NFT – Revolution or Hype?

What started in 2017 with cute CryptoKitties has turned into a million-dollar business in recent months.

On March 11th, digital artist Mike Winkelmann alias “Beeple” exceeded all expectations with the $69 million sale of his work “Everydays – The First 5000 Days”  at Christies’s auction house. Suddenly he was the third most expensive living artist, behind Jeff Koons and David Hockney – the art world in shock!

Since that the NFT market experienced an exponential rise in the period from May 2nd to 9th, which ended with the peak of a total volume of NFT sales of USD 176,042,317 to date (1).  After May 9th the curve dropped steeply.  The NFT sale of nine CryptoPunks for 16.9 million US dollars at Christie’s on May 11th did nothing to change that.

The red-hot market for non-fungible tokens (NFTs) is cooling down. Whether it’s a bursting bubble or just a course correction remains to be seen.

But one thing is certain: the system behind the NFTs has changed the art world and will lead to further changes. For better or worse, the art market will have to get used to this.

The sometimes controversial discussions in connection with this development are reminiscent of earlier times. They were always carried out when something new arised in art and thus contradicts traditional viewing habits. Art, which emerged towards the end of the 19th century under the conditions of new technologies and world views, was initially insulted as “impressionistic” because it disregarded the applicable rules and laws of art. Today Impressionism is the starting point for modern painting. Photography was also denied as non-art for a long time. When Duchamp took objects out of the Lebenswelt and elevated them to works of art, there was an outcry in art criticism. Abstract Expressionism works were physically attacked (2). And everything changed in the next decade, when, in Pop Art, Minimalism, and Conceptual Art, artworks appeared which were unlike anything seen before.  Philosophical explanatory models argued that “art” is an “open concept” (3) or the result of a social network (4). The invisible in art was beyond the imagination of many observers.

Just as the rhetoric of the critics is repeated this time when they dismiss NFTs as a fad, bubble or speculation.

Certainly, crypto art isn’t new. In the 21st century, new technologies are no longer passive tools of artistic practice. Artworks in AR, VR, AI are created just like everything else in the art world. The only difference is the aesthetics used by the NFT world. It is reminiscent of the slippery filter cult that modern photography and Snapchat enable and probably manipulate an entire generation. Also, many of the topics also correspond more to the current zeitgeist or are future-oriented: Science Fiction, Anime, CryptoWorlds, Cyborgs, etc.
Anyone who is looking for something completely new in art, i.e. looking for new forms or content, will quickly be disappointed today. Even the immaterial has already been drilled through.

On closer inspection, however, there can still be something revolutionary: in the system!
Uniqueizing digital art is revolutionary. Creating your own successful distribution channels is revolutionary. Generating new groups of buyers at high speed is revolutionary!

And I’m happy to witness this moment in art history, because a new generation of collectors is growing up here: crypto-financial nerds and entrepreneurs who invest in life-style, who are curious and fearless, who believe in the future of new technologies – in cryptocurrency, in decentralized structures, in open systems – people who suddenly feel a desire for digital art and spend large sums on it. The previous system can be rethought.

This is because a large proportion of these new collectors are less speculative than many critics might think. On the contrary. From what we can observe: acquiring digital assets is about creating identities online. An investment in art remains social and cultural. An investment in art is about passion and emotion. An investment in art outside the white cube and the elitist art establishment gives the opportunity to discover trends by oneself, to become a tastemaker and to invest directly in creativity – helping to shape creativity. The personal connection between buyer and artist has never been so close! Everyone involved feels valued!

The traditional art market could benefit from this!
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(1) according to Nonfungible.com, which tracks various NFT marketplaces.

(2) In 1982 a student attacked Barnett Newman’s painting Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue IV? in the New National Gallery in Berlin. The reason he gave was that he felt provoked by the painting.

(3)  Morris Weitz, „The Role of Theory in Aesthetics“, in: Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism Vol. XV, no. 1, 1956

(4) George Dickie, “The Century of Taste (Oxford University Press,1996)