McKenzie Wark: Digital Provenance and the Artwork as Derivative, 2016

Unlike Hito Steyerl, I don’t think art is a currency. I think it’s a derivative, which is not quite the same thing as a currency. A currency can store value or act as a means of exchange. A derivative does something different. It manages and hedges risk. What we need, then, is a theory of art as a derivative.

Let’s start with this paradox. Art is about rarity, about things that are unique and special and cannot be duplicated. And yet the technologies of our time are all about duplication, copies, about information that is not really special at all. At first, it might appear that the traditional form of art is obsolete. If it has value, it is as something from a past way of life, before information technology took over. But actually, what appears to be happening is stranger than that. Let’s look at some of the special ways in which art as rarity interacts now in novel ways with information as plenty, producing some rather striking opportunities to create value.

Wark, McKenzie.”Digital Provenance and the Artwork as Derivative.” e-flux journal 77 (2016), accessed December 16, 2016,