If you’ve even a cursory interest in Art, you’ll have probably heard of NFTs by now. It seems the art world has lost it’s mind the past few months over a new way to display and share art, through what are called non-fungible tokens.
In a nutshell, an NFT is a unit of data stored on a blockchain, which has something to do with cryptocurrency. The purchaser of an NFT essentially holds proof of ownership of the artwork, but doesn't give them copyright over original work. On close inspection it all really breaks apart and you realize people with more money than they know what to do with are essentially just paying millions for bragging rights. They're essentially sold as an autographed copy of the (often digital) artwork, not even the actual artwork itself.
The media craze really picked up when an NFT of digital artist Beeple's collage 'Everyday: The First 5000 Days' sold for an eye-watering $69 million in an auction held at Christie's. Beeple's been doing his digital art for a long time, posting daily 3D renders of unspeakable horrors made from a patchwork of politicians and objects and genitals, but he's only really started making a considerable amount of it since he started selling NFTs, and he believes they're the future of art. But what do NFTs mean for artists and the art world?
Digital artists will definitely benefit from the platform and from the buzz created by the novelty of buying artwork with cryptocurrency, but it's not all good. The further commodification of art through transforming it into tradeable tokens is questionable. Even before the NFT boom, there were already concerns over the influence of capital on art. Now, as we witness a confluence of technologies enabling entirely digital art trading on a never before seen scale, these concerns are all the more relevant.
While NFTs aren't tangible, what is tangible is the massive carbon emissions linked with the cryptocurrencies used to trade them.
Ethereum, for instance, which allows for the creation of NFTs and accounts for a large amount of the art trade, uses the same amount of electricity as almost the entire country of Nigeria, and that's just one cryptocurrency. Over-consumption already permeates every fabric of our society, why bring it into art too? The absolute waste is even more glaring when the cause for it is something so gimmicky. For instance, an NFT of the ‘Disaster Girl’ meme sold for almost half a million dollars, with the proceeds going to Zoe Roth, disaster girl herself. Suckers with more money than sense purchasing bragging rights to content anyone can access anywhere as some vague attempt at holding onto culture just reeks of waste. Although it is no doubt a positive thing that the fad has allowed people to profit from their intellectual property and on a wider scale helped facilitate the art trade, is this really the direction we want the art market to head?