NFT Art: A hypetrain or the Latest Paradigm Shift in ART?

For all of human history, art has evolved and one artistic movement has been displaced by another. But, when it comes to NFT art, most people hold the contrarian view that these do not classify as art. Here’s a definitive guide to prove that NFT art constitutes not only a new art form but also a shift in our perception of art.

Image Credits: Photo by Luis Alfonso Orellana on Unsplash

If you look at the artistic evolution of our species, one thing rings true. Change.

Starting from the Palaeolithic cave paintings to the frescoes of Michelangelo and Raphael all the way to the graffiti art murals by Banksy, each artistic movement has been characterized by a unique concept, form, technique, medium, or style.

Consider cubism, one of the most influential art movements in history. It was considered exceptionally radical for its times, but inspired movements in architecture, sculpting, music, and literature.

Figure dans un Fauteuil (Seated Nude, Femme nue assise), oil on canvas, 92.1 × 73 cm,
Pablo Picasso, 1909–10, Figure dans un Fauteuil (Seated Nude, Femme nue assise), oil on canvas, 92.1 × 73 cm, Tate Modern, London; Source: Wikipedia

And then, there were technological innovations, like the invention of photography, which led to the democratization of art by making portraits cheaper and more accessible rather than being the exclusive privilege of the rich.

However, NFT art has not replaced other artforms. The Impressionist paintings of the 19th century are as relevant today as it was then. Traditional art still enjoys favor among art enthusiasts and will continue to inspire artists for generations to come. What is important is that NFT art is increasingly attracting a strong footfall of artists, believers, and enthusiasts.

And, it is on the merit of what it offers that it should be judged.

Definition of Art

Defining art was perhaps the singular most unsolvable problem that fazed intellectuals across the ages.

There is no standard definition of art that is agreed upon. It is not defined by aesthetic appeal or skill or by the prowess of the artist but perhaps seen as a creative impulse, a product of the environment in which it was built, and the effect it generates.

So, there is much that rides on the agency of the artist and the temperament of the observer.

Perhaps, the German-American art historian Peter Selz said it best-

If one general statement can be made about the art of our times, it is that one by one the old criteria of what a work of art ought to be have been discarded in favor of a dynamic approach in which everything is possible.

Today, NFT art finds resonance among a new generation of artists and enthusiasts.

The charm?

Perhaps, instead of one, it’s a combination of factors, from the novelty of a new art medium to what the NFT represents — a social message, a connection with the artist, the privilege it offers, or how the community at large perceives it.

NFTs change the lens by which we see art

Much like photographic art that relied on the development of photographic plates and later the digital camera, NFT art is also a product of technological innovation.

Rather than painting on a physical canvas, an artist creates art on a digital canvas and mints a token with a unique token ID that represents it. This token lends it the qualities of non-fungibility, irrefutable ownership, and scarcity that provides it real-world value that is distinct from its aesthetic or artistic style.

But, NFTs also offer more. While artistic movements usually focus on a distinct style or technique, NFT art encompasses NFT digital art, memes, gifs, gaming world assets, virtual landscapes, and even code-generated art. This allows artists across diverse skillsets to craft their artistic vision.

Beeple’s Everydays: the First 5000 Days, a digital collage of 5000 images developed over a period of 14 years
Beeple’s Everydays: the First 5000 Days, a digital collage of 5000 images developed over a period of 14 years; Source: Wikipedia
One of the 5000 images that comprise the above artwork
One of the 5000 images that comprise the above artwork; Source: Wikipedia

Through NFTs, art acquires flexibility and dynamism.

Consider, dynamic NFTs. Unlike static art, dNFTs change over time based on external conditions, and when changes in its metadata is enforced by a smart contract. With dNFTs, the viewer may see an evolution of the character or the study (of the art) over time and space.

An excellent example here are the LaMelo Ball NFTs.

LaMelo Ball NFTs
Image Credits: Playground Studios

The NFTs, based on the game statistics of the NBA player, changed depending on how he performed on-court.

While, many of us, could easily spend hours staring at a painting, like the Girl with a Pearl Earring, NFTs provide a different kind of immersion.

A new generation of youth have been brought up with technology being a core part of their life. For them, owning a digital asset may offer more in terms of value than a physical painting. Video game enthusiasts would be more involved and passionate about a digital landscape for the immersion it provides within the gaming environment.

And, then, there are NFTs like Beeple’s The Human One that are immersive due to its sheer technique. Conceptualized as a generative work of art existing in an ever-changing hybrid of digital and physical spaces, it shows an astronaut walking while the terrain changes.

This is what Quartz wrote about the artwork -

“The dynamic nature of Beeple’s art speaks to an emerging paradigm in both art and crypto, where the artist and the buyer are in prolonged conversation — and the transaction is just the start of the deal.”

NFTs have shaken up the art industry

In 2021, Murat Pak’s The Merge was sold for $91.8 million, making it the most expensive NFT ever sold. Certain NFTs are indeed valued high, making many critics question the democratizing aspect of the technology.

However, such examples are rare. Similar to the traditional art world, where works by certain artists fetch higher prices than others, the value attributed to NFT art is dependent on how the community values the artist’s portfolio of works or how an art is conceptualized. On an average, the price for a new NFT hovers around $100, making the purchase of NFT still largely possible for a large percentage of buyers.

But, NFTs do much more than fetch good value for artists. Earlier, traditional artists depended on powerful auction houses and galleries to champion their work. Digital artists had no way to trace the distribution of their artwork since there was no way to differentiate between the original and its copies.

Today, with NFTs, artists can focus on their artistic process and nurture free and transparent communication with their community, rather than rely on the patronage of powerful institutions or worry about distribution. This is because the divide between artists and enthusiasts have been lowered allowing for a free-exchange of ideas and inspiration.

Artists can present their work to their communities and art enthusiasts in decentralized marketplaces and set their own value for the art piece. They can sell their art with provable ownership and earn resale royalties on that art for perpetuity. And, buyers can own the artwork in a clear and verifiable way, despite the number of copies of the digital art that may exist across the web.

It is perhaps this recognition of how art is created, valued, and sold that has led to major auction houses like Christie’s and Sotheby’s to now showcase NFTs alongside other traditional art.

So, what do we think?

NFTs have shifted the lens by which we view art, but it hasn’t discarded the past.

The technology in which NFTs rely is still at a transitory phase. As a result, the art is yet to take a final form or shape. But, as more and more artists experiment with new techniques and artforms, new outlets of expression are being discovered and the NFT art industry is becoming more inclusive than ever.

While much change is expected in the years ahead, it cannot be denied that the art world is well at a cusp of reinvention, thanks to NFTs.

And, all for the better.

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