From Over-Consumption to Intellectual Work: Why Culture is the New Asset

Founder of .ART Ulvi Kasimov shares his thoughts on the effect of technological advancements, changing consumption patterns and the future of arts and culture in the pandemic aftermath.

You can hear talk of “capitalism’s failures” everywhere, especially in the current unprecedented situation. Inequality, looming environmental catastrophe and spiritual struggle all indicate that humanity is in crisis. But despite the seeming predominance of materialism, we have been consuming symbols and stories in the form of the world’s best-known brands for a long time. The stage has been set. Arts and culture can, and should, become the new asset and the new good.

New Technology is the Key to Change

Utopianism continues to be a powerful set of ideas – a surefire sign of the so-called ‘progressive’ world’s failures. The economy is still founded on labour, capital, and principles of private property, however we lack a more equitable alternative. This is now being accentuated by the daunting effects the global pandemic has already had on the cultural industries.

The focus of our society is to find a role for modern technology to facilitate an innovative and fair economy. The fourth industrial revolution or Industry 4.0 is a label given to the synthesis of traditional manufacturing and industrial platforms aided with the latest smart technology.

Monetising Culture, Mankind’s Principal Cognitive Capital

Culture is the answer to the coming global challenges in the Industry 4.0 era. The transition into digital realities as well as the shift toward ‘intangible’ (cognitive/intellectual) labour and ‘intangible’ products gave rise to ‘cognitive capitalism’. Now more than ever we are ready to take that leap of faith.

To quote Mark Carne, ex-governor of the Bank of England in his latest The Economist feature, “traditional drivers of value have been shaken, new ones will gain prominence, and there’s a possibility that the gulf between what markets value and what people value will close.”

The ‘experience economy’ is especially relevant to millennials who prefer experiences to tangible items. Considering millennials’ significant spending power, which will only grow in the coming years, it is not hard to imagine how target marketing will influence them.

In these conditions culture will have a unique role to play in the coming epoch. Culture’s objects and artefacts constitute the earliest cognitive capital belonging to mankind. It is in this very area that symbolic value has the greatest weight. Unlike volatile company stocks, works of art and cultural heritage objects are inherently able to attract and hold attention.

An art object’s price is based on the belief that owning it can provide cultural capital, social prestige, aesthetic pleasure and intellectual enrichment. After all, culture is the principal thing that humanity produces, leaving its mark in history.

At the moment, the rent derived from cultural capital remains meagre. This means the commercialisation of culture stays undervalued, and its economic role is rather modest at least in traditional nominal measurement of economic output. If we manage to scale up the market of culture and considerably increase rent on cultural capital, a large number of people will profit.

The number of consumers of culture and cultural heritage objects is restricted by the fact that the objects are usually physical, which became a very obvious hurdle to art consumption in the pandemic aftermath. The bottleneck is the lack of a systematic approach to the presentation of cultural objects in digital space.

If such an approach is found, consumers will have instant access the ‘digital avatar’ of any art object of interest. This digital reality will also make it possible to sell valuable and relevant content, such as audio guides, videos, souvenirs, 3D models and more. Importantly, visitor traffic in the digital space is uncapped, and access is easy to regulate. As an example, countless digital visitors would have the opportunity to see the famous bust of Queen Nefertiti from perspectives one wouldn’t necessarily be able to see in real life.

Digital copies of works of art – as well as other relevant content – would be sold independently of the physical objects themselves. This would help scale consumption, serve to democratise and mass-marketise it and, eventually, preserve mankind’s cultural heritage and maximise its economic return.

During global lockdown it wasn’t so much the clothing brands who saw an increase in traffic. It’s projects like Google Arts & Culture and other digital initiatives that saw virtual crowds flock to their platforms. It will be much easier for museums and galleries who had a strong digital presence already in place to recover from the pandemic crisis, and any new ones to come.

A New Class of Assets

Scaling up the market for culture has the potential to lead to widespread issues relating to the use of shares in this particular class of assets. Blockchain technology makes it possible to hold shared ownership of artistic treasures and to share incomes derived from these by means of tokenisation, which reduces the investment threshold drastically.

Owning art objects is very attractive for investors precisely because they tend to appreciate rather than depreciate in value. These types of investments are considered to be valuable even in times of crises. Contrary to the concept of ‘must-haves’ (a new iconic handbag every season), ‘must-keeps’ – something durable that can stay valuable for a long time –  are increasingly more coveted in this time of economic instability.

An art object’s price is based on the belief that owning it can provide cultural capital, social prestige, aesthetic pleasure and intellectual enrichment. After all, culture is the principal thing that humanity produces, leaving its mark in history.

Owning culture is not only attractive economically but also brings sizeable symbolic dividends. This fits perfectly with the growing trend of placing less emphasis is made on appearances and ‘things’. Instead, a higher social value is placed on those that own ‘symbolic’ or ‘cognitive’ capital.

Internet as a global platform for inclusive access to all meaningful cultural heritage sites

A large-scale project that sees the digitisation, archiving and cataloguing of art objects will democratise access to culture, which  is currently restricted. Consuming culture online would serve as an effective tool in several important respects:

  1. Global challenges such as pandemics, armed conflicts, instability and natural disasters pose a serious threat to inter-country connectivity and global tourism. Some of these challenges regularly destroy cultural objects. A comprehensive digital archive of the entire cultural heritage would effectively address these problems, while preserving culture and allowing for easier access.
  2. Digital consumption is a great alternative for disabled peoples and those with special needs.
  3. Less privileged communities and those who can’t afford to travel will also benefit from the educational opportunities that come with accessing cultural objects online.
  4. Creating a digital cultural archive is especially relevant in light of the growing ‘stay at home’ economy. From online dating and shopping to working from home, it seems millennials prefer to do nearly everything from the comfort of their sofa. This trend will drive the increase in the use of online services for arts and culture. A digital environment filled with arts and culture can also become a platform for new generations to socialise in as well as a place to overcome the increasing robotisation of communities, where human connection is becoming harder to come by.
  5. Virtual consumption is far more sustainable than ‘offline’ material consumption. Overcrowding, the over-exploitation of natural resources and the costs of building tourist infrastructure all serve as huge threats to the environment and show no signs of abating due to over-tourism.
Ulvi Kasimov
Ulvi Kasimov

.ART Founder, investor and art collector. You can connect with him on LinkedIn.