The hype about NFTs

Museums may not be pioneering the NFT charge, but since the Beeple sale and frenetic blossoming of the art world’s newest movement, technology firms are investing billions in metaverses.

Pandemic closures landed blows on the financial stability of museums around the globe.  Tech savvy galleries and museums have identified NFTs as a way to monetize their collections and assets, something they otherwise have a difficulty doing.

So what is an NFT?

NFT stands for Non-fungible token. The name is hardly self-explanatory I know.

“Non-fungible” more or less means that it’s unique and can’t be replaced with something else. For example, a bitcoin is fungible — trade one for another bitcoin, and you will have exactly the same thing. A one-of-a-kind trading card, however, is non-fungible. 

NFTs can really be anything digital such as drawings and music and recent excitement has been generated around using the tech to sell digital art. In simple terms NFTs merely represent the evolution f fine art collection, only with digital art.

NFTs are designed to give you something that can’t be copied: ownership of the work (though the artist can still retain the copyright and reproduction rights, just like with physical artwork).

What does it mean for Artists?

NFTs provide artists with a way to sell work that there otherwise might not be much of a market for. Also, NFTs have a feature that you can enable that will pay you a percentage every time the NFT is sold or changes hands, making sure that if the work gets super popular and balloons in value, the artist sees some of that benefit.

For Buyers and Collectors

One of the obvious benefits of buying art is it lets you financially support artists you like, and that’s true with NFTs (which are now trendy). Buying an NFT also usually gives the buyer some basic usage rights, like being able to post the image online. You might ask why would I buy an NFT if I could simply make a photocopy and in fact many museum already have high quality scans of their collections. Well simply because nobody would care if you owned a photocopy of the Mona Lisa no matter how good the quality, but with NFT’s there are bragging rights that you own the digital twin, and there is only one, and with a blockchain entry to back it up.

Considerations for entering the NFT space

For museums who wish to enter the NFT space, they will need to clarify precisely what they are selling: a share in the original artwork, an official digital version (or “digital twin,”), or something altogether separate. Such transparency will allow audiences to gauge an NFT’s value. 

Museums face a further conundrum. Either they follow the money and strive to connect with longstanding devotees of blockchain, cryptocurrencies, and a digital art community typically beyond their horizons, or they can push to carve out a separate fine art NFT space for their traditional audience, one yet to fully buy into the promise of digital assets. 

The core proposition of museums and galleries have always been, come see our exhibits here and nowhere else, and for staff who are involved in curation, education and exhibition the NFT space is practically a different realm.

Closing this knowledge gap is one of the ways the Seattle NFT Museum, the first museum devoted to the format, intends to make a measurable impact.  “We believe that the line between art and technology is starting to blur,” says Peter Hamilton, who co-founded the museum.  Part of the museum’s mission is to increase and improve knowledge of NFTs. The Seattle NFT Museum is quite unique in its efforts, for now NFTs in the museum space are largely symbolic of an institution’s approach to the new digital, part of a broader revolution catalysed by the pandemic.

We have not reached the point where museums see NFTs as the next great epoch or medium; they are not thinking about starting a permanent NFT collection in a virtual museum (in the metaverse, as it is known). The NFT-buying experience remains relatively clunky and a measured approach for museums is to consider this activity as a way for them to reach out to a new demographic rather than onboarding their existing demographic. 

01 February 2022

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