NFTs are assets, not art
Money is an excellent tool to focus people’s attention. Christie’s is now auctioning a huge jpg made up of 5,000 separate jpegs for $69,346,250. EVERYDAY: THE FIRST 5000 DAYS (2007–20), by Beeple – also known as Mike Winkelmann – is a video maker, illustrator, and now feted artist. Winkelmann sprang to prominence after an online auction in December sold a collection of his “every day” — surrealistic, sometimes funny, often obnoxiously zeitgeisty CGI pictures that Winkelmann has been creating and publishing once a day, each day, since 1 May 2007. Beeple sold for $3.5 million through the internet marketplace Nifty. But now that he’s made it to the top of the art store food chain, that seems insignificant.
Art is supposed to be aesthetic, not tradeable
The sight of these pop-cultural trinkets changing what had previously been deemed aesthetically attenuate air into billions has split the art world. The commercial art world has been compelled to turn to the online realm to retain the visibility of its commodities, ravaged by a year of COVID-19 upheavals and worried about how to monetize art items that are difficult to present and sell (especially in an era of closed galleries and art fairs). Despite the fact that innumerable video broadcasts, online art fairs, and screening rooms have been created, the key issues confronting a global art community that is grounded till further notice have remained unsolved. And the rise of NFTs offers a seductive answer to two important art-market issues: it promises a safe, yet extremely liquid means of financial exchange, as well as an unbreakable assurance of uniqueness and rarity for the objects sold through it. Of course, savvy auctioneers like Christie’s jumped in when they saw an opportunity (AKA money).
Is art no longer appreciated?
The art world’s critical conscience, on the other hand, has been less thrilled; what are these cultural objects that have so easily captured the media’s attention, auctioneers, and collectors? What does this mean for modern art’s commercial and institutional censors, as well as art critics, given that the market for valuable digital artifacts has infiltrated the art world? After all, the visuals of Beeple and Grimes irritate this critic (although, to be fair, Beeple has called much of his iconography “trash”). But we’ll get to that later.
Some of the early critical reactions to the NFT and Beeple crazes are instructive since they hint at the skepticism that now pervades contemporary art’s perception of its own historical values and social significance. ‘Such cultural events are worth concentrating on, in part since they expose whether you have a guardian mentality or not,’ writes Martin Herbert. ‘The difficult thing to discern is whether you’re attempting to preserve some perceived standard if you’ve gone traditionalist, or, more simply, if you’re a snob,’ Herbert continues.
Contemporary art (then) – a relief from pop art
For decades, and for many of ‘us,’ contemporary art has served as a kind of refuge from the evident iniquities and stupidities of ‘popular culture’ – a place where counter normative morals, politics, and histories could lay claim to a degree of cultural freedom, a place where we could debate what constitutes good art, and even inculcate something akin to ‘taste.’ Contemporary art coexists alongside countercultures such as indie music, independent film, and literature, while also associating itself with a range of radical political subcultures – a space to express opposition to mainstream, conservative, consumerist, and ‘normie’ ideals.
Contemporary art now (now) – oligarchical rich’s toys
Unlike most other subcultures, however, contemporary art has evolved a sometimes-conflicting connection with the oligarchical affluent, as well as the seclusion and exclusivity that comes with it. One of the ironies is that, while art has tried to identify itself against the mainstream and popular culture, it is a “subculture” that has still become elite culture. In recent years, the artworld’s otherwise fortunate institutional planet has taken to heart issues of social justice, environmental, and ethical duty that characterize ‘progressive’ culture – a position that frequently pits it against the values and interests of less-privileged sections of normal culture, such as the ‘squeezed middle,’ disenfranchised working-class voters, and others whose cultural beliefs differ sharply from these preoccupations.