The role of NFTs in culture: between openness and excesses

NFTs have just been integrated into the Larousse dictionary. A new recognition for the English acronym of “non-fungible token”which continues to disrupt our society. NFTs are tamper-resistant digital certificates that certify the authenticity of a photo, video, music composition, gif, and even… a tweet. Their principle is closely linked to blockchain and cryptocurrency, especially through the Ethereum platform. Since 2020, these virtual tokens represent a real digital revolution that has taken over the worlds of entertainment as well as that of culture.

For Sotheby’s CEO, Sebastian Fahey, NFTs represent: “the most influential and exciting innovation the art world has seen in the past ten years”† A finding that raises questions today, as NFTs shake the industry’s traditional codes between openness and excess.

NFTs are revolutionizing the contours of art

They are everywhere. When social networks like Instagram attack it, different sectors of culture, such as film, music or fashion, have heeded their call. This is especially the case of the group Kings of Leon, for the promotion of their latest album, Martin Scorsese for the financing of his film A wing and a prayeror the clothing brand Gap.

But these fields are really just the continuity of what these new technologies are producing in the world of art today. Indeed, the latter appears to be the privileged area in which NFTs have been able to establish themselves. How to forget Every day: the first 5000 daysthe virtual work of Beeple, sold for $ 69.3 million?

Every day: the first 5000 days by the artist Beeple.©Beeple

In 2021, this transaction drew attention to a phenomenon that had been present since 2015, but then still relatively unknown to the general public. Above all, it has changed the situation for the art sector, which has seen its traditional codes evolve, be it the validation of a work, the democratization of its financing, its commodification or its transfer.

NFTs also influence the logistics of art. First, “because it is no longer necessary to collect the works for sale, there is no longer any need to transport them, the transactions are instantaneous and often move from collector to collector”, describes Jean Minguet, director of the econometrics department at Artprice. On the other hand, because the NFTs are investing the classic art promotion spaces. For example, in December 2021, the Museum of Crypto Art (MoCA) opened in Paris to celebrate its three-year creation in the metaverse. Museums such as the Basel Electronic House are also trying to acquire NFTs to display them, while these tokens can now be sold at auction in France, for reasons other than associations.

The Museum of Crypto Art in Paris.©Le Monde/Cryptovoxels

NFTs: a new platform for art and artists

A new art market is emerging. In addition to these auctions at astronomical prices, there is also an NFT market that is open to a wider audience. Where contemporary art is often the preserve of a handful of experts, NFTs make it possible to shake up and decentralize the elitist model.

As a result, the number of collectors will multiply, to also rejuvenate a large part of the millennials interested in the phenomenon today. This new generation can carry new artists as well as emerging creators who have since found a way to live out their passion in NFTs. These non-fungible objects would also make it possible to break through certain inequalities that prevailed in the environment by providing better representation for young artists, as well as female artists.

These digital tokens also represent a new field of research for artists, who can offer new creations, beyond the boundaries of the physical world. The case of street art is especially interesting. NFTs make it possible to protect it and overcome its volatile aspect. Creative media is also evolving and NFTs are the perfect way to own performance and art installations. For example, artist Alexa Meade creates 3D paintings using models in physical spaces.

Creation of Alexa Meade becomes an NFT.© Alexa Meade

We also see NFTs breathing new life into certain works. This is the case of Bunnyman, whose image, created 30 years ago by Max Grüter, is now available as NFT. So many examples that show that tokens play a decisive role in culture and art, especially in the field of representation.

NFTs in art and their urges

However, this diversity comes at a price and has several drawbacks. What primarily interests NFT consumers is the money – not the art. The creators of Monetized Graphics (the predecessor of these famous digital tokens), entrepreneur Anil Dash and digital artist Kevin McCoy quickly understood this in 2015. The Atlantic Ocean“By designing technology for artistic use, McCoy and I thought we’d prevent it from becoming a tool for exploiting creativity. But nothing went as planned. Our dream of empowering artists never saw the light of day and gave way to a useful commercial hype. »

It is true that artist protection seems like a utopia and can have serious consequences both for them and for NFT selling platforms. This is the case of OpenSea, the victim of a phishing attack, in which a malicious user stole a hundred NFTs, whose work Bored Ape Yacht Club (BAYC) by Timothy McKimmy. It’s not the first time OpenSea has been in turmoil: The platform was also at the heart of a plagiarism case. It has not taken the necessary steps to prevent forgery of NFTs and is accused of facilitating the theft of a form of virtual art. A principle that runs counter to intellectual property and which is a testament to the nascent legislation surrounding digital tokens.
Without going through these blockchain linked platforms, several artists have violated their intellectual property rights. This is the case of Liam Sharp, a comic book artist, who threatened to close his Deviant Art account because his works were regularly converted to NFT.

miracle Woman by Liam Sharp. The artist has seen many of his works converted to NFT.©Liam Sharp

Faced with this, an anti-NFT movement is mobilizing and trying to stop pro tokens from moving away from this practice. His hobbyhorse: proving that crypto art is too volatile, and capitalizing on a pyramid scheme to make money.

But this isn’t the only complaint we point to regarding the excesses of NFTs. Today, and while these tokens are attracting new consumers in the field of art and culture, it is clear that it is still a technology inaccessible to the general public, among which the use of cryptocurrencies is still limited.

Finally, from a culture point of view, NFTs raise the question of the future, but also of the definition of art. With the endless possibilities they offer, be it painting, video or music, it seems like everything has the potential to become art and culture. However, the production of a tweet may not be comparable to an image created by an artist, and more generally threatens to taint the uniqueness of a work.

Without even mentioning the catastrophic environmental impact of NFTs, several abuses exist. While they shake up the traditional codes of art, NFTs are not necessarily synonymous with guarantees. An ambivalence that every technology has, of course, but which, in the case of these digital tokens, deserves to be well explored, to maintain a dense, diverse culture, but also with respect for artists and their work.

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