NFTs and the Art World: Here’s the Latest

If you keep up with photography and art-world debates, then you’ll be well aware that NFTs—which stands for ‘non-fungible tokens’—have been one of the industry’s most divisive topics of the past few years. Where some people stand vehemently against them, professing they are nothing more than the inauthentic and planet-killing products of rapacious ‘tech bros’, others, including various photographers, organizations and museums, have delved into making and buying them in earnest, convinced they represent the future of photography.

But are NFTs really revolutionary, or are we dealing with a case of the emperor’s new clothes? Either way, a huge and complex conversation exists behind the buzz, and an overwhelming mass of opinions has swirled around the subject, making it hard to find an entry-point. So what are NFTs? And how do we cut through the noise to come to our own conclusions about them?

Here, LensCulture has gathered together an essential NFT reading list. Full of insights, essays, personal stories and criticism from those in the know, it offers perspectives from all sides of the debate. There is always more to consume, of course, but this compendium seeks to offer a rounded view of the discourse—especially for those of us yet to make up our minds.

Where to start?

If you’re starting from scratch, the term NFT might not mean much to you, even when it’s spelled out in all its glory as a Non Fungible Token. The Verge has put together an accessible and informative collection of articles called The Year of the NFT, which includes an excellent piece that explains what a ‘Non Fungible Token’ really means. Or if you prefer to enter the world of NFTs sonically, Podcastle’s 10 Best NFT Podcasts to Listen to Right Now is a good place to begin.

NFTs and the Art World: Friends or Foes?

Like any new medium that breaks with the past and offers new possibilities for the future (our beloved medium of photography included) NFTs have caused a storm in the art world, bursting the floodgates open for both celebration and criticism. Stimulating a variety of discussions, questions of whether the NFT world is a mere commercial fad, a new digital medium or a tool for artists to take control of their own work have shaken the art world into reflecting on its own infrastructure and history—and how this latest innovation might change it for good.

Pondering the place of the NFT in the history of art, a critic at The Guardian weighs in on the “aesthetic value” of the medium in Are NFTs really art? In NFTs Weren’t Supposed to End Like This, a piece published on The Atlantic, the fine balance between the autonomy that technology can give to an artist and the perils of opportunism sweeping the marketplace is explored in this lively discussion. Or you could hear it from the artists themselves: in NFTs Aren’t Just For Crypto Bros, ArtReview introduces us to the artists carving out a space of their own in the white-male-dominated realm of NFTs.

Read more:
Why the Artworld Loves to Hate NFT Art – ArtReview
NFTs – a sales mechanism or a medium?– The Art Newspaper
What Can NFTs Do For Dead Artists? – The New Yorker
Eileen Isagon Skyers on New Perspectives for Decentralized Art – Frieze
SBF, Bored Ape Yacht Club, and the Spectacular Hangover After the Art World’s NFT Gold Rush – Vanity Fair

What are the Possibilities for NFTs and Photography?

Tackling the big issues of ownership, distribution and originality, NFTs are well placed to address some of the existential questions that trouble the photography world—especially since its mutation onto our screens and into the digital world.

In NFTs and Photography: All You Need to Know, All About Photo provides a simple breakdown of the unique relationship between photography and NFTs. In Could NFTs spark a photography revolution? Wallpaper Magazine gives us a glimpse into the ways the industry could be using this new innovation by introducing us to Fellowship; an organization founded dedicated to using NFTs to forge a new way of discovering and collecting photography. Taking the view that photography has always responded and adapted to technological changes, the piece provides insights from luminaries like Joel Meyerowitz and Pieter Hugo.

Read more:
NFTs: A Photographer’s Friend or Enemy? – Vogue
Why Photography is Becoming the Next Big Genre of NFTs – Urth Magazine

The Environmental Impact of NFTs

For all their shiny promises and possibilities, NFTs pose a lot of problems—from the inflated hype of the market and its ‘get rich quickly’ undertones to the alarming environmental impact of this new art form. Often described as a boom destined to go bust, the sustainability of the NFT craze has been questioned and critiqued across the board.

Describing them as “capitalism gone wild,” writer Amanda Yeo explores some of the key issues with NFT fever in her witty takedown for Mashable Think cryptocurrency is bad? NFTs are even worse. For a breakdown of the conversation surrounding the environment and the emissions and ethics of making, buying and selling NFTs, Urth Magazine have published a concise and informative piece called The Environmental Impact of NFTs and the Rise of Green NFTs that also explores an alternative ‘green’ future.

Read more:
NFTs are Hot. So Is Their Effect on the Earth’s Climate – Wired
Why NFTs are So Misunderstood (And Why That’s An Issue) – Phoenix Angell

A Few Burning Questions Answered By Insiders and Critics

Still have questions by this point? There are no limits to the mysteries that linger around these intangible, abstract entities but luckily there are a host of great pieces out there to satiate your curiosity.

The New York Times’ Are NFT Purchases Real? provides some light relief to those practical questions—like can cryptocurrency earned through NFTs even be exchanged for ‘real money’, or is it still all in the abstract? How do we get our heads around the NFT platforms opening physical gallery spaces? And what does it mean for the future of NFTs as non-physical artworks? Why are NFT Platforms Opening Up Physical Gallery Spaces? published in The Art Newspaper holds some clues for the future. Finally, Why Did Someone Pay $560,000 for a Picture of My Column? published in The New York Times touches on the absurdity of what is possible with NFTs through the story of a journalist who turned his column into an NFT as an experiment and sold it in a charity auction.

NFTS: Passing Trend or Here to Stay?

By this point, it is undeniable that NFTs have had quite the impact on our present. But what about the future? Will we still be collecting them in years to come? Have they secured a spot in the history of art? In James Surowiecki’s piece for Medium Why The NFT Craze is a Bubble Waiting to Pop, an interesting take on the idea of the NFT as a ‘collectible’ places it within a wider history of collecting to speculate on what might happen next. ArtReview’s Are NFTs the New Land Art? lays out a critique of the NFT by way of comparison with an unlikely artistic bedfellow: Land Art. Both, writer Tom Jeffrey argues, caused a “material upheavel” in the art world but not much more than that.

Curious to explore for yourself?

If you’re intrigued about the NFT marketplace and photography and what that looks like, there are plenty of platforms you can explore at home. Fellowship should be your first port of call: a photography-specific platform founded by photographers, gallerists, curators and collectors. Or you could check out the photography sections on OpenSea, SuperRare, Foundation (which also hosts Magnum’s NFT collection). You can even get up to speed with the most famous NFT photographs on this feature on Urth Magazine or read about how Life Magazine has transformed some much-loved iconic photographs into an NFT collection.

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