A mint pass is a relatively new sub-category of NFT that gives its owner the right, but not the obligation, to participate in a series of “drops” or new releases of upcoming collections belonging to a given brand’s ecosystem.
The now-canonical and market-leading example of a mint pass is Kevin Rose’s Proof Collective NFT – which launched in December 2021 to exceedingly little fanfare – and has since given birth to a score of imitators and aspirantsii in this new genre of non-art NFT.iii Was Proof really the first significant case study, and if so, by what margin? There’s actually an argument to be made that BAYC walked so Proof could run, but by scrapping the extraneous wrapper of “art”, KRO & co. unlocked a whole new category by reducing “utility” to its barest essence.iv Y’see, mint passes might at first blush seem like an unfortunate departure from the Art-Blocks–XCOPY–CryptoPunks-driven foundations of the Crypto Art movement, but they’re actually quite a conceptually beautiful idea. Why? Because the implicit connection to aesthetic art that’s sold by collections such as Cool Cats, Doodles, Azuki, or of course Bored Ape Yacht Club are a bit like the famous modded AK47, they’re trying to do too much and are losing their focus. Contrariwise, mint passes are able to trade very explicitly on the promise of future “utility” while showing nothing more than a boring and identical-across-the-collection jpeg of a credit card. With this simple yet masterful stroke of sameness – voila! – tension gone!v
This probably explains why no one really understood what the fuck a Proof Collective NFT even was six months ago. It was a bit like a Tesla: a new thing that needed to be understood on its own terms. But now, just like that, the “art doesn’t need utility” “debate” that’s sucked up far too much oxygen in this space suddenly dissolves into an almost quaint remembrance, creating substantially more breathing room for the “art appreciation” crew and the “ooh shiny thing” crew to mark their respective territories.vi
Perhaps unsurprisingly, mint passes have analogues in the physical world too, we call them uniforms! Contra the art and expression of fashion, uniforms create belonging, identity, community, and utility. The uniforms can be the blue and black of police, the neon green of firefighters, the Patagonia vests of Wall Street, the grey cashmere hoodies of Silicon Valley, or the tuxedos and ballgowns of the red carpet. Regardless of their shape and form, they have very explicit rules, limitations, and practical functions. As such, saying that we don’t like the look of a given uniform would really be to miss the point; likewise with NFT mint passes!
With this in mind, don’t you think it would be a lot simpler for everyone if we looked at BAYC as somewhat animatedvii proto-mint passes instead of fugly ass art? I mean, the collection is 99% floors already, so why don’t we round up and call them just them all the same thing? That’s how most newcomers look at them anyways!
There will always be those of us who appreciate a little more individuality, distinguishing ourselves from the pack at the cost of relatively more social exclusion,viii but for the rest of us just looking to get along and make a little money while we’re at it, mint passes are really the new “it” thing.
Thank KRO, and Yuga, for that.
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- If you’re new here, hello and welcome! Also, since there’s a decent chance you’re too lazy/busy/uninterested in clicking on the million hyperlinks relentlessly and unforgivingly wormholing you into the next blog post and the next and the next, we’ll save you the new tab and quote a bit from The Edge of Art by Joline Blais and Jon Ippolito, published in 2006 by Thames & Hudson:
Art may not guard against computer viruses, but it can target viral memes – from the presumption that hackers are always bad, to the assumption that only violent computer games sell; from the rush to spread Western economic and democratic institutions forcibly to the rest of the world, to the failure to recognize human wealth when it can’t be measured in terms of profit or power.
No single culture can eradicate such pervasive memes, any more than a single antibiotic can prevent the evolution of resistant microbes. Neither can we protect society from technology’s influence with barricades of fear and isolation. Internet filters like NetNanny or America On Line promise a reassuring way for some populations to surf the Internet, but they are the cultural equivalent of vaccination – the introduction into the bloodstream of a part or all of a weakened pathogen in the hopes of passing on immunity in advance of infection. the benefits of such exposure have come under increasing doubt in recent years, with some researchers arguing that vaccines confer only an attenuated immunity more fleeting than the deep one conferred by full exposure. Vaccines, so this argument goes, mortgage the survival of the species to safeguard the survival of individuals.
The best art does the opposite. It challenges local phenomena or institutions – as Caravaggio provoked the Church, as the Radical Software Group mocked the FBI, as (TM)ark queered the New York Stock Exchange – in order to safeguard human society as as whole. More importantly, each culture must come up with its own definitions of art’s functions to ensure its adaptability and survival. Only in a diversity of approaches can collective culture emulate the strongest features of the human immune system. The best way to counter viral threats may not be to exchange attenuated versions of them but to exchange antibodies. This radical-sounding procedure is practiced by millions of nursing mothers every day, and although biologists understand little about the process, they concur that antibodies acquired through breastfeeding confer stronger immunity, at least in the short term, than any other technique besides actual encounter with the foreign agent. Likewise, we propose that good art presents not attenuated memes but raw antibodies; it seeks not to protect from but expose to. If nursing ensures survival by transferring somatic memory, art ensures survival by transferring cultural memory. In doing so, it allows us to encounter what is dangerous and alien in the context of play, and to remember our encounters. Without cultural support for such risk-taking, art ceases to function. For, like any cutting edge, the edge of art traces a fine line between life and death. […]
Although the best art prepares society for unforeseen challenges, most viewers aren’t even aware they are being conditioned. As Marshall McLuhan put it: “If men were able to be convinced that art is precise advance knowledge of how to cope with the psychic and social consequences of the next technology, would they all become artists? Or would they begin a careful translation of new art forms into social navigation charts? I am curious to know what would happen if art were suddenly seen for what it is, namely, exact information of how to rearrange one’s psyche in order to anticipate the next blow from our own extended faculties.” As McLuhan intimated, cell phones, genetic engineering, and global trade networks set in motion new cascades of perceptual and philosophical quandaries. At a time of accelerated technological progress, art that tackles such quandaries before they are clearly articulated offers an essential prophylactic against future shock.
- In case you’re curious in others, Justin Aversano’s Quantum Key LA is probably the second-most-interesting example in this new category with the rest as also-rans, at least at this early stage of development. ↩
- NFTs are a much broader category than digital art. People are finally starting to not just clue into this reality, but see it work in practice. Exciting times! ↩
- H/T to Blake for watering the seeds of this thought! ↩
- In case you’re too young, or just not sufficiently Canadian to get that reference…
- In case you hadn’t noticed, these territories mostly fall along generational lines, with the older Millenials and Gen Xers falling into the “art” camp because we’re already comfy, wise, and well-traveled; and the younger Millennials and Gen Zers falling into the “shiny” camp because they mostly just want a lottery ticket to fast track to where the old dudes are financially (of course so that they can bag more broads – our biological drive is ruthless like that!). Thankfully mint passes are invented now so we can all get along a little better. Maybe? ↩
- I obviously don’t think that BAYC are beautiful in the way the Venus de Milo is beautiful, but at least “designed” in the way a toothpick or a door wedge is designed. Y’know, LIKE OTHER UTILITARIAN OBJECTS. Why should this conversation be any more complicated than that? Are we all really that bored and starved for attention? ↩
- This past weekend at the D/6 Lounge at the JW Marriott in Vancouver, I was turned away from the club for wearing “unacceptable” attire. Not for the first time in my life did this happen, but on this particular occasion I couldn’t help but laugh. Y’see, it wasn’t that I was wearing an Ed Hardy shirt – the once-upon-a-time symbol of gang-bangers everywhere – but rather it was my ASIC-knock-off sneakers that kept me out. Not that the bouncer looked down at my shoes not being “true” ASICs, it’s that they weren’t dressy enough! Too “street” monsieur! But what am I going to do, tell the bouncer that these aren’t just any ASIC-knock-offs but are in fact the very de rigeuer, brilliantly crafted Balenciaga Runner Trainers in the super fun Multicolour colourway, that Demna is a living legend and the most important voice in the post-Virgil world, and that these exaggerated hunks of plastic and fabric cost waaaayyyyy too many multiples of what what his plain pleather Aldos did? Of course not! That’s super not cool! The cool thing to do was take the exclusion on the chin and walk 50 ft across the rooftop patio to The Victor steakhouse and have a nightcap there instead. I mean, if I don’t want to be a member of a club that would have me, I definitely don’t want to be a member of any club that wouldn’t. Such are the costs and trade-offs of making a statement and exploring the edges of social acceptability.
There’s just a fundamental tension between excellence and conformance, y’know?