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NFT Art: A Game Changer or Passing Fad?
Artstyle 01 Feb 2022

NFT Art: A Game Changer or Passing Fad?

NFT art: game changer or speculative bubble
Virtual art gallery for exhibiting NFTs

NFT art appeared very recently. In a few months, NFTs have gone from a niche market to a colossal and globalized industry, representing tens of billions of dollars in transactions. Between adoration and contempt, fantasy and artistic revolution, what is the future of NFTs in the art market?

The NFT: a definition

The NFT (literally, Non Fungible Token) is an electronic certificate of authenticity and ownership. It allows, in a secure way, a total transparency on the conditions of exchange of an electronic file.

In public opinion, this electronic file corresponds to a work of art, which is referred to as digital art. Today, the NFT evokes this category of digital works of art, which use NFT technology to be marketed.

The NFT: a definition
Nyan Cat, 2011 © nytimes.com

NFT art, an ambiguous shortcut

As the Wikipedia moderation committee recently reminded us, an NFT is not a work of art in itself. This is due in part to the fact that “NFT” is actually composed of two elements: There’s the NFT itself, i.e. the electronic certificate of authenticity. And then there’s the electronic file to which it is attached, which corresponds, or not, to a work of art.

“NFT art” actually covers very different things. These range from digital artworks to text messages and famous tweets. The electronic file attached to an NFT can be anything and everything! From a virtual piece of land in the metaverse, to a singer’s body part, to a reproduction of an ancient painting, or a video that made the buzz in the 2000s, or a handbag.

Declaring NFTs to be works of art automatically is incorrect. Although the definition of the work of art is constantly being reassessed, it seems that the artistic intention and the creative process remain, for the time being, at the base of this definition. It’s a criteria that many NFTs do not meet.

NFT art, an ambiguous shortcut
First Tweet, recently sold in NFT

The NFT, new possibilities for artistic creation

The NFT is therefore above all a technological tool that participates in the marketing of digital works of art. However, digital artists, whether they create videos, digital photos, animations or 3D creations, did not wait for the arrival of NFT to exist. But there was a difficulty in the art market to commercialize and legitimize this type of artwork.

Today, with the arrival of NFTs, digital works of art have gained legitimacy and visibility. And the opportunities for marketing and exposure have multiplied. Whether it’s the resale right granted to artists, or exhibitions in virtual universes, artists benefit a lot from this new tool.

In other words, artists have the means to make a living from digital art. And it is revolutionary! The possibilities of creation are therefore multiplied with unlimited opportunities. It’s an ideal ground for creation for digital artists!

The NFT, new possibilities for artistic creation
Everydays The First 5000 days, Beeple, 2021

NFT art from established artists

We see already established artists leaning into NFT art. Street artist Vhils for example, with his series “The End of the Industrial Era,” has made works specifically designed to be converted into NFT. In particular, he has produced several 3D models of pieces of facades, with the face of one of his works spinning in the void above a gray base.

We must nevertheless distinguish artists like Vhils, who reflect on the new possibilities of creation offered by the NFT, and other works, which create no more than the digital version of a pre-existing work.

Thus, when Jeff Koons announces that his sculpture Holen Fels will soon be sold as an NFT, can we speak of a new artistic creation?

If Marcel Duchamp taught us one thing, it’s that art was an illusion, and the artist was its magician. With a wave of his wand, he can choose to consecrate an object as a work of art. No doubt this is also valid for digital files.

NFT art from established artists
Detritus #1, Vhils, 2021

The new artists of NFT art

New artists were also able to emerge. Indeed, NFT is not a simple tool, it is also attached to a whole new cultural field.

The NFT comes from the field of the blockchain. And beyond being a technological novelty, it is a group of actors who share values ​​and cultural codes. A large part of these codes are inherited from internet culture, where video games, social networks, GIFs and memes, crazy photomontages, and many other things are mixed together.

Therefore, a large number of NFT artists come from this digital culture. Beeple is the best example. Still unknown to everyone in 2020, he made headlines as the world’s third most expensive living artist, with his work Everydays: the First 5000 Days, sold at Christie’s for $69.3 million in 2021.

Behind this work, the story of a man, having made photomontages every day since 2007, which he originally posted on a blog, before discovering the possibilities offered by NFTs.

We could also mention Blake Kathryn, an illustrator who mixes the universe of illustration, manga, kawaii, 3D, in works that are difficult to classify.

The New Artists of NFT Art
Blake Kathryn

Crypto art and crypto currency

In the world of NFT art, one type of NFT gets more attention than any other. These are series of drawings, each slightly different from each other, which sometimes exist in several tens of thousands of copies.

There are the Crypto Punks, the Bored Ape Yacht Club, the Aries. And they are turning the art market upside down.

Halfway between a work of art and cryptocurrency, these are the ones that brew the largest volume of sales. They become a new social marker to display proudly on your digital watch. A whole culture is developing around these “tokens” which are likened to works of art.

Crypto art and crypto currency
Selection of Crypto Punk

The arrival of traditional players

The arrival of traditional market players in the world of NFTs maintains this confusion between what is a work of art, and what is more related to a collectible without artistic intention.

Christie’s and Sotheby’s quickly positioned themselves in this market. And whether it’s museums, large galleries, or already famous artists, most of the traditional players in the art market have launched themselves into this new sector.

Speculation you say? While the entire NFT market represented only $210M in 2019, it represented $40B in 2021. That’s an increase of 19,000% in just two years!

The arrival of traditional players
Urs Fischer, “CHAOS #1,” 2021 

The new possibilities of the art market

It is undeniable that there is rampant speculation in the NFT art industry. Several reasons explain this. In general, the rise of all crypto-currencies contributes to the growth of this market since transactions often take place in these bitcoins or eretheum. Then, the confusion maintained between what is or is not part of the artistic field contributes to the enthusiasm of collectors. And finally, the arrival of major traditional players gives legitimacy and structure to this emerging market.

The art market is adapting and constantly changing. Many innovations from NFTs are truly revolutionary and beneficial to this market: increased transparency on prices and the identity of the owners of works; a resale right that allows better remuneration for artists; the arrival of new artists and new collectors.

The next few years will be decisive in stabilizing its development and better defining what it covers. And you, what do you think ?

The New Possibilities of the Art Market
View of a virtual gallery