Today we’re feeling a bit philosophical and we want to tackle a question that has been going around since NFTs and crypto came into the mainstream: are NFTs art?
It’s a complicated line of inquiry, with no single, objective answer, but we’d like to give it some thought anyway. After all, NFTs have almost become an industry of its own and yet the community it’s booming with passion and creativity, things that are key to any artistic process. So join us in our little deep dive and let’s see what we can find.
What even is art?
A question for the ages. Certainly one that’s been asked countless times in the past hundred years, but that has maybe gained more notoriety towards the beginning of the twentieth century.
For a long time, art (or high-art) was only made by specialized people who could produce complex musical compositions or hyperrealistic paintings and sculptures. But nowadays, these things have changed.
Art movements like impressionism and cubism started gaining notoriety, people didn’t just want to see their physical world reflected in art, they wanted to see their feelings, thoughts and emotions too.
Nowadays, no one would question Van Gogh or Dali as artists, but they were very much criticized in their times, many people didn’t consider their works to be art at all. In the following years there would also be a lot of similar backlash towards movements like pop art, abstract art, street art, and more, although there’s still a lot of debate over it, in time, these have also come to be more widely accepted.
But who makes these decisions? Who is the one that ultimately “accepts” something as art? For years, it’s been museums, auctions, art scholars and critics, but this could be starting to change.
Miguel Zugaza, director of the Bilbao Fine Arts Museum has stated he suspects that media nowadays has more power to define arts for mainstream audiences than museums do, and he may be right, especially when we take the internet into account.
The power of NFTs
Digital art might be one of the latest forms of art to come under fire by critics for not being “true art”. We can see this usually with artists like KAWS or Beeple, whose works are widely criticized as meaningless or lacking in craft.
And the numbers seemed to back this up, until fairly recently, digital artists often found themselves struggling for work and income, usually underpricing their art in order to make any kind of profit. In this sense, NFTs have truly become a key for change.
We should clarify that when we talk about NFTs, we’re talking about a smart contract that can be linked to a piece of art or any other number of things. A mid-2010s meme can be as much of an NFT as the Mona Lisa. The difference though is that within the NFT community, it’s the people who decide which one is more valuable.
We could say that NFTs are a tool not only for democratizing monetization, but also art itself, expanding who can judge the value of the things around us. But it doesn’t stop there. Many artists have taken the opportunities NFTs provide to create something bigger.
New paths in art
Let’s go back to Beeple. In March 2021 he made headlines when his “Everydays: The First 5000 Days” sold for more than $69 million. The bidding had been pushed higher and higher by several cryptocurrency entrepreneurs.
Now, Beeple, who was previously unknown in the art world, continues to successfully grow and develop his influential craft backed by large investments produced from that sale.
Others have combined the intrinsic function of NFTs to create unique experiences like Juan Carlos Valle’s “VIVA”, a painting of a red acrylic spot on a white background with a vibrating system beneath the canvas that makes the red rise and fall in place, like a heart.
The physical incarnation of the piece has been painted over, leaving behind only a GIF of it that has been sold as an NFT. As Valle put it, “This makes VIVA unique, namely, the digital piece is the original itself”
There’s also “Machine Hallucinations: Coral”, a piece by Refik Anadol that was set in Miami Beach against the backdrop of the sea. The work itself is a giant screen that projects colored, abstract shapes built on data-driven machine learning algorithms meant to recreate an image of marine life.
After the exhibition, the piece was put up for auction as an NFT and sold for $851,130. It comes with a video of the work as it was exhibited on the beach and a “customized supercomputer” containing all the information required to display it. “I am trying to find the poetry inside those datasets to create a new meaning beyond what data means.” Anadol said.
What awaits NFTs and art?
Prominent tech entrepreneur, Justin Sun, has stated that NFTs will “revolutionize the existing trading model in the art market, especially for digital art.” The way we value art is always changing, and embracing that change is the only way we can continue to move forward.
So if we need to go back to the original question, then the answer should probably be that although NFTs themselves are not necessarily an artform, they are an incredibly powerful tool for artists.
If we think about art as a way of creating meaning out of our surroundings, then NFTs must be considered as a new form for creating meaning and reflecting it back towards the things that matter to us. A big part of how we judge art will always be subjective, but because of the larger consensus, NFTs will push forward amazing new perspectives that might have been lost in closed off, high-art environments. And we can’t wait to see what else will bring.
Until next time!