Header Image: Temporary Awareness of Passing by Michael Cina
In my previous article, I wrote about some of the things that excite me about NFTs. As a person who grew up with the internet, I saw the endless potential of the digital space. As an artist, I saw its potential to not only experiment with new art-viewing experiences, but also how much more accessible art can be. But alongside this, I also saw how terrible being a digital artist can be. One of the best things about digital properties is also its weakest point. It’s so easy to copy and share digital assets. With a few clicks of a button, I can save and reshare an image or a video without any acknowledgment to the original creator. That’s why you hardly ever hear digital artists making money on their original creations.
Earlier this year, that all changed when Christie’s sold a digital artwork by Beeple for $69 million. Suddenly everyone wanted a piece of this new technology. Once an institution as big as Christie’s decided digital art was worth selling, digital art became a legitimate form of art. Many artists were excited about this new legitimacy. But many also were wary of it.
The biggest criticism of NFT is the same criticism that has plagued cryptocurrency. I’m not a cryptocurrency expert, but the general understanding is that there is a lot of electricity used to keep this all going. Though electricity is seen as a more environmentally friendly power source, in reality, much of our electricity is still sourced from fossil fuel, decidedly not environmentally friendly. This is not a problem that can be easily solved until cryptocurrency itself has solved the problem.
That criticism is obvious and still ongoing, but let’s take a look at the art world side of things. Like the environmental effect, this criticism is one that has existed for a while but just morphed into a new shape. What happens when art is commercialized?
Turns out, bad things.
Anil Dash, one of the creators of an NFT predecessor, wrote about how and why he created monetized graphics. He and partner Kevin McCoy saw how uncontrollable a digital asset was once it hits the internet. Anyone and everyone can copy and paste anything and never acknowledge the original creator. It can be changed and misinterpreted with no control whatsoever. That’s what NFTs are supposed to do. It’s a way to trace your digital creation.
But what was once a way to help artists became a way to harm artists. Because you can tokenize anything digital, anything can be tokenized. Anything. A few days after Beeple’s momentous sale, everything suddenly became monetizable. Tweets, articles, Instagram posts, if it’s digital it will be turned into an NFT. Sometimes without the consent of the creator of the object.
That’s where things turned sour. Artists that were initially excited about the prospect of selling their digital creations became wary of unsavory individuals that turned their digital works into NFTs but claim them as theirs, not the artist. It’s as if someone came into your house, took your paintings, sold them as their painting, and said it was the artist’s fault that they didn’t lock their house in the first place. Several Twitter accounts were turning digital artworks posted to the social media site into NFTs, with no proceeds of that NFT sale going to the artist. Dash himself mentioned that the most popular program on his site that month was a program to mass block Twitter users. These were artists looking for a way to block all these Twitter accounts from stealing their works.
When money becomes involved, artists often get the raw end of the deal.
So what are we to do when we are so excited about having a piece of cultural history while also respecting the artists who created them? Like with traditional art, it’s all about research. Especially in this day and age, it’s easier than ever to find out who the original artist of a piece of art is. Find out if they are indeed the ones selling the NFT. Reach out to them. We shouldn’t let capitalism turn a good thing into another exploitative nightmare.
For artists, research is also your friend. There are too many scams out there who want to wring you for your work and keep the money to themselves. But there are also people out there who see the potential in this technology and want artists to be compensated for their works.
The world is still in its painful teething stage of NFTs and digital artworks. We’re still not sure what exactly the future holds for artists and NFTs. But good or bad, digital art and NFTs are here to stay.