Category: The Arts
2 hours 9 minutes long, Lex is one of the very best interviewers/discussants in the sector. Here is the video, here is the audio. Plenty of new topics and avenues, including the political economy of Russia (note this was recorded before the massing of Russian forces on the Ukraine border). Lex’s tweet described it as follows:
Here’s my conversation with @tylercowen about economic growth, resisting conformity, the value of being weird, competition and capitalism, UFO sightings, contemporary art, best food in the world, and of course, love, death, and meaning.
Here is the audio, transcript, and video. As I mention in the beginning, Dana is the (only?) CWT guest who can answer all of my questions. Here is part of the summary:
Dana and Tyler discuss his latest book and more, including how he transformed several businesses as a corporate executive, why going to business school made him a better poet, the only two obscene topics left in American poetry, why narrative is necessary for coping with life’s hardships, how Virgil influenced Catholic traditions, what Augustus understood about the cultural power of art, the reasons most libretti are so bad, the optimism of the Beach Boys, the best art museum you’ve never heard of, the Jungianism of Star Trek, his favorite Tolstoy work, depictions of Catholicism in American pop culture, what he finds fascinating about Houellebecq, why we stopped building cathedrals, how he was able to effectively lead the National Endowment for the Arts, the aesthetic differences between him and his brother Ted, his advice for young people who want to cultivate their minds, and what he wants to learn next.
And here is one excerpt:
COWEN: Why is Olaf Stapledon an important writer?
GIOIA: It’s not a question I expected.
COWEN: How could you not expect that?
GIOIA: Well, first of all, I hope people know who Olaf Stapleton was. Tremendously influential, rather clumsy, visionary, early science fiction writer who wrote novels like Odd John and the First and Last Man. What Olaf Stapleton did was I think he was the first really great science fiction writer to think in absolutely cosmic terms, beyond human conceptions of time and space. That, essentially, created the mature science fiction sensibility. If you go even watch a show like Expanse now, it’s about Stapledonian concerns.
GIOIA: Michael Lind, the political writer, and historian, Stapledon is one of his formative writers. Star Maker is kind of an evolution of the Last and First Men. Odd John is kind of the odd, the first great mutant novel.
Definitely recommended. And I am very happy to recommend Dana’s latest book (and indeed all of his books) Studying with Miss Bishop: Memoirs from a Young Writer’s Life.
Superb NYTimes disquisition on a masterpiece of Indian miniature painting. The text, formatting, visuals, all beautifully done–better than any museum exhibit I can recall.
In addition to the subject matter this piece has a lot to say about online education and how news is becoming a winner take-most market. Note what Tyler and I said on endogenous fixed costs in our piece on online education in the AER and consider how many newspapers could put together a display of this quality.
Shaked and Sutton (1987) and Sutton (1998) show that when quality is primarily vertical, meaning that there is a measure of quality such that all consumers agree that higher quality is more preferred, then increased market size does not result in reduced concentration. Instead, as market size increases, firms invest more in quality, which endogenously increases economies of scale and maintains market concentration.
Along related lines, Berry and Waldfogel (2010) show that there are many more restaurants in larger than smaller cities, but even as city size increases by a factor of 10 there is no tendency for the number of newspapers to increase. Larger cities have more restaurants than smaller cities because economies of scale are limited and quality differs “horizontally,” according to taste (thus, larger cities have more diverse restaurants). Yet larger cities are served by roughly the same number of newspapers as smaller cities because quality is more vertical, most newspaper consumers want more coverage, better writers and more features.
Here is the audio, video, and transcript. Here is part of the summary:
She joined Tyler to discuss what caused the Bronze Age Collapse, how well we understand the level of ancient technologies, what archaeologists may learn from the discovery of more than a hundred coffins at the site of Saqqara, how far the Vikings really traveled, why conservation should be as much of a priority as excavation, the economics of looting networks, the inherently political nature of archaeology, Indiana Jones versus The Dig, her favorite contemporary bluegrass artists, the best archeological sites to visit around the world, the merits of tools like Google Earth and Lidar, the long list of skills needed to be a modern archeologist, which countries produce the best amateur space archeologists, and more.
Lots of talk about data issues and rights as well. Here is one excerpt:
COWEN: Here’s something that struck me studying your work. Give me your reaction. It seems to me your job is almost becoming impossible. You have to know stats. You have to know trigonometry. You have to know geometry. In your case, you need to know Egyptian Arabic, possibly some dialect, possibly some classical Arabic, maybe some other languages.
You have to know archaeology, right? You have to know history. You must have to know all kinds of physical techniques for unearthing materials without damaging them too much. You need to know about data storage, and I could go on, and on, and on.
Hasn’t your job evolved to the point where you’re almost . . . You need to know about technologies, right? For finding data from space — we talked about this before. That’s also not easy. Isn’t your job evolving to the point where, literally, no human can do it, and you’re the last in the line?
PARCAK: I am, I guess, jack of all trades, master of a few. But that’s not true either because I have to know the remote sensing programs. I have to know geographic information systems. I have to be up to date on international cultural heritage laws.
I think I’m not special by a long shot. Every archaeologist is a specialist. This archaeologist is a specialist in the pottery of this period of time, or does DNA, or excavates human remains — they’re bioarchaeologists — or they do computation. We all are specialists in a particular thing, but that’s really broad. My unsexy, more academic term is landscape archaeologist, so I’m interested in ancient human-environment interaction, which encompasses a lot of different fields and subfields. I’ve taken many courses in geology.
All of us who study Egyptology — we do a lot of training in art history because, of course, the iconography and the art and the objects that we’re finding. It takes a lot, but I would say most of the knowledge I’ve gotten is experiential. It’s from being in the field, I’ve visited hundreds of museums. I’ve spent countless hours in museum collections learning, touching objects.
Yeah, it’s a lot, but it’s also the field of archaeology. That’s why so many people really love it — because you get to touch on so many different areas. I would never, for example, consider myself a specialist in bioarchaeology. I know a tibia. When I find pitting on a skull, I know what that could potentially mean.
But also, I’m in a position now where I’m a dig director, so that means I’m in charge of a large group of humans, most of whom are far smarter, more capable than I am in whatever they’re doing. They’re specialists in pottery and bone, in rocks — project geologist — and conservation in art. We have project artists. We have specialists in excavation, and of course, there’s my very talented Egyptian team. They’re excavating. I’m probably a lot more of a manager now than I ever expected to be —
COWEN: And fundraiser perhaps, right?
One of my favorite CWTs in some time. And here is Sarah’s book Archaeology from Space: How the Future Shapes Our Past.
Winkelmann grew up in a small town in Wisconsin, and quickly gravitated to technology. His father, an electrical engineer, taught him how to program. The only art classes that he ever took were in his freshman year of high school. At around the same time, a friend introduced him to the electronic-music label Warp Records, and to bands like Aphex Twin, the stage name of Richard David James. “What can one person and a computer do?” Winkelmann said. “That has always been a really cool concept to me, because it’s the equalizer, in a way.”
Winkelmann went to Purdue University and entered its computer-science program, but he eventually found himself adrift. Programming, he said, was “boring as shit.” Instead, he shot narrative short films with his Webcam and learned digital design. Inspired by the video artist Chris Cunningham and the British studio the Designers Republic, he created loops of animated geometric shapes synched to his own electronic music. He posted the results online. In 2003, when he was twenty-two years old, he took the name Beeple, after an old Ewok-like stuffed animal. He now collects Beeples from eBay. While we were talking, he grabbed one from his desk and held it up to show me. When Winkelmann covered the furry toy’s eyes, it emitted a wild beeping sound in protest. The name seemed apt, he said, because a similar interplay of vision and sound animated his videos.
That is the topic of my latest Bloomberg column, here is one excerpt:
NFTs stand a reasonable chance of being an entirely new art form, and this may be the beginning of their long, noble and (yes) controversial history. The buyer of “Everydays,” an investor who goes by the name Metakovan, may well be remembered as the first patron of digital artists. That is a legacy you cannot buy for any sum in most other walks of life. You can become a kind of Medici of the blockchain.
Such a role is not for everybody. But this $69.3 million will probably not meaningfully detract from the private consumption of Metakovan, founder of a cryptocurrency fund called Metapurse, which invests in NFTs. No doubt he will still be able to buy a yacht and the world’s finest sushi.
Maybe NFTs will not endure, which is a risk for anyone playing a pioneering role in a new genre. That is why the price was not $200 million or more. In any case, this is a world in which Marcel Duchamp’s urinal sculpture still is exhibited in major museums, regarded by many critics as a masterpiece of the 20th century, and it sold at auction for $1.6 million in 2002. Canvases painted a single color, and other forms of abstract and conceptual art, remain a major part of recent art history and can sell for tens of millions.
The point is not to argue over what qualifies as “art.” It is simply that it is a mistake to assume that NFTs will fail in the art world.
Keep in mind that as the value of bitcoin and other crypto assets rises, more of the world’s billionaires will trace their wealth to crypto. It is unlikely that they are all looking to buy Rembrandts and Picassos.
With his purchase, Metakovan has now generated significant publicity for NFT artworks and boosted their value. His portfolio of NFTs is now probably worth much more, and in net terms he may well be wealthier than the day before he bought “Everydays.” He is also now known as an especially important collector of NFT art. Other artists and sellers may offer him their best works, hoping to be affiliated with a prestigious collection. He will be at the center of an information network about valuable NFTs. How is that for clever?
Again, it is not art but here is the NFT for the first post ever on Marginal Revolution, mentioned in the column as well. Here is a good Medium essay by the purchasers themselves, outlining their motives.
An artwork by Beeple which exists only as a digital file and was sold as a “nonfungible token” for a staggering $69.3 million at an online auction handled by Christie’s on Thursday was bought by an investor known only by a pseudonym and who paid for it with cryptocurrency, the auction house said Friday.
“It feel like I got a steal,” said the buyer, who goes by the pseudonym Metakovan, in a Google Meet interview (without video) that was arranged by Christie’s.
Metakovan, the founder of the Metapurse, a fund that collects “nonfungible tokens” or NFTs, said he would be paying for the work and Christie’s fees in Ether, a cryptocurrency. “As we speak, I’m sending the last transaction,” he said.
The work he bought, “Everydays — The First 5000 Days,” is a collage of all the images that the digital artist Mike Winkelmann, known as Beeple, has posted online since 2007. The image had been specially created, or “minted,” by the artist for Christie’s timed one-lot online auction as an NFT. Such digital collectibles have no physical existence, but are given proof of ownership and authenticity using blockchain technology. “Everydays,” a JPG, was the first digital-only NFT auctioned by Christie’s.
One hour, fifteen minutes, almost all of it about the history and culture and economic future of the Caribbean, here is the audio. It starts with Rasheed interviewing me, but later becomes more of a back-and-forth dialog, covering Cuba, Trinidad, Barbados, the best music from Jamaica, why Haiti has failed so badly, whether the Caribbean will be Latinized, and much more. This one is pretty much entirely fresh material and I enjoyed doing it very much.
Rasheed is from Barbados, he is a very recent Emergent Ventures winner, and more generally his podcast focuses on the role of China in the Caribbean. Newsletter and some prestigious podcast guests coming soon!
Here is Rasheed on Twitter.
Patricia Fara is a historian of science at Cambridge University and well-known for her writings on women in science. Her forthcoming book, Life After Gravity: Isaac Newton’s London Career, details the life of the titan of the so-called Scientific Revolution after his famous (though perhaps mythological) discovery under the apple tree. Her work emphasizes science as a long, continuous process composed of incremental contributions–in which women throughout history have taken a crucial part–rather than the sole province of a few monolithic innovators.
Patricia joined Tyler to discuss why Newton left Cambridge to run The Royal Mint, why he was so productive during the Great Plague, why the “Scientific Revolution” should instead be understand as a gradual process, what the Antikythera device tells us about science in the ancient world, the influence of Erasmus Darwin on his grandson, why more people should know Dorothy Hodgkin, how George Eliot inspired her to commit unhistoric acts, why she opposes any kind of sex-segregated schooling, her early experience in a startup, what modern students of science can learn from studying Renaissance art, the reasons she considers Madame Lavoisier to be the greatest female science illustrator, the unusual work habit brought to her attention by house guests, the book of caricatures she’d like to write next, and more
And here is one excerpt:
COWEN: Let’s start with Isaac Newton. How was it that he died rich?
FARA: He earned his money from several different ways. When he went down to London, he had far more than he ever did as a Cambridge professor because he was running the London Mint. He got a fat salary for that. He also got a premium, a reward for every single gold coin that was minted.
He invested in global trading companies like the East India Company, for example, that were sending guns and textiles out to Africa and then shipping enslaved peoples over to the Americas.
He also invested in other stock market companies. There was this famous occasion — it’s the anniversary this year of what’s called the South Sea Bubble — when he invested a small fortune in a new company, the South Sea Company, and he watched the levels rise, and he stayed in there, and he sold when the stocks had gone up. He made a small fortune, but then he made the classic beginner’s error. He invested in again at a higher price, and he watched the value crash.
So he did lose several million in today’s currency on that particular venture. But in general, when he died, he was an extremely rich man, and you can tell that — the inventory of his possessions runs to a vellum scroll that’s 17 feet long.
COWEN: What was it that he collected so obsessively to have all these possessions?
FARA: Well, a lot of it was equipment for catering. He’s got this reputation for being very antisocial, but he had hundreds of plates and sets of cutlery and things like that. He also had that ultimate Georgian luxury: he owned two silver chamber pots.
He spent money on having a good number of portraits of himself painted that he would send out to other people as bribes or as rewards for their allegiance to him. He had furniture. He had decorations. He had a carriage. He had a sedan chair tucked in the stables. He had lots of servants.
On Newton’s time at The Royal Mint
COWEN: Now, as you know, Newton spends what, over 30 years working at the Mint?
COWEN: What’s your model of why he did this? How much was it for income? Did he think he was done with major contributions, say, to physics and optics? How do you think about that decision in his life?
FARA: I think he was very frustrated with being at Cambridge. He applied for several positions there, which he didn’t get. In theological terms, he was rather at odds with everybody else at Cambridge because he was a very, very devout believer in God, but he didn’t adhere to the traditional, to the orthodox Anglican theological belief in the Trinity, so that was difficult for him.
He’d been trying to leave Cambridge for some time, and he had a very close friend, Charles Montagu, the Earl of Halifax, who was Chancellor of the Exchequer, very influential man. He managed to find Newton this very prestigious job at the Mint that paid a good salary. The minute Newton heard about it, he downed tools at Cambridge, rushed down to London, and he moved and started a new life within a few months.
…COWEN: What do you think about Newton’s basic idea on silver recoinage — bring in all the silver coins, melt them down, reissue at a lower value? Was he right about that or not? Or do you side with John Locke?
Recommended, interesting throughout.
Beeple is an artist.
He makes digital art—pixels on screens depicting bizarre, hilarious, disturbing, and sometimes grotesque images. He smashes together pop culture, technology, and postapocalyptic terror into blistering commentaries on the way we live. A recent frame depicted Donald Trump wearing a leather mask and stripper’s pasties, taking a whip to the coronavirus bug (title: “Trump Dominating Covid”). On the day Jeff Bezos announced he was kicking himself upstairs, Beeple imagined the Amazon founder as a massive, threatening octopus emerging from the ocean as military helicopters circled above (“Release the Bezos”).
Beeple has 1.8 million Instagram followers. His work has been shown at two Super Bowl halftime shows and at least one Justin Bieber concert, but he has no gallery representation or foothold in the traditional art world.
And yet in December the first extensive auction of his art grossed $3.5 million in a single weekend.
In the 10 years since Chris Torres created Nyan Cat, an animated flying cat with a Pop-Tart body leaving a rainbow trail, the meme has been viewed and shared across the web hundreds of millions of times.
On Thursday, he put a one-of-a-kind version of it up for sale on Foundation, a website for buying and selling digital goods. In the final hour of the auction, there was a bidding war. Nyan Cat was sold to a user identified only by a cryptocurrency wallet number. The price? Roughly $580,000.
Mr. Torres was left breathless. “I feel like I’ve opened the floodgates,” he said in an interview on Friday.
The sale was a new high point in a fast-growing market for ownership rights to digital art, ephemera and media called NFTs, or “nonfungible tokens.” The buyers are usually not acquiring copyrights, trademarks or even the sole ownership of whatever it is they purchase. They’re buying bragging rights and the knowledge that their copy is the “authentic” one.
Other digital tokens recently sold include a clip of LeBron James blocking a shot in a Lakers basketball game that went for $100,000 in January and a Twitter post by Mark Cuban, the investor and Dallas Mavericks owner, that went for $952. This month, the actress Lindsay Lohan sold an image of her face for over $17,000 and, in a nod to cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, declared, “I believe in a world which is financially decentralized.” It was quickly resold for $57,000.
Blockchains of course are being used to designate which copy is the authentic one. Is it such a big step from photography to this? Here is more from Erin Griffith at the NYT.
Addendum: The next step presumably is to introduce some price discrimination. Yes, there can be a “most authentic” original copy. But after that, how about some intermediate categories? “Well, this is the almost-original copy, defined on the “brother blockchain” here is another, somewhat closed related copy, defined on the “cousin blockchain,”” just as Japanese prints had different editions, etc.
Dana is what I call one of the world’s information billionaires. For more specifics, here is part of his Wikipedia page:
Michael Dana Gioia (/ˈdʒɔɪ.ə/; born December 24, 1950) is an American poet and writer. He spent the first fifteen years of his career writing at night while working for General Foods Corporation. After his 1991 essay “Can Poetry Matter?” in The Atlantic generated international attention, Gioia quit business to pursue writing full-time. He served as the chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) between 2003 and 2009. Gioia has published five books of poetry and three volumes of literary criticism as well as opera libretti, song cycles, translations, and over two dozen literary anthologies.
Gioia is the Judge Widney Professor of Poetry and Public Culture at the University of Southern California, where he teaches, as well as a Senior Fellow at the Trinity Forum. In December 2015 he became the California State Poet Laureate.
He is also well-known as a composer of opera libretti, and more recently as a spokesperson for the importance of Catholicism for culture. And he is brother of TedGioia, former CWT guest. And here is Dana’s home page.
I will be doing a Conversation with him — so what should I ask?
He was an indigenous, Nahuatl-speaking Mexican painter in the “Naive” tradition, working on board, amate paper, and ceramics. Some of you will know that I was his biographer, along with his two brothers Marcial Camilo and Juan Camilo, both painters as well. I spent many hours interviewing Felix Camilo (and his friends and relatives) about the events of his life, so it is especially sad for me to see such a tragic final episode, namely death by Covid in his mid-sixties. He simply was not able to breathe any more, and then he died.
Felix was less ambitious than his brothers, but he had a natural eye for a lovely scene. Pretty much everyone in San Agustin Oapan, his home village, liked or loved him, and such general popularity there is rare. He worked hard to avoid faction, to stay on good terms with all, and to raise his children after his wife passed away almost thirty years ago.
Here is an update on the coronavirus situation in Mexico:
Officials reported 1,219 deaths Saturday, which was a near-record for one day, and 463 deaths Sunday.
Mexico has now seen over 1.64 million total infections and registered over 140,000 deaths so far in the pandemic. With the country’s extremely low testing rate, official estimates suggest the real death toll is closer to 195,000.
Here is some basic background on Felix Camilo, his village, and my involvement with it. These days, one of my friends in Oapan estimates that about two percent of the village has died from Covid, and about half of those are relatively young. There are many comorbidities and no medical care to speak of.
Here are a few other Felix Camilo images. He was never a famous painter, but he played a significant part in capturing and communicating a culture that is vanishing rapidly.
Yes I will be doing a Conversation with her. Here is part of her Wikipedia entry:
Sarah Helen Parcak is an American archaeologist, Egyptologist, and remote sensing expert, who has used satellite imaging to identify potential archaeological sites in Egypt, Rome, and elsewhere in the former Roman Empire. She is a professor of Anthropology and director of the Laboratory for Global Observation at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. In partnership with her husband, Greg Mumford, she directs survey and excavation projects in the Faiyum, Sinai, and Egypt’s East Delta.
And here is Sarah on Twitter. Here is her very useful bio page. Here is her book Archaeology from Space: How the Future Shapes the Past. So what should I ask her?
Among his other achievements, he is the Chairman and co-founder of Moderna. Here is the audio and video and transcript. Here is part of the summary:
He joined Tyler to discuss which aspect of entrepreneurship is hardest to teach, his predictions on the future of gene editing and CRISPR technology, why the pharmaceutical field can’t be winner takes all, why “basic research” is a poor term, the secret to Boston’s culture of innovation, the potential of plant biotech, why Montreal is (still) a special place to him, how his classical pianist mother influenced his musical tastes, his discussion-based approach to ethical dilemmas, how thinking future-backward shapes his approach to business and philanthropy, the blessing and curse of Lebanese optimism, the importance of creating a culture where people can say things that are wrong, what we can all learn by being an American by choice, and more.
Here is one excerpt:
I should point out, Tyler, what these people don’t yet realize is that mRNA, in addition to being unique in that it’s really the first broadly applied code molecule, information molecule that is used as a medicine and with all the advantages that come with information — digital versus analog — or where you actually have to do everything bespoke, the way drugs usually work.
The other major advantage that it has is that it is something that is actually taking advantage of nature. There was a lot of know-how we had going into this around how the process could be done. In fact, let me tell you the parallel that we used.
We have a program in cancer vaccines. You might say, “What does a cancer vaccine have to do with coronavirus?” The answer is the way we work with cancer vaccines is that we take a patient’s tumor, sequence it, obtain the information around all the different mutations in that tumor, then design de novo — completely nonexistent before — a set of peptides that contain those mutations, make the mRNA for them, and stick them into a lipid nanoparticle, and give it back to that patient in a matter of weeks.
That has been an ongoing — for a couple of years — clinical trial that we’re doing. Well, guess what? For every one of those patients, we’re doing what we did for the virus, over and over and over again. We get DNA sequence. We convert it into the antigenic part. We make it into an RNA. We put it in a particle. In an interesting way, we had interesting precedents that allowed us to move pretty quickly.
And at the close:
Imagine if all of us were also born imagining a better future for ourselves. Well, we should be, but we’ve got to work to get that. An immigrant who comes here understands that they’ve got to work to get that. They have to adapt. The problem is, if you’re born here, you may not actually think that you’ve got to work to get that. You might think you’re born into it.
This will be a funny thing to say, and I apologize to anybody that I offend. If we were all Americans by choice, we’d have a better America because Americans by choice, of which I’m one, actually have a stronger commitment to whatever it takes to make America be the place I chose to be, versus not thinking about that as a core responsibility.
Definitely recommended, he is working to save many many lives, and with great success.