves the quality of the material, so it is very prudent to make sure that the material you start out with is of the highest possible quality. OpenSea’s maximum file size for minting is 100 megabytes. Since we had a choice, we selected PNG files rather than the more common JPG. With Photoshop, we narrowed each image down to 275 pixels per square inch with saturation set between 10 and 25 for most images. That seemed to do the trick for my multicolored, delicate, four-sided images. As you can see for yourself if you click on the link provided above, the quality of the colors is not bad and we managed an acceptable degree of intensity and contrast without losing the overall harmony of color. Even zooming in on segments reveals interesting forms, movements, and interactions.
There were other options, but I decided for the present to make every NFT one-of-a-kind. Each painting is enclosed in a border of a different color. Even though there are twelve “Born Again” NFTs, they each have a uniquely colored border. Using Photoshop, my grandson and I took an exact sample color from the painting for the border color so the borders mimic the colors in the painting. This meant that we were synching physical world qualities with the digital to create one-of-a-kind NFTs.
At this writing, there are about 80 unique NFTs in this collection of NFTs called AnthroArts. They are for viewing, buying, re-selling, and giving. I intend to give many to such Anthroposophical initiatives as have a wallet to receive them.
My sincerest wish is that these NFTs collaborate with that spirit in whose imagination we now live. May they circulate around the globe and be a kind of spiritual antidote or talisman for all of us who will no doubt have to endure the consequences of so much overwhelming technology in the future. May they help to strengthen our inner forces to meet this outer challenge. I leave the determination as to whether what I have done is good or evil to the judgement of the spirit of our time, who we know is less interested in our good intentions than in the results of our deeds. He is a being of consequence, the living spirit of tough love.