Multiple things can be true at once, even when they appear to be contradictory. Granite, for example, can be both solid and ethereal. Hold a chunk of it in the palm of your hand and it’s clearly a rock NFTs. View it at the atomic level and it’s a galaxy of particles. How you’d describe it depends entirely upon your frame of reference.
Similarly, NFTs can be trash-ass garbage peddled by blackpilled edgelords and grifters. NFTs can also reshape the trajectory of art in a way that is truly and deeply important.
I’m not interested in grifters or hype culture or anything within the vicinity of get-rich-quick rhetoric. I care about art. Specifically, I care about the fact that as the world shifts to an increasingly digital experience, artists have been left behind. And right now, NFTs look like the only way forward.
The Problem Posed by NFTs and Made Worse by Social Media:
Before we can talk about art and NFTs, we need to talk about the digital revolution.
Remember video stores? Back in the nineties, if you wanted to see a movie at home, you had to go to a brick and mortar location, pick out a movie, take it to the checkout counter, and pay for the rental. It was a retail experience. Seeing a movie at home meant carrying a hard copy in your hands.
At first videos were on VHS, then we switched to DVDs, then video-on-demand became a thing and video rental stores became obsolete. Now if you want to watch a movie, all you need to do is summon it from the immaterial void on one of your many devices.
This shift from NFTs to DVD to VOD.
Probably seems like a benign progression toward convenience. But it actually reflects a technological development with massive cultural implications.
Essentially, two things happened that completely transformed our relationship to media. First, digitization — the creation of digital copies — came into widespread use. Images could be scan and converted to digital files. VHS and cassette tapes, which were analog, were replace digital CDs and DVDs. Digital files could be ripped from physical discs and stored on your computer, but there were limitations. Keeping those files required storage space, which could be expensive. And sharing those files required a fast internet connection, which not everyone had. You could write files onto a CD or save them to a thumb drive, but it still meant relying on a hard copy to move a file from one computer to another.
That changed with Web 2.0.
When the internet became a reliable means of effortlessly storing, sharing, and streaming digital media. Hard copies are no longer necessary.
Digitization means infinite digital copies. Web 2.0 means instant, frictionless dissemination. This combination of reproduction and distribution is enough to cause a seismic shift in how we relate to media, comparable to the introduction of the printing press in Renaissance Europe.
But while the printing press led to increased literacy rates, exposure to new cultures and ideas, and, famously, the Protestant Reformation, we’ve seen lightning-quick proliferation of misinformation and with it, an erosion of democracy and increased radicalization. And where the Renaissance was a period of artistic innovation and the recognition of artistic authorship, this period we’re living in now has erased authorship altogether and created conditions to ensure that art will stagnate.
you’re an illustrator.
You spend a couple of weeks perfecting your drawing and post it to Instagram so people can see it. Maybe they like it and it generates engagement. Maybe your illustration goes viral as it’s repost and reproduc in a thousand different ways. Now it’s just another image circulating the internet. This cycle reflects a loss of authorship.
Authorship is the connection between the artist and their work, and this matters for a few reasons. There’s the obvious issue: Artists deserve recognition for the work they create. But at a cultural level, art also starts to be view as something that magically emerges fully formed from the ether. The work artists put into the act of creation is devalue. When that labor is devalue, artists have to fight harder to get pay. When artists stop get pay, you see a decline in innovation, and art stagnates.
Let’s go back to your NFTs life as an illustrator.
You post your work, it went viral, you’re not get pay, and you’re lucky if you get credit. Who actually benefits from this current system?
Social media corporations and their respective advertising networks.
These companies extract data from user engagement with your work, which they then use to sell products. You might get some visibility, you might get more followers, but fundamentally, it’s the social media companies that are deriving direct benefit. For free. They’re not even fighting to ensure you get credit for your work.