Imposter Syndrome and CryptoPunks

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Editorial is open for submissions: [email protected]

by Pindar Van Arman

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Shortly after joining SuperRare almost 3 years ago, I felt like an imposter. Even though there were only a dozen other artists, all the other art was purely digital. Mine on the other had were sort of digital, but not really…

I had a robot that used AI to paint with a brush on canvas. I then photographed the painting and minted the photo. I remember asking the founders if that fit within SuperRare’s vision. They were gracious enough to work with me and said photos were fine as long as I destroyed the painting. So that is what I did for a while. But it never felt completely right and I worried my photographed canvas didn’t fit in with the other digital art.

My early NFTs looked like this series, where I trained my robot’s handwritten GANs on 10,000 celebrity faces and waited to see what it painted.

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The imagery came from AI, but was not a purely digital. And in a community where everyone is obsessed with firsts, the only thing I could say I had done first on SuperRare was mint photographs. Not something special, and more of a work around than an innovation.

As well as being physical, the theme of my art did not fit into the zeitgeist. I was exploring artificial creativity through portraiture. On SuperRare, however. I noticed that the art most cherished by the community was the work that focused on crypto culture and the emerging decentralized art market. Led by @Hackatao, @Prometheus, and @Coldie, more and more artists were celebrating the fact that they didn’t need the traditional art world. Bitcoin and Ethereum symbols began to appear in works, artists began asking what CryptoArt was, and the community’s visionaries began to appear in portraits.

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I loved and followed all the CryptoArt and bought lots of it, but the themes did not fit into my personal vision. I was into Bitcoin and Ethereum for the concepts and ethos behind them, but they didn’t really cross over into my art.

One opportunity did arise early on. I got lots of requests to paint community celebrities like Vitalik. But I have always shied away from painting celebrities (crypto or otherwise) as it took focus away from the AI. A portrait with the likeness of Vitalik would be about Vitalik. I wanted the focus to be on my exploration of artificial creativity, not someone else’s fame.

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Unable to find a crypto based theme that worked for me, I resigned myself to just keep on doing what I was doing. Put my head down and kept on painting lots of portraits of my children, family, friends, robots, and anyone that would sit for a commission. In doing so I felt like a traditional artist trying to crash the CryptoArt party without bringing anything to it. I don’t mind sharing that this filled me with doubt and my feelings of being an imposter was always at the forefront. I often told myself I wasn’t a CryptoArtist, but instead just a traditional artist that accepted ETH.

But then in counter of these doubts I began to realize that:

1) I spend more on CryptoArt than on my house and car combined.

2) I have sold many tokens way too early – only to see them rise 100 fold in value within a year.

3) But perhaps most importantly, I LOVE CRYPTO CULTURE. Can’t get enough.

So upon this apotheosis I finally find myself “All-In”. And the way I have gone All-In is to take that old algorithm of mine, and repurpose it with a specifically crypto theme. Remembering that my earliest SuperRare tokens were based on a GAN trained with 10,000 celebrity faces, I went and retrained it on the 10,000 CryptoPunks, as they are the celebrities of this crypto world after all.

I figured it was either the dumbest idea I had ever had, or one of the greatest. Within a couple of days it was confirmed. It was completely stupid. So I excitedly showed the following piece to a couple of friends. They all told me to mint and some even made offers. I ended up selling it to yeahyeah without an auction, however, because I am deeply indebted to him for a conversation that kicked off the idea… and we both thought it looked like his punk8116.

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yeahyeah’s piece was my first AI portrait to reference the scene and everything going on in it. The most exciting part about it for me, is I found a way to do it without compromising. It is an AI portrait generated by one of my handwritten GANs and then painted by my robot with feedback loops. This is what I have been doing for years.

https://superrare.co/artwork-v2/ai-imagined-cryptopunk-2-22195
AI Imagined CryptoPunk #2
Edition 1 of 1
Self-portrait as my CryptoPunk. Three years ago, my first works on SuperRare were portraits painted by my robot after training on 10,000 celebrity faces. This work used the exact handwritten algorithm except that it trained on the 10,000 CryptoPunks with results weighted to favor traits of mine, punk#3421.

For the second piece of this series, I painted an AI imagined portrait that was heavily weighted to resemble my CryptoPunk at the time. Wasn’t sure what to call it. Thought maybe “Portrait of the Artist as a CryptoPunk” or simply “Self-Portrait”. In the end I settled on “AI Imagined CryptoPunk #2” because as much as I loved it, I was bitten by the CryptoPunk bug. I needed to get one with more resemblance.

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The third CryptoPortrait will be completed sometime between now and May, my three year anniversary on SuperRare. I am planning on it being of the following punk (#8707) which I just traded up for. I couldn’t believe my luck. This literally looks like a low-res a photo of me. I showed it to my 2 year old, and he said “Daddy?”

Every year I do at least one self-portrait. Last year’s had a mask in acknowledgement of COVID, and this year it will be of me as a CryptoPunk. This is in realization that however it felt in the beginning, I was never an imposter to CryptoArt, but to the contrary was one of the first artists in the world to embrace it.

The second in this series is currently available exclusively on SuperRare.

AI Imagined CryptoPunk #2
Edition 1 of 1
Self-portrait as my CryptoPunk. Three years ago, my first works on SuperRare were portraits painted by my robot after training on 10,000 celebrity faces. This work used the exact handwritten algorithm except that it trained on the 10,000 CryptoPunks with results weighted to favor traits of mine, punk#3421.

As just mentioned, the third will be arriving in the next month or two. However, I will probably only do a handful. Furthermore, while this is a series, I have no plans to sell editions in the foreseeable future. My tokens are closely coupled to their physical twin, the robot painted canvases. It is up to the winning bidder if they want me to send them the physical canvas, destroy it, or keep it in my collection of abandoned paintings. I like to keep my artwork authentically SuperRare.

Author profile
Pindar Van Arman

Pindar Van Arman is an AI Artist exploring the intersection of human and artificial creativity. Winner of the Robot Art Prize in 2018, his robots use a broad array of deep learning, generative algorithms, and feedback loops to bring his AI creations into the material world one brush stroke at a time.

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