Non-fungible tokens (better known as NFTs) have been something of a hot news item since digital artist and graphic designer Beeple sold one at auction earlier this year to a cryptocurrency investor for a record-breaking $69.3 million. That NFT is tied to an art piece titled Everydays: The First 5,000 Days—a collage of 5,000 individual art pieces created by Beeple over 14 years, assembled into a single digital image—and was created exclusively for sale at famed fine art auction house Christie’s. Its sale made Beeple the third-most valuable living artist, behind Jeff Koons and David Hockney.
All this is to say that cryptocurrencies, which run the gamut from the ubiquitous Bitcoin to the Ethereum-based “game” Cryptokitties, have officially entered the art market. If the scions of Silicon Valley are to be believed, this is a great step forward for digital art—a moment which finally brings it in line with other, more traditional mediums. For me, though, it highlights a troubling reality with the way we define “fine art.” I’ve known more than a few incredibly talented digital artists over the years, and I’ve heard just as many arguments questioning digital art’s place in the Western fine art canon. It often felt like these arguments (as well as the proposed solutions) centered around the ease with which digital art can be freely distributed: if they lack the scarcity of, say, an oil painting, how can they have any value? The answer, it seems, was to create an artificial scarcity with the NFT.
We discuss the many ways I believe this is problematic in this week’s episode. In a time when many Americans are deeply questioning our ideals and beliefs as a nation, I think it’s worth considering how we as individuals value both art itself and the people who create it. Beeple’s is a catchy story of incredible luck, but if the seven-digit price tag on Everydays is the only thing that makes it important, where’s that leave the rest of us?
Thanks for listening,