The art world has been going wild recently over a recent surge in interest surrounding NFTs. But what is an NFT? The acronym stands for non-fungible token. Yes, non-fungible… the basic meaning of this is, unlike bitcoin that can be traded for other bitcoin and you’ll have the exact same thing, an NFT is more like a trade of playing cards. This means you could trade something of equal value but end up with a different token at the end.
The application of this type of blockchain technology to digital art has been heralded and critiqued widely. While some people see NFTs as a way to deprivigalise more traditional forms of art and open up the art market to those outside of its traditional centres, others cite moral and environmental arguments for why such cryptocurrencies are a bad idea.
One particular argument against the use of NFTs for digital art is that it affects the experience of the viewer. A benefit of digital art currently is that it retains the aura of the original work with each viewing, unaffected by what number of copies it is. Some are arguing that inscribing an NFT to a work would fix an original of the piece in such a way that the aura of the work subsequently viewed elsewhere as a copy would be destroyed, and experience of the audeineed diminished.
The hype for NFTs in the artwork has increased so much that even high-end auction houses such as Christie’s have been getting in on them. Though initially traded between friends for at most $100 USD, a secondary market for digital artwork NFTs made from files such as MP4s, GIFs and JPEGS, has quickly emerged.
The digital artist Beeple is the pseudonym of NFT innovator Mike Winkelmann who, until October 2020, had never sold a work for more than a hundred dollars. Come March 11th 2021, a recent digital collage from Beeple titled ‘Everydays – The First 5000 Days’ sold for a staggering $69 million USD at a Christie’s online auction. The price was far beyond the estimated $35 million and $15 million more than the painting Nymphéas by Monet which was sold via the auction house in 2014.