Burning Coal for Art

Posted here (week 2446).

Platforms like SuperRare have popularized the use of NFTs for selling digital art. I’ve been torn about this.

There is often no way to support digital artists by purchasing either an original or copies. Even when there is, it often takes the form of buying prints, which are usually destined to sit in our flat files. In any case, for many works a print feels like a weak reference to the original, more like merch than art.

Buying digital copies can be nice, but doesn’t feel future-proof. Consider the CDs and then DRM tracks we purchased before streaming dominated music, where collecting now takes the form of a flag in someone’s database.

NFTs seem perfect! A digital certificate of authenticity issued by artists that I could buy to support them and even resell as an investment. But they’re made of crypto; all the current NFT platforms are built on the same energy-wasting proof-of-work technique as Bitcoin.

Two of my favorite artists are arguing about this, now. Memo Akten calculates how bad this is to force some discussion. Mario Klingemann celebrates NFTs as helping people realize that saving screenshots to Pinterest is not a replacement for collecting art.

I hope the NFT activity slows down but the conversation does not, until a more responsible form of token is devised.