Art teachers react to non-fungible tokens

Everydays: The First 5000 Days, a collage of 5000 digital images, sold for $69.3 million – Beeple/ Christie’s via Wikimedia Commons

NFTs (non-fungible tokens) have been popular for quite a few months. As time goes on, the excitement does not seem to be dying down. 

An NFT is any form of the digital medium that can be bought and sold. An artist can choose to make 100 copies of his or her art or to just make one copy. 

“NFTs are a part of the business of art which is necessary when you are trying to sell something as easily reproducible as digital art,” said Art Department Chair Mr. Chris Fox. “But they are a good thing because digital artists have a way to make some cash.” 

Artists such as Beeple have sold collections of digital art for eye-popping amounts of money. Before getting into NFTs, Beeple was uploading his digital art for free. However, he recently sold a collection of his works for 69 million dollars.

“Beeple was not making much money as a graphic designer, and when he started he was only selling his NFTs at 50 dollars,” digital art teacher Ms. Kristin Brown said. “Now those pieces are worth millions, and every time they are resold, he gets a ten percent cut.” 

Ms. Brown went on to speak on the reselling of NFTs.

“Usually after an artist sells their work, it is out of their hands, and it is no longer theirs, so when an auction house resells, the artist doesn’t get any money from it,” Ms. Brown said. “NFTs are a game-changer because every time the art is resold, the artist gets a cut.”

Ceramics teacher Mr. Jacob Raeder notes that the art market has always fluctuated. 

“NFTs do seem to represent the most tangible example of the commodification of art, a piece of art as an asset that gains or depreciates in value. All art does this, but NFTs seem designed to accelerate this relationship,” Mr. Raeder said, speaking on the rapidly changing prices of NFTs. “The worry, if there is one, is that NFTs will drag down the quality of all art, gamify it. I don’t necessarily think this is true, and certainly, the whole of art history tells us when new technology or ideas come about, artists and curators and galleries can be quick to cry ‘This is the death of art’ when it’s just the next evolution.”

“The jury is still out because NFTs are something new, but so far they are a positive thing.”

Ms. Kristin Brown

The rise of NFTs may lead to a decline in real auction houses, and according to Mr. Fox, the auction houses may have a need to cry. 

“If auction houses do not get involved in NFTs, then they are threatened by NFTs. It is similar to how companies like Napster hurt the record business,” said Mr. Fox. 

After Napster began uploading music for free, record businesses naturally were frightened by their new opponent. NFTs are appearing in a similar situation with auction houses.

“When photography was introduced to the art world, traditional painting had to move over a little and allow photography room,” Mr. Fox said. “NFTs are on the business side of art, but it is still the same concept. The auction houses will have to move over to allow NFTs to shine.” 

A part of looking at the business side of art is considering art as an investment. Many collectors invest in art expecting that it will rise in value. Once those collectors believe it is high enough then they would sell it. 

Ms. Brown expects NFTs to be treated as normal artistic investments. 

“In the past, art collectors have resold their art as an investment anyway. Art has always really been seen as an investment, and NFTs are just a different form of that,” Ms. Brown said.

Mr. Fox, on the other hand, is skeptical about the fluctuations of NFTs, saying, “Someone who pays six million for an NFT of a tweet either has money to burn or they think that it is going to increase in value which I find a little hard to believe, but I am no expert.” 

The art world is certainly changing. Artists, auction houses, and buyers may have to change with it. 

“The jury is still out because NFTs are something new,” Ms. Brown said, “but so far they are a positive thing.”

Author: Connor Pinsk '23

Connor Pinsk joined The Index in the fall of 2019.