Discussions around art always give rise to vehement disagreement. This is because art is hard to define and even more difficult to place a value on. Recently, Keanu Reeves rubbish NFTs saying that they’re easy to replicate, and that art is about experiencing something, not owning it. He instantly gained huge support in ridiculing what many think is a stupid trend that’ll soon die out. While NFTs may not end up being a permanent fixture in the digital marketplace, they do raise very interesting conversations around art ownership and value.
What is an NFT?
If you’ve been under a rock, or fallen down a youtube rabbit hole and only recently returned, NFTs are non-fungible tokens. Basically, they are pieces of digital art that are logged and authenticated on cryptocurrency blockchains. This means that you can prove that you own this piece of digital art, as well as trade it as one would a real-world asset.
A Closer Look
If you follow Reeve’s assessment and look at what has been traded via these platforms, you immediately agree with him. Early memes, viral clips and even tweets have been sold as NFTs, leading many to feel it’s a gimmicky market that relies on its own novelty to keep going.
If we look at Reeve’s two statements, they seem to have a ‘common sense’ correctness about them. NFTs can be easily copied, and art is about experience over ownership, right?
But let’s dig a little deeper into these two ideas and see what comes up.
NFTs Are Easy To Reproduce
Is art that’s easy to copy worth buying? Well, most people would say yes, even if they agreed with Keanu. After all, Warhol’s soup cans and screen prints have been sold and resold for huge sums of money. A photograph can be copied ad nauseam with a little help from one’s printer. I could pirate the new Matrix film within the next hour if I wanted to.
Conceptually driven art, a product of postmodern ideas around representation, presentation and value, has been a staple in galleries around the world for a long time. Duchamp put a urinal in a gallery over 100 years ago, a urinal which has since been lost and reproduced several times. Reeve’s claim that art is, at its core, inimitable is an outdated idea, and one that definitely can’t survive in the digital age.
Art Is About Experience Not Ownership
The interesting thing about this idea is it makes you choose between experiencing something and owning something. Keanu Reeves is an actor, so in a sense he is an artist. The way a film works, the way it makes money and covers its costs, is that someone owns it. Every film has a complex chain of title which ensures the legality of any sales. This doesn’t stop people from going to the cinema to experience it.
While NFTS might be a passing fad, the responses to their existence have highlighted the double standards people hold when it comes to placing a value on art, especially digital art.