Visual Arts Commentary: NFT Art – Selfless Creativity or Investment Strategy?

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By Mark Favermann

Clearer minds conclude that there will be plenty of cultural space for physical art and this new, highly monetized digital art.

Fabin Rasheed, Schrödinger box, 2021-1

When I first read about NFTs, I thought they didn’t make much sense. A few weeks later, my millennial daughter asked me if I knew anything about them. I asked around, read, and started to learn about NFTs. It turns out that an NFT is a digital asset that only exists in the digital universe. You can’t touch it, but you can own it. An NFT can be any type of digital file, including a work of art, article, photo, music, or even a meme, such as “Disaster Girl,” whose original photo has sold. $ 500,000 in April of this year. This NFT is an image of four-year-old Zoë Roth looking at a house on fire in 2005. It was the first of several high-priced NFT sales. NFT stands for “Non-fungible Token”. A “fungible token” is a $ 20 bill that can be exchanged for four $ 5 bills and therefore always has the same value. Therefore, a $ 20 bill is a fungible token.

A non-fungible token is a single, non-interchangeable unit of data stored on a digital ledger. NFTs can be associated with easily reproducible elements, such as photos, videos, audio, and other types of digital files. But NFTs are unique items. Public proof of individual NFT transactions must be connected via blockchain technology (Blockchain.com). This is a type of database that was invented in 2008 for the purpose of recording the movement of cryptocurrency, usually Bitcoin.

Kidmograph’s ‘Glass Prison’, 2020.

NFT art is a new way of categorizing digital artwork that allows artists to monetize their creations. A relevant question: how does valuing a physical work of art compare to valuing a virtual work of art? It turns out that the value of NFTs and crypto art is based on the value of the cryptocurrency. NFTs are sold on the basis of Ether or Ethereum. Ethereum is translated into monetary value. For example, if an NFT sells for 2 Ethereum, that would translate to around $ 2,255 at the moment. If the speculative value of Ethereum drops, so does the value of the artwork.

Today, digital art has grown into a billion dollar business, with everyone from Paris Hilton to Damien Hirst trading “non-fungible tokens.” But many art lovers are wary: Could NFT just be a get-rich-quick scheme masquerading as legitimate cultural consumption? Are NFTs works of art? Or are they just products made to meet the growing appetite for digital consumerism? Is this just the latest cynical fad for some to earn absurd amounts?

Part of the appeal of NFT – and the challenge it poses to the established business model of the art world – is that a Google search can locate and download the file associated with an NFT for nothing. Researchers can also store the image on their phone or computer. Only the owner has the right to sell it.

One downside to NFTs is that it is very easy for speculative buyers to return works of art by quickly reselling them for a profit. Anyone can buy an NFT; prices are listed as a public matter. Every time an NFT is resold, its creator also makes a profit. This system has merit: the practice of continual royalty is sorely lacking in today’s world of (physical) art. Throughout history, artists have felt unfairly excluded when their works are resold in secondary markets.

For those who wish to explore the art that exists in the virtual world, an ongoing exhibition (until December 19) at the Boston Cyberarts Gallery focuses on some international artists who create NFTs. Beginnings² includes NFT’s early artwork (from the Museum of Crypto Art collection) along with early computer pen plotter work from the Anne and Michael Spalter collection.

Number 41 Fountain, 2020.

The exhibition was curated by the founding director of the arts and technology organization, George Fifield. In his description of the exhibit, he explains that the high level of suspicion that greeted the sudden explosion in cryptographic art (NFT art) parallels the reaction of early artists who dug into code and used computers. to create art. The art world has not understood that code can, in the right hands, serve as a creative medium. At present, NFT artists are untrustworthy as the ownership is based on a speculative currency. In addition, the creation of this currency requires excessive amounts of energy. Yet for Fifield, crypto art is a legitimate medium, and the artists in this exhibit are among its imaginative pioneers, the first to investigate this new form.

Beginnings² features a mix of computer artists and crypto creators. Members of both groups must be qualified as leading artists. These include Arc4g, Collette and Charles J. Bangert, Harold Cohen, Eceertrey, Fractal Encrypt, Jean Pierre Hebert, Jivinci, ilan katin, Kidmograph, Espen Kluge, Manfred Mohr, Frieder Nake, Jon Noorlander, Number41, Fabin Rasheed, thesarahshow , Edward Zajec. Computer art is by established figures in the field while, for the most part, NFTs are by emerging artists.

that of Jean-Pierre Hébert Close-up on the Minotaur, 1997.

Some of the most extraordinary pieces in the exhibition are as satisfying as any powerful work of art. Jean-Pierre Hébert (1939-2021) Close-up on the Minotaur is a wonderfully elegant and intricate design. An engineer by training and by profession (he worked for IBM in France), Hébert began his career in computer art in 1978. Fountain by number 41 (minted in June 2020), is a spectacular animation. Like all of the pieces in Number 41, this clever moving image reflects something he has experienced in his life. Visually, it focuses on the theme of rise and fall: feelings initially full of joy, color, beauty and excitement deteriorate over time and eventually die. A gallery viewer commented that the image looks like a pyramid throwing up a rainbow! The visuals are a tribute by the artist to Pink Floyd’s The dark side of the moon blanket. Argentinian artist Kidmograph’s Glass prison, minted on October 5, 2020, is a see-through animation in which a human’s head is trapped in what looks like a prison of rotating stained glass windows.

As for the future of crypto art, its advocates believe that NFTs pose a serious challenge to the often bewildering monopoly that shopping malls have long held over the art trade. A major question: is crypto art – in the form of NFT – an act of selfless creativity or an investment asset? Its supporters envision a brave new future where physical works of art will be replaced by their digital counterparts. Clearer minds conclude that there will be plenty of cultural space for physical art and this new, highly monetized digital art.


Urban designer and public artist, Marc Favermann has been deeply involved in branding, improving and making more accessible parts of cities, sports venues and key institutions. Also an award-winning public artist, he creates functional public art as civic design. Designer of the renovated Coolidge Corner Theater, he is a design consultant for the Massachusetts Downtown Initiative Program and, since 2002, has been a design consultant for the Red Sox. Writing on urban planning, architecture, design and the fine arts, Mark is associate editor of Artistic fuse.

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