Are NFT’s the future of Art or just a novelty?

by | Oct 5, 2023

NFT and Digital Art

Digital art has existed since the late 1960s, but the product was just a file that was difficult to exchange and collect. It didn’t find adequate appreciation as it didn’t have adequate protection and could be freely reproduced. With blockchain technology it is protected and takes value in terms of scarcity. In this scenario digital art is not a novelty.

Today, the novelty factor is the tool, the container: the Non-Fungible Token (NFTs) and the blockchain applied in the art world. While NFTs may seem new, they are not. Their trajectory follows a longer arc from earlier attempts of the art market to create tradable assets around ephemeral art. Sol LeWitt’s certificates of authenticity pertaining to Wall Drawings mirror the relationship of NFTs as readily accessible images, for which only one person or entity (the certificate holder) can claim ownership.

We can state that Maurizio Cattelan’s Comedian, in 2019 questioned the “concept of ownership of a work of art”. In fact, well before NFTs, the value of the artwork lay in the certificate of authenticity containing the instructions on the creation and assembly of the work and, of course, the title of ownership. “I will frame the certificate” said the first buyer of the artwork Comedian.

Because the value is in the certification of the authenticity as well as in title of ownership, granting that a transaction has been made, what is the famous “banana” if not a primordial form of NFT? 

And, again, what is a Non-Fungible Token if not a certification?

What are the characteristics and the dynamics of this new industry?

A few questions arise: why is it so difficult to stop talking about economic figures when considering art-related NFTs and how much these products have to be led by economic drivers? Is it possible to adopt an ethical-cultural or curatorial approach to the Non-Fungible Token and can we start considering the content and not the container? What is a buyer who purchases an NFT really buying? NFTs (Corpus mechanicum) do not carry the medium (Corpus mysthicum), which is not on the blockchain. It is found on a separate server (InterPlanetary File System) that is used for the purpose of energy saving.

The buyer is not buying the artwork, which stays on the author’s device or the device of anybody who downloads it. He is not buying the copyright belonging to the author and he is not buying the exclusivity in the reproduction. He is buying the right to say that he owns a certain object, knowing that anybody can possess it. He is buying the recording of the moment wherein the artist or the seller agrees on the transaction.

Since Non-Fungible Tokens are a method of exploitation and a container, we should shift our attention to the content, to the artwork. This is the reason why it is so important to focus on the ethical-cultural and curatorial aspects of what art is.

The key question comes to mind: who establishes what the content is and which of these products that we looked at in the last twenty-four months are really art?

In the traditional art sector, what defines art is the “consensus” that surrounds the artwork, that is provided by the market, the critics, the community, the desire to exchange it. On the sphere of the art that surfs the internet, the consensus is digital and distributed. The consensus is distributed because there is a sort of validation of the transaction from one block to another. You reach the consent on the informative set to allow a chronological growth of the blocks with tools that can either be the proof of work or the proof of stake.

Besides the big philosophical and artistic gap existing between collectibles (that include the famous “Bored Apes” and art-related NFTs, there is another point that has to be raised. Can we frankly state that the art related Non-Fungible Tokens are beautiful? We all have seen some digital works that seem to lack any artistic ambition. Often art related NFT seem to have a standard kind of aesthetic, even if they are amazing on a technical level.

For traditional collectors, there seem to be some ways of understanding Non-Fungible Tokens as desirable, beyond their ability to make money.

  • Firstly, they are a means of reproducing historic images: see LaCollection’s work with the British Museum, where they expanded on Hokusai by offering NFTs as a type of limited-edition digital print. Accessible, affordable and available all year round, these art related NFTs help “prolong and complete” the exhibition experience. Another smart way is to sell the NFT alongside a physical artwork, which many do. Is this not just a “sexy” new way of selling a physical artwork?
  • Secondly, despite the fact that neuroscientists state NFTs are often graphic or childish or crude and this is coherent with a new market of crypto-collectors, we should push the market and the NFT creators to engender some kind of quality, especially through curation. We should start thinking about creating a new tradable industry that is different, in its dynamics, from the traditional market.

In this perspective, perhaps the taxonomy “digital art” or “crypto-art” falls a little short here. Let’s instead consider that this art is part of contemporary art and that it constitutes a bridge between the physical art of the past and the art of the future becoming a sort of post- contemporary art or ultra-contemporary art.

All of the above, this new art can be found in what can be called “the spirit of our time” (using an expression typical of the “Mechanical Head” by Raoul Hausmann): the web. The web has become part of our lives without asking for permission, without knocking on our door, and today we are in a situation that, according to a philosophical, ethical and etymological mindset, we can define “onlife”, borrowing the concept and the neologism created by Luciano Floridi, philosopher of the digital.

“Onlife” is a term that represents exactly our physical state (mainly typical of the generations that are aged thirty or younger), such that we are always connected digitally but we are still living a life that of course cannot be separated from our physicality. This mixture between physicality and virtuality (this being local but also global, such as we can define as “glocal”), is typical of our current condition.

Are NFT’s the future of Art or just a novelty?

Final questions could be raised and answered:

  • Can we say that NFTs are “A” future of art and not just a novelty? Yes, we can.
  • Can we say that NFTs are “THE” future of art? No, we can’t give such a definite answer.
  • NFTs are not at all replacing the traditional art but they will have their space in the art world.

Pavesio e Associati

Annapaola is a partner of Pavesio e Associati with Negri-Clementi.

She is specialized in mergers and acquisitions, corporate governance, art law and in assisting innovative start-ups. She has more than twenty years of experience in sensitive corporate transactions. She has been appointed with respect to prestigious roles by primary enterprises and associations, listed companies under the supervision of Consob and Bank of Italy.

If you need any advice on how to manage your art collection and want to know more about NFT’s, and digitial possessions and how they would fit into this, please consider contacting Annapaola.


Annapaola Negri-Clementi

Pavesio e Associati with Negri-Clementi