Beeple sold a piece of digital art for $69 million, making it the 3rd highest auction sale ever.
The fact that it is an NFT might be the least exciting part about it.
We should compare his work to the two other works that sold for higher prices. Jeff Koons sold a standalone rabbit sculpture for $91 million. David Hockney sold a lone painting for $90 million. Both were masterpieces, but Beeple's work is a mosaic.
Beeple didn't sell a work of art. He was the first artist to sell an entire museum over the Internet.
"Everydays: The First 5000 Days"
Warning: it's 131 gigabytes and will probably crash your browser
The sheer volume of this collage is less impressive than the practice Beeple maintained to create it. Each of these works was created in a single day. In many cases it was done in a 2-hour session. Behind this collage was a religious habit that started almost 14 years ago.
Beeple hasn't missed a day.
Publishing a daily work of art become the non-negotiable habit that he oriented his life around. It kills the idea of the "muse." The force behind creation is often painted as a mythical beast that only shows up when they please, kind of like that last person you met on Tinder. Instead, we can frame our muse around the persistent cycles of time:
Time is your muse.
This essay isn't about NFTs. It's about what creators can learn from Beeple's insane commitment. Check out the two red rectangles above. We're going to look at each one, and marvel at how consistency can transform what you can do within an identical chunk of time.
Anchoring your publishing cadence to an unshakable rhythm will turn you into a force of nature.
Mosaics vs. Masterpieces
Beeple's whole mode of operation is about "single-session" acts of creation.
You sit down, you start something, you finish it, you move on.
The image above is a razor sharp metaphor in how Beeple embodies mosaic-thinking. But this ethos is in high contrast to how most creators approach their work. I'm guilty, along with too many others to summon, of masterpiece-syndrome.
The shock of excitement around inception leads to a euphoric high. The creator sees a seed blossom, and their mind goes crazy. This jolt often leads to the "elaborate plan" stage. We paint a vision of how to bring a dinky sketch to the status of "the" thing (the breakthrough, the game changer, the one).
Masterpiece thinking is dangerous. One of 3 things usually happen.
1- We get intimidated by the masterplan, and never look at it again
2- We attack it full-force, and burn out without getting close to finishing
3 - We do it, but it takes waaay too long, and our pipeline is clogged for 1-2 months
Masterpiece thinking is a trap for early creators. Some never shake it. It's taken me 10 years, and I'm only starting to shake it. Mosaics work from an entirely different first premise. It's not about bringing any one piece to it's absolute and holy fruition. It's about doing the best you can within a time constraint, sharing it, and moving it on.
Inviting the clock to be your muse is the secret to being prolific.
Worshipping perfection leads to stasis, but worshipping the clock leads to exploration, iteration, and ultimately, growth. We need to stop looking at individuals works as if they are special. The value of the whole is worth more than the sum of the individual parts. This is known as "synergy." The ridiculous valuation of Beeple's mosaic ($69 million) is all the proof anyone should need.
The real shocker in Beeple's Everyday series is comparing his early work to his late work. Within the same interval of time, he went from one-session doodles to one-session masterpieces. The act of repetition within a consistent interval led to a breathe-taking phase change.
Beeple's story is proof that quality comes from quantity.
The top left of the NFT mosaic shows what Beeple was publishing within his first year. If you saw the image below out of context, you would have no idea it was Beeple, who now has such a recognizable style. It looks like a screen-cap from an artist's messy sketchbook.
There is a range of mediums: from sketching to 3D modeling.
There is a range in style: from line drawings to renderings
There is a range in topics: from Powerpuff Girls to naked girls.
What we're seeing is a series of loose and disjointed experiments.
At the time, these sketches had no value to the art-market. The goal was to share, build an audience, and improve. In hindsight, they were pass-through experiments that led him to the holy grail.
If you divide $69 million by 5,000 works, you get $13,800 per daily doodle. When you sit down for a single-session doodle, that one sketch is worthless. But if you imagine it in the context of your future body of work, that experiment could be as urgent as a five-figure paycheck.
The bottom right of the mosaic shows where he landed after following this ritual for over a decade.
Within the same 2-hour interval, the nature of what Beeple could accomplish radically transformed. In a single day, he can make a finished, museum worthy piece of art, aligned with his recognizable aesthetic. His speed lets him craft finished works based on his daily mood (feelings, curiosities, current events).
How is this possible?
Experimentation let him discover a style that resonates with him.
Repetition led to automaticity and muscle memory.
Organizing a library as he went gave him access to models & materials at his fingertips.
Some of his more recent daily pieces are selling for $6 million a pop in NFT marketplaces.
Time Is Your Muse
If you're an artist, the takeaway from Beeple's latest rise isn't about trying to get rich off of a killer NFT. That misses the point. We should be trying to publish as consistently as we can.
The heavy lesson here is around the nature around time.
Time should be the top priority in our creative process. Not a vision, not an ideal, not a masterpiece. A piece of art will take as long as you let it. Set times frames as short as possible, and be prolific.
Beeple's success didn't arise from the pursuit of perfection, but the pursuit of conquering time. He describes his own work as "realllly fucking bad." He's not obsessing over being an artist in the high-brow sense. He's obsessed about exploring within a time-constraint, which eventually leads to great work.
A publishing routine should aim to have an unshakeable foundation. Like the reliability of the sun, the tide, or a new Bitcoin block, you don't question if it's going to happen. You assume it as a given. Beeple hasn't missed a day since he started almost 14 years ago.
If your publishing routine is like a fail-proof cadence of the universe, you will become a force of nature.