Not From Trees (NFTs)

Money was never natural. As a concept. But at least one could take comfort in the fact that it did, technically, come from the earth. It had ties to nature even if prompting people to do unnatural things. “Money doesn’t grow on trees,” her father would always tell her. “But actually, it does,” she would snap back (even if it was, more accurately, grown in fields), and end up getting the amount she wanted from him to go to the mall (still “a thing” in LA County long after its final heyday in the mid-00s).

Surprisingly, it was at the mall that Monica was struck with the inspiration to pursue the arts. It was those jewelry kiosks that attracted her. That made her realize there was an entire industry out there that one could take advantage of via their “crafts.” This was the word her mother always used to demean Monica’s creative tendencies. Whether she was making a collage or a necklace, Mrs. Undine would balk, “I’m not taking you to the store again this week to spend any more money on crafts. We need that money for food.” 

When her mother left the room, Mr. Undine would quietly slip Monica a twenty-dollar bill and tell her to get whatever she needed. She always did, and then Mrs. Undine would accuse her of foul play when she saw the elaborate works of art scattered on the floor of Monica’s room. “Are you hooking behind our backs or something? I wouldn’t put it past you.” 

Mrs. Undine’s overt jealousy of her own daughter, Monica felt, was a result of how her mother had no pursuits or talent herself. And worse still, Mrs. Undine believed she was in some kind of competition with Monica for Mr. Undine’s affections. Monica didn’t see it that way, but was well-aware that if it was a competition, she would most definitely win. But that gave her no comfort. What might have was the love of her mother. Or later, the consolation that art could not be fundamentally altered by currency. Manipulated currency. Tainted and perverted from paper to NFTs. An abbreviation she started to derisively call “Not From Trees.” Not from nature. But even before money was paper, it was more substantial still. Once upon a time, it had derived directly from the ground, via gold and silver coins that added literal and metaphorical weight to what money signified: a job well done. Work that earned you something real to reflect that your “product”–your “output”–was also real.

The push to sell one’s art “through” this medium (or whatever one wanted to say it was) seemed gradual at first. And then it was a fucking tsunami. It appeared as though everywhere she turned, the only way artists were making money was by shilling their work as an NFT. She couldn’t make any sense of it, and she was pretty sure no one else could either. This all served as yet further proof that she had come of age in the wrong era. At just twenty-three years old and freshly graduated from CalArts, she thought, even though the internet had ruined everything—most especially art—the one thing it couldn’t ruin was the tangibility of art. That, no matter what, a person would always want to buy art they could touch (not that you’re supposed to, but one catches the drift). For the aliveness of something when it is available to behold in the flesh remains truly nonpareil. Or so Monica believed. 

As she watched all of her fellow graduates jump on the NFT gravy train, she began to despise the art world more and more—and, by default, art itself. Which was already degraded to begin with when the notion of selling originals as prints to the philistine masses was popularized by museums everywhere. If you have a copy of an NFT, it’s basically the same thing. Only one fool can lay claim to “owning” the original download though. It was all so fucking stupid and meaningless, like life itself, Monica supposed. 

She pondered on the NFT phenomenon as a foil for existence as she walked the path through the Arlington Garden in Pasadena, where she sometimes felt obliged to amble in for the purposes of “centering herself.” In other words, trying to calm the fuck down about her rage against humanity. But today, she could not. She seemed to be grappling with the epiphany—that many true artists are forced to reconcile with sooner or later—that art and commerce cannot commingle without losing something fundamental about art itself: purity. The impurity of the NFTs was getting to her in a way it wasn’t with anyone else she knew. 

Sitting down on a bench, she plucked a leaf from a branch and stared at it, mesmerized. Once upon a time, this was the building block for currency. Now just a “blockchain.” Blocking further the original intent of artistic integrity—evermore one of the greatest oxymorons in the lexicon. She caressed the leaf as though it was some kind of talisman, some lost relic from an underground city that no one would ever understand again. And they likely never would. Decades from now, the quaint notion of “paper money” might even be laughably incongruous to the subsequent generations. Marveling at how any human could have ever wondered at the spread of disease with money changing hands so tactilely, so literally. But didn’t they see? It was what made something real. Made payment for one’s work concrete, therefore more meaningful.

Ah Christ, why was she still hung up on finding meaning? Least of all in the thing that had stripped human life of all its true worth: money. Maybe the issue at hand wasn’t how money was perceived, but that it still existed at all as a means to slave-drive people into doing things they wouldn’t otherwise be doing. Like creating “commodifiable” art. Well, she wasn’t going to do it anymore. Not even bother trying. She would never be “that kind” of “artist.” In fact, maybe Yoko Ono was the only example of someone who could seamlessly meld the two worlds of art and capitalism. With Yoko in mind, she proceeded to disrobe and writhe around in the dirt as a few errant passersby watched her in shock.

She stopped for a moment to stare up at the sky, the place some believed we were descended from. In a moment of unbridled carnality, she devoured the leaf she had been holding. A symbolic admission that paper money was dead.

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