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NFT: the ends justify the means (but not the price)

Matheus Moraes

Assistant Opinions Editor

Graphic via

The art world has been the object of heavy criticism for its haughty, complex gatekeeping which mediums could be considered “art.” Photographs, for instance, took over 100 years since its first shot to be considered high-brow enough to join the exclusionary walls of museums in the 1940s, Alfred Stieglitz being one of the pioneers responsible for said change.

Since then, technology has recurrently proved that art isn’t as impermeable as the 20th century made it to be. It is a process of making sense of one’s experiences and translating them into any medium available to the artist. Yet, as open minded as we’d like to be, there are limits to what it means to be an artist. Means that will hopefully translate into more than randomly coding an image to be sold for millions by a cryptocurrency blockchain.

NFTs (Non-fungible tokens), are essentially one of a kind digital artworks that one can purchase the digital rights of. NFTs can be anything digital (drawings, music, videos, etc) but it's selling point has been “the new way to buy digital art.” In essence, an evolution of fine art collecting, but without the physical aspect. What makes the purchase of thousands (or millions) of dollars worth of, say Pet Rocks, counterintuitive is that anyone can own a copy of that same exact picture, except who pays for it owns the license.

Things get a little more ludicrous once we find the amount rich people are willing to pay for easily downloadable “non-fungible” art. Christie’s Auction House, founded in 1766, auctioned its first NFT by artist Mike Winkelmann, with the alias of “Beeple,” for the indecent amount of $69 million dollars ($14 million more than Monet’s Nymphéas was sold for in 2014). A price that denotes just what NFTs are - a new playground for millionaires.

In its recent ambitious move, crypto art entrepreneur Erick Calderon, found its first NFT gallery in the esteemed-by-artists town of Marfa, Texas. Calderon, the founder of crypto art selling platform Art Blocks, was met with confusion and suspicion by the local artist community. Some of them, despite capitalizing by the commodification of their art, have a hard time accepting a programmed algorithm pattern as a unique art form. It's art-making for the purpose of promoting the cryptocurrency platforms that host these transactions, Ethereum being one of the pioneers in the business.

To make matters worse, NFTs aren’t just too expensive but also bad for the environment due to the amount of energy necessary to keep these databases going. Upon finding just how much carbon emissions were released for every new NFT release, artist Memo Atken created the website Cryptoart.WTF: “A kind of roulette game that selects a work of crypto art and presents a rough estimate of the energy use and emissions associated with it,” according to Gregory Barber in NFTs Are Hot. So Is Their Effect on The Earth’s Climate.

In one of her most famous books of essays, “On Photography,” Susan Sontag wrote: “A capitalist society requires a culture based on images. It needs to furnish vast amounts of entertainment in order to stimulate buying.” Selling $172 thousand dollar digital kitty illustration might be great for the artist in question, but the bottom line is the house (crypto currency digital-space slumlords) always wins. I hope the planet eventually gets a chance.


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