Big players are staking their claims in the ‘decentralised’ off world landscape that is being referred to as The Metaverse. What is it? What does it have to do with art? What does it matter?
As an artist, I see a real relevance for the metaverse, for both creators and collectors. But for it to have a relevance in the art world, it first has to have a relevance in the real world and I think I can see clearly how it will.
The reasons why the metaverse model will work are there for us all to see in the precedents created by social media. I’ve worked in photography forever and nothing has impacted my industry, or indeed the world, as heavily as the photographic gargantuan that is Instagram.
IG crystallised the extraordinary impact that photography and visual images can have on all of us. How many people do you know who have experienced some form of anxiety over Facebook or Instagram? “Am I doing it right?…I should post more…I only got x likes!?…” But beyond that, it showed us that individual human beings can gain popularity, fame, power and wealth by presenting a perfected, rehearsed, curated, ‘stylised’ version’ of themselves. Bring in Whatsapp and Facebook Messenger and that idealised version of ourselves can build interactive relationships with other ‘curated’ versions of people.
Who amongst us hasn’t formed a relationship, of some sort, with a person we have never actually met. Maybe you feel this hasn’t applied to you, but there are people who have built emotional and financially supportive relationships online. We have seen that our need for connection can be sated simply by having someone ‘online’ who appears to care.
So, how does the lessons from Social Media apply to the metaverse?
Well, if someone is willing to make a real world human commitment to a ‘person’ based on conversations on Whatsapp, how much more powerful will it be when we can appear to be sitting with that person and interacting in real time? Maybe it ‘feels’ wrong to contemplate these things, but the evidence suggests that if we can become drawn to digitally manipulated pictures depicting a ‘version’ of someone on Instagram, we could get seriously distracted by a walking, talking, sitting, smiling version of them who laughed at our jokes and winked now and again.
So, if we accept that meeting in the metaverse could be a thing, we then raise the question of where do we meet. Currently, metaverse spaces, and travelling through them is like trying to take a really jerky stroll through a minecraft space. You spend a lot of time bumping into virtual walls. It really is not a fun experience. But it’s coming. There are music festivals in the metaverse, fashion shows in the metaverse. Right now, these off world events amount to a room full of digitally rendered characters randomly walking in a very fast, not very human way, in straight lines, while a video plays on a wall showing interesting people doing something interesting in the real world. Those digitally rendered characters bumping into each other are actually people who have logged in from the real world to attend this event. Enter these rooms with a cynical mindset and you’ll roll your eyes and leave. But… Let’s fast forward a few years and ramp up the computer processing speed. Let’s think of Lara Croft first edition verses the later Lara Croft collectors edition and recognise that, like a Nintendo, the graphics are gonna get better.
Still not convinced? Well how about your favourite artist invites you to the opening of their new art show, or your favourite musician invites you to a pre-release, acoustic rendition of their new album: In the metaverse! Small events where you and a select group can approach that artist and ask them questions while they lead you round a metaverse gallery. A room where you can speak to the musician and they can tell you, just you, why this song or this lyric is important to them. Yes you’ll be sitting in your lounge wearing a headset device and headphones on your head but heh, doesn’t the metaverse begin to sound a little more interesting?
And let’s do online dating metaverse style. Right now, you’ve gotta go to some bar, order a drink and hope the person across from you is worth the new haircut. Then you’ve gotta take that smelly Uber back home questioning your existance. Do I need to outline how much easier, simpler, safer, quicker it could be to go to someone’s Avatar house? Or a Metaverse members only clubhouse? If you visit their personal space in the Metaverse you’ll see their metaverse furniture, see their metaverse pet, metaverse hairstyle and metaverse dress sense.
Ok so I’ve sold you the metaverse…maybe, but where does it apply to art? Well as I said, if we recognise there will be benefits to meeting in the metaverse, the question of where we meet becomes a thing. In these metaverse spaces where we want to use the environment to express something about ourselves, our metaverse ‘Art’ collection has a role to play. Behind your Avatar, there will be walls. Blank walls? I don’t think so. On those walls, just like at home, will be the art you collect. The art that says who you are, your cultural tastes and values will be right there on your metaverse walls.
This is why I’m currently building my own ‘virtual’ gallery. The gallery images in this post are from version one of that gallery. A space where my collectors can browse work in a way that contextualises it as a three dimensional piece. Rather than just something to scroll past. Each piece will feature an audio file of me explaining the work, the creative process behind it, my motivations etc. My signed work is only available in very small edition sizes, often as 1 of 1 pieces (all of my NFT sales are currently 1 of 1), and my work often sells out. Using this technology I can allow 1 of 1 collectors to actually show the pieces they own and allow others to enjoy them. My gallery is not going to threaten the dominance of the world’s leading art players, but already it is presenting possibilities that will allow me to build connection and shared reward with my collectors. And yes, as soon as I am able to, I’ll be inviting collectors to join me in that virtual gallery to ask questions and hear the stories behind the images :)
The Metaverse is coming. Let’s hope that those of us who can, will use it as a tool for good. That we will build connections with each other and not slip into the negative turmoil brought on by our optimistic embrace of social media.