Are NFTs Rendering Art Meaningless?

The overproduction of NFTs runs the risk of killing art, says one of Silicon Valley's favorite artists.

AccessTimeIconAug 22, 2022 at 6:24 p.m. UTC
Updated May 11, 2023 at 4:48 p.m. UTC
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Years after his ingratiation into Andy Warhol’s inner circle, Jean Baudrillard knifed the fine art world.

“Art does not die because there is no more art. It dies because there is too much,” wrote the French philosopher in "The Conspiracy of Art," his 2005 treatise taking aim at a system of gallerists and collectors who transformed fine art into a commodity.

Agnieszka Pilat is a Polish-American artist whose work renders machines as portraitures. Her upcoming show, ROBOTa, will be held at the San Francisco gallery Modernism Inc.

Baudrillard retrofitted his theory of simulacra, which inspired the Matrix movie franchise, to the art market, showing how artists had been compromised by the totality of a monopoly system (“there is more and more information and less and less meaning,” wrote the philosopher in 1979). When the non-fungible token (NFT) frenzy took off in January of last year, many successful artists (some even revered) lost themselves to the mania of market forces, producing digital collectibles solely because everyone was cashing in on a gold rush.

Collective mania and groupthink incentivize short-term, reactionary thinking, and even the most brilliant artists succumb to these forces. Rather than making thoughtful critiques of the system which creates these periods, they too get swept up in the cultural and economic tailwinds — selling out as commodities, as Baudrillard noted.

There is no “right” way to create art, and some of the best pieces come from sporadic expression. However, when the medium is guided so heavily by the vulgar trading of commodities, as amplified by the NFT frenzy, then artists lose their voice in society.

With JPEGs of cartoon rocks selling for $1.3 million, and the technology enabling insider trading and money laundering, NTFs, unfortunately, magnified all the problems of the traditional arts market. Everyone knew the NFT frenzy was a bubble, and it’s about time it burst.

(Agnieszka Pilat)
(Agnieszka Pilat)

As the ecosystem consolidates, the cliché in tech circles is that the emerging crypto economy is in a “Builder’s Market.” Tech founders, as well as artists creating NFTs, are taking a step back to reassess their projects, while examining how their creations fit into network architecture. For all its shortcomings iterated in the previous market cycle, NFTs have the potential to offer incredible value to artists – from fractionalized ownership (such as Particle’s decision to tokenize a Banksy painting) to integration into live experiences. There will also likely be a continued explosion of the creation of NFTs as digital artwork, hitting platforms like OpenSea at the same velocity as the articles, blog posts, and opinion pieces which have characterized social media and the news industry.

NTFs, unfortunately, magnified all the problems of the traditional arts market.

The overproduction of NFTs runs the risk of killing art, rendering the medium meaningless as foretold by Baudrillard. As is the case with the news industry, good writing and reporting still exists (and is crucial to the democratic process), but is harder to find among the daily deluge of regurgitated commentary, incentivized by social media algorithms which encourage divisiveness.

A “Builder’s Market” is a welcome reset to the nose. With NFTs already playing such a large role in the traditional fine arts industry, they are here to stay, and will serve as the vehicle for flooding the Internet with even more digital art — Meta, DALLE and other tech companies already render complex art pieces instantly with artificial intelligence. Artists need to think carefully about how they integrate emerging technologies into their broader work, and use them to channel complex and nuanced human emotions, rather than the other way around where their dominant master is the dollar … or crypto.


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Agnieszka Pilat

Agnieszka Pilat is a classically trained artist whose paintings render machines as portraitures. Her upcoming show, ROBOTa, held at Modernism Inc. features paintings completed by an ensemble cast of robots, including Boston Dynamics’ SPOT and Agility Robotics’ DIGIT.

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