NFTs are increasingly becoming a part of popular culture and an art form involving various fields like business, music, science and sports.
Given their worldwide financial success, it was to be expected that NFTs (Non-Fungible Tokens) - which are essentially digital assets with a unique identification code on a blockchain in an artistic-visual form made up of images, videos, photos, gifs and collages – would become a New and Fascinating Trend.
NFTs have attracted attention not only from those in the arts and business, but also from other areas like sports and music.
In reality, they are currently more of a combined interest, a synergy between different creative dimensions; collaborations that are always welcome in a world where cooperation is essential, even if it produces mixed results in terms of quality.
For example, soccer champion Zlatan Ibrahimovic was the inspiration for NFTs by various artists, including Giuseppe Veneziano with the work Zatlan Mundi, 2022, or Giovanni Motta who portrays him as a child in An Untold Story: Go Ramingo, 2022, or Davide Petraroli with , Project Zeus-Zlatan, 2022.
On the music front there is the collaboration between singer Madonna and digital artist, and recent superstar Beeple (born Mike Winkelmann) who has a degree in computer science. The work is a series of videos where Madonna appears in a three-act narrative as the Mother of Nature, Mother of Evolution and Mother of Technology, interpreting Mother Nature in an eco-ethical work that contains references to artwork like Gustave Courbet's painting L'Origine du Monde, 1866.
The trilogy is also part of the Mother of Creation series, an ethical and aesthetic digital art collection where proceeds from sales are donated to three non-profit organisations that support women and children: The Voices of Children Foundation, The City of Joy, and Black Mama's Bail Out.
Ethics and aesthetics
But good intentions alone are not enough to solve the aesthetic issue nor the ethical one, as some people accuse NFTs of being highly polluting, because generating them involves vast amount of electricity - with the environmental consequences that we know so well.
However, so far most of the articles about NFTs have focused on their economic performance at various auctions. So, there has been no critical, theoretical or scientific reflection on them, or on digital art in general, for which the current high profile of NFTs in the arts has resulted in a great deal of attention.
In fact, digital art, which includes NFTs, is a vast world that has been active for years, even though it has not had enough attention. Although there are galleries, museums and biennials dedicated to it, or which have included it in their events for a long time, it is still very divisive. On one side there are the traditionalists, heirs of the nineteenth/twentieth-century opposition between art and photography, who struggle to recognise it as art because, in their opinion, art is only painting, sculpture and drawing. On the other are the "futurists" for whom technique and technology are not only made up of scientific achievements but can also be expressions of poetry.
There are several events that try to explain as well as promote this new art form, like the 2021 Crypto Art is Now exhibition at the Museo della Permanente in Milan (renamed DART/Dynamic Art Museum for the occasion) in partnership with Wrong Theory (Alessandro Brunelli, Serena Tabacchi and Alan Tonetti).
This included crypto art works by 64 international artists: the first time there had been such a large number.
This was followed by a second edition: 2021 NFT ART OF THE FUTURE which had an additional section dedicated to the Metaverse, a virtual world parallel to the real one, featuring interactive exploration combining art and entertainment in different Metaverses. For example, Decentrland, which includes the Vegas City Arts Village business district project, with 85 self-run digital art galleries. Another is Spatial which contains arts and creative spaces to showcase and enjoy digital work, or the Musae and Martix metaverses.
From Italy we move to Switzerland and Villa Ciani in Lugano which held the exhibition NFT: The Future is Unwritten, curated by Ivan Quaroni and Linda Tommasi and promoted by the Lugano Living Lab, featuring artists like the American Beeple or the Italian Hackatao, among others.
The large amount of attention generated by the NFT phenomenon has resulted in dedicated museums, like the SEATTLE NFT MUSEUM (where else?), which opened on January 14, 2022, as an institution dedicated solely to NFT art on display in a physical form.
To this end, the founder, Jennifer Wrong (together with Peter Hamilton) says, "We wanted to create a space for the NFT community, aimed at making Seattle a hub for NFT and blockchain innovation. We're not experts and we're here to learn as much as anyone else, which is why we're counting on the feedback and support of NFT fans to continue to develop our vision."
But perhaps to date the institution that offers a more focused opportunity to reflect on this phenomenon is Palazzo Strozzi in Florence, where two exhibitions that are only seemingly far-removed from each other are under way: Donatello, the Renaissance, curated by medieval art historian Francesco Caglioti and Let’s Get Digital ,curated by Palazzo Strozzi director Arturo Galansino and Serena Tabacchi to "Question works and themes that are radically changing our relationship with art," says Galansino, referring to crypto art. These are "…works with a subversive aspect," adds Tabacchi director of the MoCDA (Museum of Digital Art).
MoCDA is also the main organiser of en plein air Urban Pixel, an exhibition of urban digital artworks that has been taking place in Milan, London and New York since June this year, involving the Pinacoteca di Brera, the MEET Digital Culture Center, the Prada Foundation in Milan and Circa in London. These are crypto art works displayed on digital billboards in Milan's Piazza San Babila, Piazzale Cadorna and Cordusio, Times Square in New York, Covent Garden and Piccadilly Circus in London.
History repeats itself
Of course there is a strong suspicion, given the financial performance of NFTs, of a purely economic phenomenon made up of highs and lows, but many artists, especially the most important ones, have been working with digital technologies for more than a decade, from a time in which digital works were considered by most as "non works of art," like photography or video art in the past.
When asked about this by Francesca Pini of the Corriere della Sera newspaper, Beeple, the artist with a record sale of almost $70 million for the NFT work Everydays. First 5000 Days, says “For fourteen years I drew for free, without asking for a cent. What I care about is digital art, which came before NFT. Blockchain is just technology to establish ownership of a work and is different from profiteering. The big umbrella is only that of art: under it there is digital art, crypto art. But do you know that I make art and that I give it only to give people pleasure? If you go to my site you’ll see Free Vj Loops, you can use those clips as you want, even for commercial purposes, you don’t even have to put my name, they are copyright free”.
So it was inevitable that today, in a life lived so immaterially (and called onlife by philosopher Luciano Floridi for that very reason) we would end up investigating the phenomenon of NFTs and not even being surprised by it. So for those who would like to learn more about this new world, of which digital art and its offshoots are merely a part, and thus be intellectually equipped to deal with it, I suggest reading Luciano Floridi's La Quarta Rivoluzione/The Fourth Revolution (published by Raffaello Cortina Editore, together with Memestetica, il settembre eterno dell’arte/Memeaesthetics, the Eternal September of Art published by Nero Edizioni, Roberto Presicci’s Arte 4.0 blockchain e social media per l’arte/ Art 4.0 Blockchain and Social media for Art, Domenico Quaranta’s Surfing con Satoshi/Surfing with Satoshi published by Postmedia Books, Byung-Chul Han’s Nello sciame/In the Swarm, published by Nottetempo Edizioni, Maurizio Ferraris’, Documanità filosofia del mondo nuovo/ Documanity philosophy of the new world published by Laterza Editore, Rebecca Pedrazzi’s, Futuri Possibili, Scenari d’Arte e Intelligenza Artificiale/ Possible Futures, Art Scenarios and Artificial Intelligence, by Jaca Book and Arte e Intelligenza Artificiale/ Art and Artificial Intelligence by A.A.V.V. (edited by Alice Barale) and also published by Jaca Book, for a deeper understanding of NFTs.
By Giacinto Di Pietrantonio