The sale of non-fungible tokens or “NFTs” have skyrocketed in the first quarter of 2021, and the art world is adjusting to this new trend. Some people are hesitant to classify NFTs as part of the art world, and that’s certainly an understandable argument. These sales typically include things like online memes or GIFs that are not anybody’s idea of traditional art. However, NFTs have actually managed to present a new foot forward for the art world, from digital artists to more traditional artists.
The Rise of NFTs
While they only recently became popular, NFTs have actually been around for several years now. Aiming to bring power back to the creator, they have been embraced by the younger generation, perhaps because the digital aspect feels more natural of a progression for a group that has grown up online.
The art world had been more hesitant to experiment until the auction at Christie’s in March 2021, where the artist Mike Winklemann, also known as Beeple, sold an NFT for $69 million. Beeple was already an established NFT artist with a large fanbase, and the auction drew both praise and scorn. While this sale is still on top as the most expensive NFT ever purchased, there have been at least 17 other NFTs to be sold for over $1 million as of June of 2021.
More established actors of the art world have recently started to embrace NFTs. The Uffizi in Italy sold digital versions of their most famous paintings in the form of NFTs in order to raise more funds for the gallery. While it is not the same as owning the physical painting, it is meant to display a degree of ownership that sets the buyer apart.
Collection and display are a big part of the art world, and many collectors and museums are beginning to feel that compiling rare examples of NFT art is just as worthy an attempt as collecting rare (physical) art. There are even plans to bring the world’s largest NFT museum to New York City. Unfortunately, proper recognition is not always the case.
NFTs and Their Artists
If the concept of an NFT confuses you, you’re not alone. Many people are wondering what exactly NFTs are and why they are so important. Together, let’s cover why NFTs are a new technological expansion that is impacting the art world.
NFTs have the potential to represent a break from an art world full of barriers that keep artists without networking connections or artists of color from rising to their fullest potential. Take Blacksneakers: a young Black artist whose pieces center around black culture and sell for upwards of $10,000. The number of digital artists is rising, and NFTs can be a way to recognize that art.
Contemporary artist WhIsBe has found great success producing NFTs, with his “Vandal Gummy” series shifting from murals on the streets to NFTs available for purchase. He uses his platform to promote social issues such as climate change and the threat of extinction for different animals. He has sold over 1,000 NFTs, with the selling price averaging out to be over $4,000 per piece
Canadian artist Mad Dog Jones recently auctioned off an NFT for $4.1 million, making him the most expensive artist still living in his country. These artists are just a few examples of those who have shattered the expectations of NFTs and redefined the platform – and perhaps the art world as we know it.
Problems and the Future of NFT Art World
NFTs allow many digital artists to make money from their work by authenticating and selling the original. Some experts say that NFTs could be the future of the digital medium, ensuring artists are compensated for their work. However, artists have reported their work being copied or stolen and sold as an NFT without their permission, muddying the waters on ownership and presenting a huge legal gray area.
Another issue is that NFTs leave a huge carbon footprint and consume energy at an exponential rate. Ethereum, the blockchain that houses most NFT transactions, has been in talks to slash their energy consumption and carbon footprint, but there is still some debate as to whether or not Ethereum will fully commit to making these changes.
Interest in NFTs has also gone down according to the online auction platform Nifty Gateway. They report that NFT sales have started to drop down over Spring through Summer 2021. From March until May, the sales are down by 32%. Even with this drop in sales, NFTs are still clearly a multi billion-dollar market, earning over $2 billion in the first half of 2021. The list of the top ten most expensive purchases of NFTs is continually changing, showing an interest from buyers that has not completely died down.
NFTs are also traded and applied outside of the art world, but perhaps have the greatest potential for impact as far as what most people consider to be art. They represent a break from the standard sculptures and paintings – physical art that has been the main focus of the art world up until now. They have catapulted several artists to fame and fortune, but will this process stick around as a new companion to traditional art or will it eventually fade?
While it will take more time to truly grasp the effect NFTs have had on the environment and pop culture, it cannot be denied that they have made a splash in the art world. The focus has become what defines something as art, which has actually been a hot topic for decades as discussed in our article on contemporary art ; most of the NFTs being sold can be seen as works of art, but there is still a way to go before they are considered without question or debate equal to physical art. The main thing to look out for is if the ripples caused by this splash will continue or eventually just disappear.