NFT’s as metamodern art form. Or, why NFT’s are way more interesting than they seem.

NFTs are a divisive subject. They currently divide the world population into four. The vast majority of people who don’t care or have never even heard of NFT’s, a very small percentage who think NFT’s are revolutionizing the art world, another very small percentage who think NFT’s are pointless and wasteful, and an extremely small percentage of artists who are exploring this new artistic frontier. New art has always been divisive (Impressionism, Cubism, etc.). And the scale of the division about NFT’s is itself extremely interesting, and one that is only possible because of the modern information communication technologies like Twitter. It is no longer possible to separate art and technology, either as an artist, a collector, or a viewer. Technology is an unavoidable, undeniable aspect of creating and experiencing art. NFT’s are part of that, for better or worse.

The uninteresting side of NFT’s

NFT’s mean lots of different things to lots of different people, and tendency of those in either of the small populations mentioned above is to always defend their position. Fine. Uninteresting, but fine. So before we get into the real art of NFT’s, let’s quickly cover the uninteresting (from an artistic perspective) mainstream aspects; commercialisation, motivation and aesthetics, for those two small percentages.

The commercialisation of works of art through the use of blockchain technology plays out in the same way as any market economy. It’s subject to the same underlying principles with the few rich getting richer and the majority poor getting poorer. That’s the same no matter what technology underpins the market. NFT’s as a means to buy, trade and demonstrate ownership of works of art/fairly-mundane-imagery-with-lots-of-hype-associated-with-it doesn’t and cannot change that.

The motivations for buying art, whether at an auction house or on an NFT marketplace, haven’t changed either. It continues to be about status (owning art) and money (investing in art) whether bidding on a Monet painting or Bored Ape jpg. This also will not change because of new technology.

The aesthetics of mainstream collectible NFTs have already reached a dominant design pattern. They are used as profile pictures to indicate identity with a certain group of others, often referencing other cultural aesthetics such as comic books or computer games, and often visually unique within a given set of parameters. Whether this aesthetic is your aesthetic isn’t really the point. If you like a certain aesthetic and enjoy looking at that kind of art, you can do so with or without NFT’s.

This side of NFT’s, the mainstream as it were, is where most of the attention goes, but it is far less interesting than the creative and artistic exploration that they provide for artists.

NFT as a metamodern art form

NFT’s provide the perfect expression of a metamodern art form and subject of artistic exploration. Not just each individual NFT recorded on a blockchain, but NFT’s as a subject, a form, a cultural artifact, as a metamodern artistic sensibility that…

… oscillates between a modern enthusiasm and a postmodern irony, between hope and melancholy, between naiveté and knowingness, empathy and apathy, unity and plurality, totality and fragmentation, purity and ambiguity.

-Vermeulen and van den Akker.

The division of opinion that NFT’s create is in itself a postmodern stance, but for metamodern artists it becomes an expression of oscillation. The role NFT’s play in the cultural zeitgeist swings from extreme to extreme depending on who you talk to. The NFT isn’t the art, the art is the NFT. Art and technology cannot be separated and so for this art, technology provides form and function, context and content, subject and situation.

Even mainstream NFT artwork has already demonstrated a cultural stake in many of Greg Dember’s metamoden methods:

Hyper-self-reflexivity – the idea that people’s identities are constructed quite self-consciously through a narrative lens. NFT’s as status symbol and profile picture demonstrate that knowing identity construction done both unironically and connectively. As unique images, these NFT profile pictures reference the individuality of the owner, whilst at the same claiming their belonging to a group of holders of similar images and in reinforcing their self-claimed identity as early adopters of the trend.

Double-framing – the temporary trapping of the viewer between an outer frame of the “real world” and an inner frame of the narrative of the artwork. The viewer is in a space where they are able to engage unironically with the hype and of the “NFT world” whilst still remaining grounded in the reality of the realisation that NFT’s are purely virtual. This double-framing of the opinions those two small percentages held in opposition of each other is particularly of interest to artists, because it creates a space where both can exist together and boundaries can be explored through double-framing.

Constructive Pastiche – the potentially constructive juxtaposing of seemingly disparate elements, from historically separated genres and/or cultures. The jpg’s we see in mainstream NFT art often combines disparate elements from various cultural and historic reference points. Intentionally or not, they create a space for cultural iconography that doesn’t fit into it’s originating culture or history but instead combines to become a different experience.

Oscillation – a way of engaging two oppositional factors without them cancelling each other out, nor landing in the average zone between them. In fact never landing, always moving. Art that explores any kind of emerging technology such as NFT’s could never land on a single position for the landscape shifts too quickly and suddenly.

Perhaps the confusion and division around NFT’s comes from looking at this most metamodern art form from a modernist or postmodernist perspective.

Some exploration of onchain art

My own exploration into the constantly oscillating world of onchain art has been via stiles, of all things. My work constructively pastiches genres – British landscape art, conceptual art, art/life movement – and oscillates between the physical and digital worlds. It tries to explore the relationship between, and understand a world made up of, all of these things, and usually through decidedly uncultural objects.

Before stiles, there were other works of a similar theme. #FloorsIveWalkedOn created abstract patterns through photographs of floors I had walked on. This work explored presence and place, bridging the physical place and the lasting presence in the digital world. This work isn’t on the blockchain, it exists only on Instagram. At the time, that was enough. Had I been interested in displaying art in the physical world I might have printed lino floor coverings of all the floors I had walked on for others to walk on. But instead my work went the other way, becoming more virtual. collects images of stiles from the British landscape into a unique collection of unique objects. Stiles are one of the few objects left in the modern world that are hand-made by different people all across the country but following a similar design pattern. Each stile is unique. And they are gradually disappearing form the British countryside. To photograph stiles is one way to preserve them in virtual form. To create a token on the blockchain that represents the photo of the stile creates an even more virtual, more abstract, preservation of a stile. And doing so asks questions. Is uniqueness tied to physical form? How much of a real object is lost when it becomes a digital photo or a string of numbers? What happens when there are no more of those real objects left in the real world and they only exist in virtual form? What effect does it have on our culture to digitise everything from the real world?

NFT’s are more than jpgs on the blockchain. They open up an entirely new cultural space for artists to explore. NFT’s are, at once, the form, subject, context and environment of art, through which artists can explore themes around ownership, the physical and digital worlds, the hype of new technology, and so many more. So, the small percentages can continue to argue from their mainstream positions, and meanwhile the artists will explore the breadth and depth of the virtual, blockchain and NFT landscapes.

Weeknotes #273

Photo of the week:

Moon rise over Exmoor

This week I did:

Bringing together the solutions and the solvers

Two focuses at work this week; expanding the team and how young people can provide documentary evidence for things like address or right to work in the UK.

For the type of work we’re doing we use an in-sourcing approach. This gives us the flexibility to bring people into the team with the skill sets we need at the time we need them. For me, the interesting challenge is the knowledge transfer to all these people. What do they need to know, and what don’t they need to know? How much detail? What can they see that we’ve missed so far? How can I make a year’s worth of thinking feel like a coherent body of information and insight?

The logic of providing documentary evidence goes something like this: We need you to provide documents that prove your name, date of birth, address, right to work in the UK, etc. If you can provide a document that gives us three of those then we only need one more document for the fourth thing, but if the document only gives us two then we need to get the other two from one or two other documents. Codifying all the option for the different documents so that we’re only collecting what we need and giving the young person the most flexibility for how they provide that is what I’ve been working through with other teams to get to a solution that works for everyone.

Non-fungible stiles

I started a collection of NFT stiles on OpenSea and wrote a bit about how NFTs are conceptual art about the ownership of art and the concept of ownership, and how art is the best means for exploring such ambiguous questions. I have thirty NFT stiles so far but intend to build up the collection to the four hundred and one I have at the moment and for it to continue to grow as I find more stiles out there in the real world and connect them to the digital world.

And I thought about:

Ends vs means

There’s a line in The Team That Managed Itself that goes something like, “Service groups worship process, business teams worship results” It got me thinking about ends and means and whether that why the two groups of people, judging success in fundamentally and often deeply implicit ways, always seem difficult to align? One cares more about how the results are achieved, what process is followed, how faithfully followed it is. The other is more concerned about the outcomes that are reached. I wonder if there is a way to get the two points of view to align or whether they can only ever be mutually exclusive?

Autonomous teams are anarchists at heart

I don’t think we can understand how autonomous teams operate at their best unless we understand that they are fundamentally anarchistic. Teams that manage to remove top-down centralised governance of themselves and


I go on about how our mental models and ability to communicate complicated things is limited by our ability to draw in two dimensions. Illustrating the change between two states is no different. We usually show the starting state, the expected end state, and a straight arrow joining the two. We don’t tend to communicate the messy, blurry in-between states.

And read this week:

The team that managed itself

I’ve been reading Christina Wodtke’s The team that managed itself. I think I’m enjoying reading a book from start to finish, something I haven’t done in quite a while, but I’m also not sure I quite ‘get it’ yet. Anyway, I know it’s fictional but the picture it paints about what product managers do in the game industry is really interesting to compare to what product managers do in the charity sector. I had some similar comparative thoughts about Trilly Chatterjee’s post about what product managers do in public health, which I’ll write up some time.

Claim Your Audience

The episode of the Forever employable podcast with Nir Eyal, the author of Hooked, talks about building and owning your audience. I have ethics considerations around the whole building an audience thing and how pervasive it is in the modern creator economy. I’m not suggesting the corporate world is any more ethical but at least it’s more transparent in treating people like customers. Anyway, regardless of that, I thought it was an interesting interview, especially the part about developing domain expertise.


I found this tweet from Chelsea Troy quite interesting. Not because it’s about buses, I’m not that much of a nerd, but because of what it says about understanding problems and what the pattern of solutions look like. If the problem is about how to move people from one place to another, presumably within quite a limited geographic area, in eco-friendly way, then the solution always looks like grouping people together to move them. We can discount counter-solutions, i.e., not moving people, because they don’t fit our understanding and definition of the problem (which is why that part is so important). And we can discount the politics and economics of implementing the solution because that’s a different problem to solve and shouldn’t sway what the best solution to the original problem looks like.

My growth area this week:

Questioning communication

I’ve been questioning how I communicate quite a bit this week. There have been a few times where I’ve tried to be specific about my request without being prescriptive about the output, but then what I received back wasn’t what I needed or thought I had asked for.

Non-fungible Stiles


Why would anyone want NFT stiles? Same reason anyone would want to create the greatest collection of stiles on the internet. Just because.

Well… actually, that’s not entirely true. There’s a bit more to it than that. I’m interested in how the physical world and digital world meet (did you see the #FloorsIveWalkedOn), so creating an entirely digital collection of things that aren’t connected in the real world is my kind of conceptual art. And stiles are one of the few unique (and manufactured) items in our physical world, whereas most things are mass produced, so extending that uniqueness into a tokenised version of the object seems like the obvious step to connect the physical to the digital.


You need three things to create NFTs: a crypto wallet like MetaMask, a cryptogoods marketplace like OpenSea, and some artwork that is unique and collectible. Luckily for me, I’ve been creating the greatest collection of stiles anywhere on the internet for a few years now so I’ve all the amazing artwork I need. Connect your cryptowallet to your marketplace account, add your artwork to the marketplace and you have your very own NFTs. Once the NFTs are set up you can then add a price and begin selling them. Of course, selling them requires marketing, usually in the form of creating hype within a small niche of interested people.


I’m not really interested in NFTs for making money, or even for the technology, of which there are lots of different opinions. I think NFTs are an interesting thought experiment, conceptual art about art about ownership, and of course, in my mind at least, an even more virtual part of the digital/physical relationship between things. With NFTs you can claim ownership of an entirely arbitrary record that has a completely invented relationship to the digital object that is a unique in it’s own right and way virtual representation of a physical object that no one ‘owns’ in any real sense. If that seems ridiculous, think about how ownership of anything, from a house to an apple, is any different. It isn’t. We might have a piece of paper (a receipt) that represents the exchange of money, which has no inherent value only that which as a society we agree to pretend it does, for the physical object of the apple. If you don’t eat the apple, it rots and eventually disappears, but the money you paid remains fixed even as the value of the apple change to you (a rotten apple is less valuable to you than a fresh apple).

Trying to explore these ideas through other lens such as economics, is very difficult because everything is made up. It’s just ideas and concepts, and yet people treat economics as if it has some reality about it, probably because we’re so embedded in it. That’s art is a better way of looking at this and things like this. It allows for ambiguities and paradoxes that very few ways of thinking accept so easily.

Weeknotes #264

This week I did:

Solutions principles

I’ve been working with lots of stakeholders to get a deeper understanding of all of their problems and looking for commonalities to create principles and models for solutions. One example is four different teams who all need to use the data our product collects but for different things. The solution model provides a way to think about the data sets together and how making a change in one place affects other processes elsewhere. I really enjoy getting into these kinds of complex modelling problems and abstracting them to simple principles.

Charity innovation model

I’m onto the theory building stage of my dissertation and fours weeks away from the submission deadline. I’m developing a theoretical model that describes how charities approach innovation by placing them in a matrix of incremental to radical and organisational to social innovation.

Top-down or bottom-up?

I wrote some of my thoughts about top-down and bottom-up planning and the use of the right reasoning behind both of them.

Hitting bottom

I made it to Land’s End, so now I’m heading up the other side of the country. And I started adding the places I visit to a map, not in any way to track progress because it’s not meant to be a mission but just so I can look back on it later.


I’ve collected 333 stiles on But what makes it the greatest collection of styles on the internet? Is it quantity, the sheer number of stiles? Or is it the gleeful grin I have on my face as I run up to a newly found stile with my phone out to take the photo? I’ll let you decide.

And this week thought about:

How far upstream should charities operate?

It seems to me that most charities act on problems at a down-stream point closest to the impact, and not many take solutions up-steam to prevent the problem form happening. The reasons why are multiple and complex, but maybe social innovation offers some thoughts about whether charities should be involved in creating bigger solutions to wicked problems.

Value Chain Mapping

John Cutler tweeted about ‘the product’ being the value chain that takes the value an organisation produces out into the world for the customer. There is a truism that clear deep thinking seems obvious when you look back at it, and this idea is one of those, but it slightly blew my mind. It seems like an important part of the definition of a product that isn’t talked about much. I also watched Introduction to Value Chain Mapping by Simon Wardley to help me think through a bit about how value chain mapping applies to product strategy.

So far I’ve been thinking about how it helps to identify the uniqueness of the product which helps to understand the UPS, competitive advantage and how to make decisions. For example, the unique thing about our courses is how much support we offer for those doing the courses, so that’s quite far to the left in the Genesis section (which I also interpret as unique/specialist). Because each of our courses is different we need to develop a website that can handle the variation rather than use an off-the-shelf elearning product, so that goes somewhere in the middle-to-left. We don’t need unique website hosting so that goes over to the right.

I’ve also been thinking about where to add intangible parts of the value chain such as the skills and knowledge of the people who manage the training to help us answer questions like, ‘if we improve the skills and knowledge of the trainers, how much will that improve the quality of the product?’.

Big things beat little things

FIST (Fast, Inexpensive, Simple, Tiny) is used to “describe a particular pattern of decision making that supports rapid, low-cost innovation“, but it is often counter to enterprise IT strategies that see the benefits in only having a few large systems to maintain. Maybe Agile is an attempt to move the FIST characteristics out of the technology and into the processes, and so realise the benefits of working quickly with small things within enterprise technology stacks and large organisation strategies. Will it work? Probably not. Big things beat little things.

On the theme of big and small, Paul Taylor wrote a post about how we usually think (especially in organisations) that change has to be a big thing but maybe we underestimate the small changes.

Responsibility, given and taken

When you put litter in the bin you are making it someone else’s responsibility, but someone who has chosen to take on that responsibility. If you throw litter on the ground you are abdicating responsibility for it, and it still becomes someone else’s responsibility but there’s less of a socially acceptable agreement there, but it’s not that different. Responsibility is the currency that defines how people operate in groups. It isn’t the distribution of labour, or power and authority. Giving, taking, accepting, refusing responsibility, these are the interesting dynamics of groups.

My growth area this week:

Not causing chaos

This week I’ve been trying to be more conscious in how I frame information and communicate about uncertain things in ways that don’t cause chaos and confusion. It’s difficult to know how well I’m doing, but just not communicating isn’t an option so at least trying to do so intentionally is hopefully a little better.

Weeknotes #249

This week I:

Digital safety

Work this week has mostly been about digital safeguarding, getting the platform set up and tested, and double checking that all the processes are in place. Next week I’ll be training our new moderation team and getting the platform live so young people can join.

I’ve also been working on a few other projects where I’ve tried to be bring more focus on knowing what we want to achieve and how we’re going measure the objectives. It’s too easy to get into conversations about doing things without a shared understanding about why we’re doing it or how we’ll know if we’ve succeeded. We should always start with what problem we’re trying to solve, I hope I can bring some robustness in that kind of thinking.

Danger close, kids

Teenagers and trains don’t mix. I saw some standing on train tracks, waiting for trains to approach and then running off the tracks. I called 999, the police came and went off looking for the kids. I carried on with my walk thinking about the behaviours of teenagers, teenage boys trying to impress teenage girls, how we judge risk and whether the risk is worth it.

Slow start

Got the first response to my survey about the effects of lockdown on people who live in vans. There aren’t many true vanlifers, and they aren’t easy to find, and even when you’ve found them they aren’t that interested in taking part in research. Turns out that maybe vanlifers mostly just want to be left alone.


I reached 250 stiles in my collection. I’ve thought about creating an NFT for all the images but I don’t know yet if you can do that with a collection of images that are added to over time. Something to learn more about.

Collecting innovators

I’ve been looking for people who work in innovation in charities to be research subjects for my dissertation. But it made me wonder what percentage of the UK charity workforce works in innovation, and how that compares to other sectors.

Thought about:

Thinking about thinking

I’ve been thinking about how much I think and how connected it is to how much space I feel like I have in my world. The past couple of weeks have been really busy at work, I’m back out on the road, and I’ve started studying a module on Blockchain for my masters, and I’m doing a lot of reading and organising for my dissertation. All this knowledge logistics doesn’t leave any room for exploring ideas. I miss that.

Show, don’t tell

‘Show, don’t tell’, the phrase that prompts so many ‘show and tells’ and demos of work in progress, seems to have an obvious purpose. People understand better when they see something rather than when that same thing is explained to them. But it also goes deeper. There is a qualitative difference between telling someone things and doing things that demonstrate it. They are understood in different ways. Being told requires an intellectual understanding and acceptance whereas being shown reaches some other mode of understanding, somehow un-verbal. I think I see similar differences in lots of things, where one side is tangible, measurable, explainable, and the other is, well… the opposite. Job titles and descriptions vs. all the skills, experience, opinions and ideas someone has, is a good example. We use the measurable as a proxy for the immeasurable.

Less coordination

I listened to a podcast with a guy who worked at Amazon, about his book called ‘Work backwards’, and which he talks about some of the management techniques they use at Amazon. They referred to a memo Jeff Bezos wrote about how to reorganise the company for growth, and that it relied on teams communicating via API’s rather than meetings. I’ve been thinking about coordination and alignment challenges, and how from the Amazon point-of-view, the answer lies in making teams independent and decoupled so that they don’t have to coordinate people’s time in order to pass information effectively. The usual approach is that as organisations increase in complexity, usually through increasing the number of people, that more coordination is required, but I’m wondering about ways of working that don’t require lots of coordination and how teams can serve as platforms for other teams.

Why weeknote

Weeknotes are part of a reflective practice for increasing agility of thinking. They are about writing about some of the things that happened over the last seven days, and reflecting on what you thought, felt and learned. Weeknotes offer a time-boxed regularity and predictability to how much stuff there is to reflect on, and shorter cycles and faster feedback increases agility of thinking.

And read:

Agnostic Agile principles

I read the Agnostic Agile principles. I like principles (defined as: “a fundamental truth or proposition that serves as the foundation for a system of belief or behaviour or for a chain of reasoning.” in case you’re wondering like I was). I refer, almost daily, to the Modern Agile principles, which are less explanatory that the Agnostic Agile principles, but not necessarily better or worse. Agile seems pretty unique in how much consideration is put into it’s principles (does digital marketing have principles, or brick-laying?) which is interesting in itself.

What is civil society?

The Law Family Commission on Civil Society published a report describe what they mean when they talk about civil society. There are lots of interesting things to consider in the report, including the blurred boundaries between civil space and personal space (the example of an online group discussing a local litter issue seems clearly civil to me, but anyway), the definitions of civil space (which range from whether individuals are creating social value to participating in spaces of shared value). The concept of civil society is particularly important in these times of society trying to figure out how the individual relates to the collective, but although much of that discussion might take place in the civic space we must also include the State and the Market in those discussions (the Basecamp thing is part of the same discussion; its about whether a company exists for the benefit of individuals (shareholders in Friedman’s point-of-view) or for the benefit of the collective (employees and wider society)).

Power and ethics in tech

Cat Swetel’s post about power and ethics in tech is amazing. She talks about power-over, power-with and power-to, about how even some actions which looks like they come from a good place can be done in a power-over way, and how people who approach with a power-over mindset struggle to see that power-with or power-to “is an effort to grow the total amount of power available rather than a grab for a greater percentage of a fixed power pool.” Understanding power is a fundamental skill in the modern world.

4 Modes of Thinking

A colleague mentioned Adam Grant’s work on the Preacher, Prosecutor, Politician, and Scientist modes of thinking so I read a bit about it. He talks about how we view our’s and others opinions, whether we assume we’re right or whether we go looking for information to prove or disapprove a hypothesis. I guess there’s a value subtext suggesting that we should try to be more like scientists but of course in practice all modes are required in different situations, so maybe the self awareness comes in knowing which mode to choose.

What is the true nature of reality?

In case you were wondering…

Wisdom to end the week:

I make a journey, you make a journey, we make a journey together

Jerry, Sphere