What do NFTs mean for artists? – 71Bait

A year ago this week, a JPEG file containing a collage of digital illustrations by artist Beeple sold at an art auction for $69.3 million, a new record for an all-digital art sale and one of the highest auction prices ever achieved for a living artist. Anyone can view the Everydays – The First 5000 Days image online for free, but the buyer paid for the work’s non-fungible token, or NFT – its certificate of authenticity on the blockchain.

In the year since the sale, the hype surrounding NFTs has become overwhelming, and approximately $44 billion has been spent on approximately 6 million NFTs. But what has all this meant for the art world?

“There’s all the talk about ‘NFT art’ or ‘NFT video’ or ‘NFT melodies.’ But if you scratch the surface a little, it turns out there’s no such thing as NFT art,” said art critic Blake Gopnik, who wrote on the subject for The New York Times.

“The kinds of images that are annotated with NFTs are mostly pretty trivial from the point of view of a serious art critic.”

Gopnik spoke to Marketplace’s David Brancaccio about what’s changed over the year since the landmark Beeple sale and what it means for artists. The following is an edited transcript of their conversation.

David Brancaccio: A year ago you and I were talking and we said “NFT” and it was like I was speaking particle physics – like I was saying “relativistic string dynamics quantization”. Now every cool kid wants an NFT, right?

Blake Gopnik: Yes, they think they want an NFT, but the weird thing is people still don’t really know what NFTs are. It kind of shocks me that they have completely fictitious notions of what an NFT is.

Brancaccio: Yes, it’s interesting. I initially wondered if they were licensed to print money. What have you found?

Gopnik: You are definitely a license to print money. I also think they are licensed to cheat. There’s all the talk about “NFT art” or “NFT video” or “NFT melodies”. But if you scratch the surface a little, it turns out that there is no such thing as NFT art. Repeat after me: there is no such thing as NFT art. There are just these things called NFTs and they are certificates. They’re certificates of ownership – almost like a receipt you get at the store that says, “This is yours.” And you can attach it to anything. You can attach it to a lousy sentimental illustration by the late Thomas Kinkade or to a radical conceptual art work by Hans Haacke. There is no limit to the type of thing you can attach an NFT to, so there is no NFT art. If someone says, “Look, I have to sell you this amazing NFT illustration,” you have to say, “No, no, no, what you’re selling me is a certificate, and that can be attached to anything.” You are not selling me a work of art.”

Brancaccio: So maybe we should see this as a bubble that’s inflated? And bubbles tend to burst.

Gopnik: It’s a bubble for people like you who are interested in the market and the economy. For an art critic like me, or anyone who is primarily interested in art, it’s not even a bubble – it doesn’t really tell us anything about art at all. The types of images that are annotated with NFTs are mostly quite trivial from the point of view of a serious art critic. It reminds me of when I was a little kid, like 5 or 6, when I was watching baseball and I saw a pop-up. And I’m like, ‘Whoa, that’s great. Isn’t that nice? Watch the ball fly through the air higher than I could ever hit it.” And I would be stunned that that was considered a bad move because I didn’t understand the game. I had no exposure to. That’s what’s happening with so-called NFT art – people who make kind of lame pictures – but because they’ve never really thought about what a really nifty move in art is, they think the artistic equivalent of a pop oops amazing is movement.

Brancaccio: But when you’re a digital artist, there’s the problem of what’s the real thing, what’s the first thing, what’s copies. And there was a thought that maybe this technique could help digital artists make a little more money through NFTs.

Gopnik: You know, it looked like NFTs could help serious digital artists make more money. But what really emerged is that NFTs aren’t about the image that’s NFTed; it’s about the NFT itself. It’s about collecting. Imagine you collect baseball cards. You get a 1916 Babe Ruth. You don’t collect it because of the picture of Babe Ruth on the baseball card, you collect it because it’s a collector’s item. Imagine if you found a misprint of a 1916 Babe Ruth baseball card that didn’t show his picture at all – that would be even more valuable. So it’s all about collecting for collecting’s sake. It’s about the collectability of NFTs – it has almost nothing to do with the actual image or tuner video that the NFT is attached to.

Brancaccio: By the way, you used a nice, simple metaphor and your Times article to explain an NFT. I’d say it’s a hard-to-forge digital certificate of authenticity, but you only used one syllable.

Gopnik: Yes, I think NFTs are deeds, like the deeds you have for your house. And the deed doesn’t say much about the house; it says you own it. But even owning the charter of the greatest house in the world, owning the charter of Versailles, doesn’t mean you have access to Versailles. So imagine someone collecting certificates on eBay – just the certificates, just the piece of paper. That doesn’t mean they have access to the house. It doesn’t even mean they care about Frank Lloyd Wright or the Eames house. They just want the deed. That’s what NFTs are all about. It’s about collecting certificates for works of art – it’s not about the works of art themselves.

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