Art or not? The absurd irony behind booming NFT art market

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 Art or not? The absurd irony behind booming NFT art market
Image source: © Akorcagin | Megapixl.com

Highlights 

  • NFTs have exploded in popularity over the past year.
  • Opinions are divided on what exactly passes for an NFT artwork.
  • From a signed urinal to a completely blank canvas, there are things that could reasonably and objectively be classified as anything but art, which have been sold for ridiculously high price figures.

Non-fungible tokens (NFTs) have been all the rage over the past year. If the media is anything to go by, one thing that has kept people occupied during lockdowns is investing in crypto and buying NFTs.

One of the most focussed upon NFTs are those which are labelled as NFT art. Again, if the media is anything to go by, the super rich have forgone their Maseratis and Lamborghinis and replaced them with Bored Apes and CryptoPunks.

It seems the NFT art market is truly booming. But what, exactly, is NFT art? Furthermore, does it even constitute art? Opinions are divided on that.

My NFT art epiphany

Apparently, I myself, am unsure as to the eligibility of NFT art. Last weekend, I was at a party, and someone broached the subject of NFT art (it might’ve been me). Either way, I saw it as an opportunity to jump in on the conversation and provide some clarity as to what on earth makes NFT artworks (like Beeple’s now famous piece that sold for US$69 million last year) so popular?

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I don’t remember exactly what I said. I was a few beers down by that point. I seem to remember blurting out words like “blockchain”, “Bored Ape Yacht Club” “digital” and “Beeple”. As I slurred my way pathetically through my explanation, I noticed people standing around nodding their heads and stroking their chins in deep appreciation of what I was saying.

Even in my semi-inebriated state, I knew I was talking nonsense. What I couldn’t figure out was why I was making sense to them.

The next day, I thought a lot about what had happened. Why, oh, why had I held court in the back of an Irish pub, explaining NFT art to my fellow partygoers? More curiously, though, why had they all stood around listening like I was giving the Gettysburg Address?

Then it hit me. They weren’t listening to what I was saying. They certainly didn’t understand what I had said. My sneaking suspicion was that they just didn’t want to appear to not “get” this latest pop-culture trend.

Was this just a microcosm of what happens in the NFT art world? Is it essentially a bunch of people just wanting to hop aboard this latest hip trend, all too scared to pipe up and say Hey! What the hell are you talking about? Bored Apes? Beeple? Have we all lost our freaking minds??

The art world can be ridiculous

Of course, this wouldn’t be the first time the art world had fallen for something utterly ridiculous. In 1917, a Frenchman named Marcel Duchamp, famously took a men’s urinal and signed it “R. Mutt”. He then submitted the urinal titled “The Fountain” for an art exhibition in New York City, where it was regarded as a piece of avant-garde art.

When it comes to art, people are clearly capable of being taken for a ride. So why not NFT art?

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I mean, really. Look at the Bored Ape Yacht Club – a collection of ten thousand unique simian characters wearing various hats and sunglasses and makeup and sporting a variety of different eclectic hairstyles. The current floor price of the cheapest Bored Ape is US$309,921.81. Many, though, have sold for millions of dollars.

 NFT Art, Bored Ape

Image Source: © Minirhenyx | Megapixl.com

I’m no art snob, but….

Put a Bored Ape alongside Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa or Michelangelo’s sprawling Sistine Chapel Ceiling and there’s no comparison…is there?

Don’t get me wrong. I think the Bored Apes are cool. They’re funny little chimps with their own little personality and style. They remind me a lot of something you’d draw in the inside cover of your yearbook in the fifth grade.

In fact, when I was in the fifth grade at school, a lot of kids would draw Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in the front of their exercise books and yearbooks. In 1990, The Turtles were a worldwide phenomenon -- four man-sized turtles who lived in the sewer and dressed like ninjas. They all had different styles and personalities and wore their own coloured face masks. When you think about it, they’re a lot like Bored Apes.

Could it be The Ninja Turtles were just NFTs, way ahead of their time? If the original creators of the TMNT had made ten thousand Ninja Turtles paintings back in 1990, would they have sold for millions back then? If that had been the case, the creators would probably have gone that route instead of making a cartoon and comic series.

Then again, TMNT creators Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird did, in fact, name The Turtles after their favourite Italian Renaissance Painters: Donatello (di Niccolò di Betto Bardi), Michelangelo (di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni), Leonardo (Da Vinci) and Raphael (Sanzio da Urbino). Perhaps this was a statement that there’s no separation between high renaissance art and drawings of weapon-wielding six-foot reptilians.

Well, if that’s considered art, why shouldn’t trendy, whimsical humanzee creatures be considered art?

The market dictates the price

At the end of the day, the discussion of whether something is art, often doesn’t stop it from selling as such.

From the signed urinal to a completely blank canvas, there are things that you could reasonably and objectively classify as anything but art, which have gone on and sold for ridiculously high price figures.

If people are prepared to splash out for it, as is clearly the case for certain NFT projects, then surely that goes ways towards classifying them as art.

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As for NFTs, this is just a new way of presenting and dealing in art. Instead of holding a tangible piece of canvas, the owner now holds their artwork in a crypto wallet.

Regardless, this new medium shows no signs of slowing down in the near future, which perhaps is a great thing for the artists.

(DISCLAIMER: The opinions expressed in this piece are those of the author and they do not reflect the opinions or views of the organisation.)

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