Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs) are the buzz right now. Everyone talks about them, everyone wants them. But what are they exactly? And moreover, is it true that NFTs are making the art industry more accessibile to everyone?
The acronym that has been talked about a lot in recent months basically represents "ownership" certificates on digital works. In short, NFTs are units of data created and stored on blockchain technology. They are a special type of cryptographic tokens that represents the deed of ownership and the certificate of authenticity written on the Blockchain of a unique asset (digital or physical). They are not mutually interchangeable and therefore differ from cryptocurrencies, such as bitcoins, which are fungible. But as bitcoin changed the world of money, NFTs are changing the world art.
During (and in a certain sense also thanks to) the Covid-19 pandemic, the art industry has understood the importance and advantages of digitization and has begun to make "high culture" accessible to most. For example, museums made their collections available on social networks, on digital archives in which to find catalogs and publications, on cutting-edge virtual tours, etc. NFTs made another, bigger, step forward.
The key to understanding the value attributed to NFTs lies in the notion of ‘fungibility’; or in this case non-fungibility. Non-fungible assets are unique, and cannot be interchanged. An artwork, for example, is unique, non-fungible, and thus possesses inherent value that is open to speculation. For artists, this means - among other things - that their work (be it a drawing, a sculpture, a painting, but also a poem or even a tweet) acquires authenticity. The innovation of NFTs lies precisely in this: the work becomes an asset, albeit replicable, unique in terms of commercial value. Traditionally, singularity is what adds to a work of art’s value, whereas digital assets can be quickly and easily duplicated.
Many believe that NFTs can help enhance diversity, equity, and inclusion in the art world. NFTs bring blockchain to the masses, making was used to be for the ‘elite’ accessible to minorities. Is it really what’s happening?
We all know that, traditionally, the art industry has been restricted to a select group of artists. For instance, according to a study, artists in 18 major US museums are 85% white and 87% male - not so flattering numbers when we talk about diversity in the art world. However, as basically anyone can enter the NFT space, any artist from anywhere in the world can easily gain exposure to the hype around these collectible assets.
As stated in crytpodaily.com: “Historically, minorities have lacked representation in the art space. In addition to offering minorities a platform to exhibit their art, the NFT world also provides artists with a sense of belonging and a way to connect with the community. Furthermore, through NFTs, minorities have an opportunity to create more equitable access to wealth. This is because NFTs open the door to the art world for people who haven't been able to invest in or sell their art in traditional venues. Thus, powered by blockchain, the NFT space enables investors and artists from all cultures and backgrounds to close the wealth gap through ownership and collection of NFTs”.
However, despite all the advantages, it is undeniable that barriers to entry into this crypto art-world remain. Aside from mustering enough knowledge of the complicated concept to set up a cryptowallet to purchase, unfamiliarity and uncertainty hold many back. Moreover, the sales of NFTs have been targeted to wealthier millennials; which in itself is a change, countering the older generations of wealthy, art-owning individuals. However, it is still something for the wealthy. It somehow feels like NFTs are turning a world once stereotyped as elite and inaccessible into a playground that only young rich male tech nerds can enter.
Credit image: Christie’s Images Limited 2021
Written by Francesca Pinardi