In early January, Wikipedia editors decided that NFTs would be excluded from Wikipedia’s list of the “most expensive works of art by living artists.” Although the Internet encyclopedia can hardly be called a bastion of modern art, it is a reliable source for many people.
So it’s no wonder this has caused a conflict between the NFT community and, well, the many people who agree with the Wiki editors.
Non-fungible tokens (NFT) are digital property titles of digital objects, such as memes or videos. Owning an NFT doesn’t stop others from saving that image with a right click, but that’s not the point. What matters here is that someone is registered on the blockchain as the owner of that specific digital object.
But the cultural significance of an NFT transcends its technical definition. For the most avid supporters, NFTs are the cornerstone of vibrant communities where crypto fans wear NFT backpacks to crypto conventions, use NFTs as Profile picturesand chat on exclusive forums accessible only through your NFT purchase.
And then, of course, there are also a lot of people. which most NFTs just find incredibly ugly.
Take a look at an NFT marketplace like Nifty Gateway or OpenSea and you’ll see that these cynical folks are right. For example, out of stock CryptoSharks, which consist of an image of the shark tale-movie poster with all kinds of kitsch details plastered on it.
Conventional NFTs often seen on the internet, such as CryptoPunks, CryptoKitties, The Bored Ape Yacht Club, and Lazy Lions, don’t seem very interesting. Each of these projects consists of 10,000 NFTs that are not very different from each other. They emerge through an algorithmic program that produces different accessories, expressions and skin tones. It’s not a difficult process and you don’t even need to be programming to make one. They are simply pushed out by machines.
But does it all come down to subjective taste? Isn’t it very elitist to belittle NFT art? When we talk about NFTs, people immediately think of blockchain, decentralization, collectors, and of course how much money you can make from them. Few people talk about what the NFT they are going to buy is like. Even Beeple’s Every day: the first 5000 days, bought by Christie’s auction house it was sold to a company whose representative said, “We didn’t need a preview.” $69 million was then paid for it, and the knowledge that the artwork would increase in value was apparently enough to pay a ridiculous sum of money for it.
According to JJ Charlesworth, art critic and senior editor of art Review, the art world doesn’t understand what they’re talking about. “It doesn’t make sense to apply art world standards to some NFTs. A lot of the NFT market is collectibles and collecting things has always been visually focused. Think comics, sneakers and baseball cards – this is very conventional.”
NFTs say a lot about cultural vision of the people who collect them. Not much attention is paid to typical ‘artistic’ aspects like composition, color palette or meaning.
“A lot of NFTs are actually pretty stupid, let’s face it,” says Charlesworth. “Bored Apes is a collector’s item, but it’s not really visually interesting. A lot of NFTs don’t have the ambition to be high quality art.” A partnership with Adidas and plans to feature the Bored Apes in movies and books make the Bored Apes a trademark, not necessarily an art project.
And let’s not forget the history of the popular NFT collectibles. The explosion of NFT collectibles dates back to 2016, when online users, mostly men early adopters, Rare Pepes memes collected and traded with Good Boy Points on CounterParty, a Bitcoin digital asset platform.
This formed the basis of the meme economy which, backed by the Ethereum blockchain, the technology that now enables most NFT transactions, shitty post† exaggerated driving and late capitalism would speed up When he considers that the core group of those involved were probably already accumulating crypto long before they became popular, he begins to understand where the meme-like, gimmicky, and often ugly aesthetic comes from.
“Now we’re looking at a group of very rich people and crypto billionaires who don’t know how to brag about how rich they are,” said Charlesworth. “Someone with a billion in Bitcoin probably doesn’t want to buy traditional artwork, and they don’t want to store and move it around. They’re looking for something that better fits their lifestyle.”
But it’s also important not to lump everything together.
“It’s like saying that Pokémon cards destroy traditional works of art: they are two completely different things,” said Diana Sinclair, co-founder of DAO history, a crypto collective that supports marginalized crypto creators. While a growing body of research has shown that NFT’s economics are as lopsided as the real thing, artists like Sinclair say it has opened up opportunities for her and other artists who usually fall by the wayside. In his opinion, it is important to distinguish between collectibles and art in the digital space, just as we do in the physical world.
Thanks to NFTs, Sinclair (17) has had the opportunity to curate a digital exhibition featuring artists from around the world. She has worked on digital art with the Trustees of the Whitney Houston Estate and was invited to attend Art Basel in Miami. She also says that NFTs have increased the pool of potential collectors of her work, allowing her to avoid the usual elite avenues in the art world.
Today, Sinclair says he has earned enough money to drop out of college, allowing him to focus on art full-time. But making money isn’t the most important aspect of his job, he adds.
“A buyer fell in love with one of my pieces because it reminded him of why he became interested in graffiti. He was willing to pay $30,000 for that souvenir, not because he thought he could sell it for more money,” Sinclair said. he says. “I thought that was wonderful.”
That Paris Hilton and Jimmy Kimmel trade tacky monkey pictures obscures the fact that there’s actually more than one type of NFT. Some even showcase inspiring applications of this new technology, including video performance art addressing women’s physical autonomy from artists like Katherine Frazer, and beautiful digital artwork from artists like IX Shells. The headlines about these artists are not based on price, but on their complex and intriguing themes and aesthetics.
So what makes art ‘art’? That question has its roots in a long-running historical debate that predates NFTs. Critics cried themselves hoarse when Marcel Duchamp called the urinal his art, but now it has become a landmark in art history. Maybe one day we will see CryptoPunks or bored monkeys in the same way.
Yes, there are NFTs that really move people and can be considered art, just like there are NFTs that just make people extremely rich. There are many unpleasant things about NFTs and the way they are traded. For example, consider how many scammers and frauds there are (the developer behind Evolved Apes disappeared with almost $3 million).
But, says Sinclair, the more we focus on the ugliest parts, “the less likely an infrastructure will be built around artists who will make something beautiful with this new digital tool.” And isn’t that what art is about?
This article originally appeared on VICE UK.
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