To change the art world requires you to revolutionize how people perceive and experience art. Masaccio did it in 1425 when the one-point perspective was introduced, and Louis-Jacques-Mande Daguerre did it in 1839 when his invention pioneered photography. 

Many crypto enthusiasts claim that Beeple’s $69 million collections of digital art which were sold as an NFT, is one such moment in history. Following the massive deal, many artists passionate about expressing themselves in a new way joined this new digital gold rush.

It’s been almost a year since this monumental moment, and so far, the market for NFTs has grown to the fascinating worth of 44$ billion.

In those dynamic months, NFTs have evolved in their use, while primarily giving proof of ownership for digital creations, they have also been used on physical assets. 

There is a bizarre trend where sculptures and paintings are recorded into the digital world, and then their new owners destroy them. People passionate about NFTs claim this is a symbolic gesture of showing art from the physical to the digital world. 

Many NFTs have ventured outside of the artistic world. Many perceive them as a “hot potato” that has widely fluctuating prices, and so if you are smart enough, you can get a profit by flipping. Many have polluted the NFT community by practicing wash trading, scams, and over-hyping collections while giving an unfinished product in the end only to earn some profit. 

The world of NFTs is very complex and full of confusing issues and dilemmas, yet they are straightforward. A non-fungible token is a certificate of ownership recorded in the blockchain.

Such a simple concept has had a profound impact on the world, but have NFTs managed to make a meaningful change in the world of art?

Why NFTs Were Created

Along with the technologist Anil Dash, Kevin McCoy is the first person to have created an NFT. According to McCoy, back in 2014, digital creations were on the rise, and they were looking for a way to confirm authorship and allow for the transfer of ownership for digital assets. 

NFTs were created because even if, on the surface, there wasn’t a difference, some of the copies were authentic because only they were written in the blockchain. McCoy used blockchain technology because his team realized that this novel technology could serve as a vault of information that couldn’t be broken. 

McCoy claims that the struggle many artists experienced with digital creations is how their hard effort and work were stolen mercilessly, and they could not sell their creations quickly. This was a significant struggle compared to the ease with which traditional art could be sold. 

The Skeptics’ Case Against The NFT Hype

The argument against NFT’s “revolutionary role” in reshaping art is pretty straightforward. Non-fungible tokens are a way for you to certify ownership over an object of any kind, and identifying the authenticity of a thing doesn’t make it any different. 

Art is about how an artist can express themselves and how their creation resonates with people. Knowing that an object belongs to them because you have this proof written somewhere in the blockchain does not change anything. 

NFTs are not just pieces of traditional art in many cases. Anything can be an NFT, including images, videos, memes or anything that can be seen on the internet or stashed in a hard drive. That’s not considering that some make digital versions of actual physical objects so that they can become NFTs. 

The point is, none of those needed a digital verification to exist and for their creator to find the inspiration necessary to create them. 

Mike Winkelmann, Тhe NFT Beeple Superstar, is making a show at Jack Hanley in New York currently. The show trades away pixels for a more traditional approach to art by showing off paintings. This has led some to claim that even in his NFT debut, it was just his artistic merit that won people’s hearts, and it had nothing to do with NFTs. 

The backlash against NFTs as a unique expression of artistic intentions is widespread across many art communities.

“I would wholeheartedly underwrite the statement that there is no NFT art – that there is art, or there is digital art,” Claims Rudolf Frieling, who’s the arts curator at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

He goes on to say that “The idea that you could have an ‘NFT art show’ is, to my mind, frankly, ridiculous” 

Many find his words as a legitimate and scathing critique because the San Francisco Museum, in particular, specializes in collection digital art of every kind and has a lot of expertise in the field. 

Another critique from an expert comes from Michael Bouhanna, whose work specializes in selling digital art at Sotheby’s auction house. NFTs are just the current trend alive due to how novel and extravagant it is, but eventually, this will wear off, and only the concept of “digital art” will remain. 

An NFT skeptic would claim that non-fungible tokens not only fail to provide additional artistic value but don’t necessarily help artists earn more. More than half of NFTs sell for less than $400, according to statistics from Chainalysis.

Тhis is very problematic for many artists as minting is not a free process and getting into NFT markets requires a hefty investment into creating your digital studio. Not only is getting enough not sure, but many NFTs remain unsold altogether, which means you can face massive losses. 

Although there is a lot of revenue flying all over the market, in the vast majority of cases, it’s a small fraction of NFTs that are constantly being flipped and resold since their rise of popularity attracts potential owners and steals attention away from other NFTs. 

According to Chainalysis economist Ethan McMahon “People who are trying to profiteer off whatever crazed hype there is around this NFT space need to be careful. Because a lot of times it ends up being to your disadvantage.”

NFTs As A Unique Form Of Artistic Expression

Artistic expression does not exist in a vacuum, and it is often enough the creative atmosphere and freedom in art communities that allows for new kinds of art to be born.

Many NFT enthusiasts claim that traditional art institutions are very elitist, allowing for only conventional types of expression and actively restricting other forms of art that are seen as too “abstract” and “confusing.” 

The example of Damien Hirst is just one of many instances in which NFTs were used as a tool for artistic expression. “The Currency” is Damien’s project consisting of a 10 000 NFT collection, each representing one of his Spot paintings. Owners had one year to choose whether they would keep the digital token and see the actual copy of the canvas burn, or they’d have to give up the digital token. 

This social experiment was praised by many as a way of forcing a conflict between the contradicting desires of people and a genius way to spark discussion on which of our values we should prioritize. The project managed to earn around $18 million just from the initial sale. 

Another example is the digital artist known as Pak. They create NFTs that barely have any visual appeal by using basic shapes, but the way they are presented makes them unique. You can purchase them for a very short time, and how many you purchase changes the final NFT image you’d receive. 

When talking about the originality of NFTs, one can not forget to mention CryptoPunks. Created by Matt Hall and John Watkinson, they made 10 000 cartoon versions of human heads, which were blurred to the point where you could make out just one or two features. 

They were initially free if you asked for one, but the limited supply, variety and rise of popularity made them skyrocket in price. This collection, in particular, proves that the act of making a whole collection and allowing for people to collect pieces from it gradually can be a unique artistic expression as well. 

Just last February, Sotheby was on the verge of selling 104 CryptoPunks for around $30 million until the auction was cancelled at the last moment. This had many people upset as they were hoping to get those valuable collection pieces for themselves. 

One final example worth noting comes from the recent “Pieces of Me” NFT exhibition hosted by Transfer, a gallery in Brooklyn dedicated to every kind of computer art you can think of. 

The purpose of the exhibit was to “reflect on NFTs through a curatorial and technological framework that emphasizes the ethics of care, redistribution of wealth, and artist’s agency and rights.”

The exhibit had many interesting pieces that offered people the opportunity to reflect on their values and consumerist desires. One-piece by Danielle Brathwaite-Shirley consisted of a GIF presenting “Terms and Conditions” with a commitment for buyers to “showcase and invest in the works of Black trans artists.”

Other artists offered their works for free, as they claim to give “an explicit rejection of the capitalist urge to consume.” One-piece, such as the “Ascetic” from Kim Laughton, came with an actual golden chain and a digital image that owners were encouraged to share. The message came with an apparent contradiction to the conventional understanding of NFTs as something you exclusively own.

How artists express themselves through NFTs may seem bizarre and incomprehensible to some, but this is the beauty of art. The human soul is full of quirky ideas, and it is this honest expression of what you feel that can truly resonate with people, even if it’s not the aesthetically pleasing traditional art that you may be used to.

Finally, NFTs are not only a unique way for artistic expression, but they are also a novel way for people to interact with art. Currently, many people struggle with social isolation, and even before covid, there was a lot of hopelessness and outright nihilism by many who struggled to find their identity and community.

Having a quirky digital avatar may not be the perfect solution, but it is one way people have managed to envision themselves, and as long as they find meaning in it, then this is all that matters.

The collections of NFTs that exist aren’t only an individual pursuit of people to acquire every one of them. For ordinary people, it is a way to experience a sense of community. 

Many people report that through acquiring NFTs, they have sparked social contacts with others, have been invited to exclusive meetings and communities, and have been given many opportunities to communicate and interact with other people. It is the collectible nature of NFTs that has made this uniquely possible.