Is Bitcoin the Greatest Piece of Protest Art Ever Created?

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  • Bitcoin critics like to argue that Bitcoin is not backed by anything and therefore has no value
  • This puts it potentially in the same category as art, which also has little tangible value
  • Was Satoshi Nakamoto not just a technical genius but in fact a sublime protest artist?

For those who can’t or refuse to understand it, Bitcoin is seen as an empty commodity, backed by nothing and therefore worth nothing. However, as the art world shows, just because an asset isn’t backed by anything tangible that doesn’t mean it is worthless. And in fact, when you look closely at the similarities between Bitcoin and art, it’s clear that we could have been looking at Bitcoin all wrong for all these years. Rather than a currency, could it be that Bitcoin is, in fact, one of the greatest pieces of anti-establishment protest art ever created?

An Unlikely Alliance

Bitcoin critics like to argue that Bitcoin is not ‘backed’ by anything and so should have little to no real world value. They argue that it is printed out of thin air and because it has nothing tangible to back up the price, it therefore holds no intrinsic value. Fiat currencies hold value, they say, because they are backed by the governments who issue them and all the apparatus of the state, regardless of how flimsy this argument is in reality.

If we were to take this position that Bitcoin is genuinely backed by nothing and can indeed be created out of thin air then, yes, as an asset that is designed to hold value it should have none. And yet it is selling, at the time of writing, for $36,000 per coin. This means it must have value to someone somewhere for some reason.

There is another commodity that shares this value proposition – art. A piece of art can be created for next to nothing (certainly less than it costs to mine a bitcoin) and is, as far as Bitcoin critics would have it, backed by nothing more than the materials used in the composition. Yet works of art famously sell for millions of dollars, sometimes hundreds of millions, even though their intrinsic value is low.

Value Is in the Eye of the Beholder

If the argument goes that an object, physical or digital, is only worth something if it is ‘backed’ by another asset that holds intrinsic value of some sort, why do we pay for art? As long as artists exist there will be works of art, creating their pieces ‘out of thin air’ and yet attaching a monetary value to them. The same goes for writers, musicians, developers, or anyone in the creative field – they are forever creating new works with nothing ‘backing’ them, and yet they change hands for more money than they cost to make.

The truth is of course that a piece of art, like any commodity, is worth what someone is willing to pay for it. The reason some works of art change hands for hundreds of millions of dollars while others don’t is often down to a number of completely intangible factors – the reputation of the artist, the age of the work, whether there is a story behind the piece, and many more besides. These are all subjective arguments, with hype and FOMO also playing a part in the sale of a piece, especially at auction. Does that sound familiar?

Satoshi Nakamoto – the Greatest Protest Artist Ever?

It could be argued then that Bitcoin is in fact a piece of protest art created by Satoshi Nakamoto – an ever-evolving anti-establishment work that uses the internet and perhaps even the population at large as its canvas. Protest art has a rich history, from Marcel Duchamp to Banksy, and we know that the drive behind Bitcoin’s creation, and the various versions of digital cash that came before it, was intended as a jab in the eye to the establishment, a sign that Nakamoto, for one, had had enough with the way governments ran the economy.

And then we have the artist himself. Protest artists, especially in authoritarian countries like China and Russia, are often loath to publicly out themselves for obvious reasons, but even in more democratic countries there are still those who, especially before they are public figures, keep their identity hidden.

In 2008 Bitcoin was a brand new concept that, as Nakamoto himself noted months later, could have been brought to a grinding halt if it had run before it walked. He advocated a slow burn approach in order to allow the cryptocurrency to become more embedded and therefore harder to shut down once the authorities inevitably cottoned on.

Once he considered the project to be strong enough to survive without him, in December 2010, Nakamoto stepped away and hasn’t been heard of since, managing to retain his anonymity all the while. This could well be the most incredible feat of all, and is indicative of an artist who wants to let the work speak for itself. While some pretenders to the Bitcoin crown squabble about the rights to their fortunes, Nakamoto has left his 1 million untouched since he mined it in 2009. Is this the artist showing the world that, despite its external concept, his Bitcoin project wasn’t about money at all?

Bitcoin Could Easily be Considered Art

Looking at it from this perspective, Bitcoin shares a great many similarities with works of protest art, from the rationale behind its creation to the fact that it is perceived in different ways by different people – some use it as viable alternative to inflating fiat currency, some see it as a speculative vehicle to make money, and others see it as a way to operate out of the gaze of governments. This is something all good art aspires to achieve, to have their piece mean something different to different people.

Throw in the allegation that Bitcoin is not backed by anything tangible and is only worth what someone else is willing to pay for it and you have the very definition of art, much more so than a currency.

Almost everyone in the cryptocurrency space accepts that Satoshi Nakamoto was a genius, but perhaps we have all missed a trick – perhaps Bitcoin wasn’t intended as a financial revolution at all.

Maybe Satoshi Nakamoto is, instead, the greatest protest artist of all time.