Are NFTs considered art? Following the emergence of Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs) over the past few years, this question has been a heated topic. Could these NFTs penetrate into the art scene and become one of the many mediums like those artists have used over the years? To further discuss this idea, an informal debate titled Brushes and Pixels: A Debate on NFTs and Fine Arts was organized by cryptocurrency, blockchain and web3 education platform Bitskwela. The event was held last June 16 at the Imahica Art Gallery, Mandaluyong wherein leaders from both the art and crypto scene shared their unique perspectives regarding NFTs breaching or attempting to breach into fine arts.
The debaters for this event were Brian Poe, co-founder of Unit256 and Artifract; Jeffrey Bondoc also known as JBond, founder of BAYCkada; Ian Fulgar, the founder of Imahica Art Gallery and principal of Fulgar Architects; Marso of CryptoArtPh and CEO of LevelArtGuild; and Chris Tan, a prominent content creator and entrepreneur in the crypto space. The event was hosted and moderated by professional event host, Edrei Tan.
The debate format was designed to ensure fairness, provide each debater with ample time to explain their position, and facilitate a productive exchange of ideas.
The discussion kicked off with this statement:
Bullish: Jeffrey Bondoc (JBond)
JBond began his argument by recalling reading a news article which talked about auctioned NFTs. According to what he read, these NFTs were sold for ridiculous prices with one of them even being worth $5.4 million. JBond states that “we are in the phase where we are seeing art evolve and NFTs help digital art become more authentic due to the ability to own things on-chain”.
Marso joined the bullish camp by highlighting how NFTs allow digital art to be collected and give more credit and value to art. She also stated that NFTs have allowed artists themselves to evolve by adapting this possible new art form.
Bearish: Ian Fulgar
Ian defends the bearish stance by saying that traditional art still speaks very differently from digital art due it having tangibility. Furthermore, he counters JBond’s example of the NFT sold for $5.4 million by saying that he is only focusing on the commercial side of art. According to Ian, art is not just defined by its commercial aspect but the process in its creation gives it a lot more value. He ended his argument by saying “If you remove the aesthetic, NFT art falls apart.”
Chris joined the bearish camp by saying that though NFTs have potential as a new art form, they are not on the same level as traditional art yet. He argues that they are easy to be copied by right-clicking and copy-pasting thus making the exact same NFT.
Brian also agreed with Chris that NFTs are not on the same level as traditional art plus he stated that he wasn’t sure if they ever will be. He said there might arise another new art form in the future which would replace NFTs.
Highlights of the open discussion included Chris asking the audience if they actually bought an NFT for the art or only for speculative value. Ian also said that Van Gogh would have adopted NFTs were it available back then but it would’ve degraded his art. Lastly, JBond noted though NFT might not be considered a fine art now, art has potential to evolve through the years like photography and film did before they were considered art forms.
60% Bullish / 40% Bearish
Bullish: Chris Tan
Chris first relayed that not specifically just NFTs but digital art as whole was more relatable to the youth with them used to using iPads, tablets and various apps. He also said that what he loves about NFTs is that, “it stretches the boundaries of what art is and it democratizes it.” Chris noted that NFTs and digital art did not care how good or bad you are as a painter since technology would help you do it.
Marso joined Chris in the bullish stance, stating the NFTs are much more accessible especially to children and it will be more relatable to future generations when their childhood is made of simulations and virtual reality.
JBond was also bullish linking NFTs to Apple’s new Vision Pro product or Minecraft saying that people in the future will be more inves†ed in the metaverse and there is where they will view their art (as NFTs).
Bearish: Brian Poe
Meanwhile, Brian defended the bearish stance that traditional art is more relatable to both the younger generation now and will be for future generations since NFTs will not be able to replicate the cultural foundations of traditional art. He talked about real life experiences with people traveling to different countries like Italy to see sculptures and architecture or the Spolarium, always representing an iconic part of Philippine history. Brian believed that “NFTs will not be relatable as long as traditional art houses the roots of our culture”.
Furthermore, Ian expressed his sentiment that it would be very sad if the future generation could only relate to NFTs and there would be a huge disconnect with traditional art. To him, art has a process and there is value in relating to traditional art.
Highlights of the open discussion included Chris comparing traditional art to leather shoes which barely anyone wears and digital art to sneakers which is the “in thing”. Chris questioned if maybe we should be selling sneakers (new art forms) instead of forcing people to wear leather shoes (relate to traditional art). To add, Brian exclaimed that if a cultural monument like the Statue of Liberty were to disappear, a lot of people would be affected but if a Bored Ape were to be gone, only the owners would care. Brian also argued that traditional art could be exciting like with Banksy who made his work socially relatable. Meanwhile, JBond gave his personal take that traditional art would actually benefit from digital art since kids would first see things like the Eiffel Tower in games and only then research more about them.
41% Bullish / 59% Bearish
Bullish: Ian Fulgar
Ian started his bullish statement by asking if people remembered Nokia and how it used to be the big thing for cellphones but then died off. To him, anything based on technology evolves and changes. NFTs are definitely a fad for now for Ian and he believes something in the future can also surpass it.
Marso added to the bullish side by saying that although the heights of NFTs will disappear their utility will elevate them especially with multinational brands starting to adopt NFTs.
JBond also reiterated that NFTs can’t just be a fad with them selling for millions of dollars. He says that NFT popularity will depend on the crypto market and as more people adopt crypto, more will go into NFTs.
Brian disagreed with NFTs being a fad since they were already too democratized and people have invested a lot in them at this point. He views NFTs as another form of media that has captured emotions, the imagination and the creativity of a generation. Brian sees NFTs as something humanity will always pay homage to.
This time, Chris took a more neutral stance on the topic. He said the current use case of NFTs as a profile picture is a passing fad. However, he acknowledges their real use case as a digital asset, in owning things. He believes their true potential beyond a fad will still take around 10 years to appear.
Highlights of the open discussion included Brian highlighting the use of transparency and identity in NFTs. Functionality was very important to him especially with some NFTs being used for land ownership and some to fund advocacies. Another highlight would be the argument between Chris and JBond. JBond believes that assets are not the only thing driving NFT value, that they are the future Marvel/Disney and CryptoPunks will outlive all because of their historical relevance. On the other hand, Chris calls out JBond for being biased since he owns a lot of high value NFTs and he needs to stick around since he is invested. Chris believes that more than 90% of NFTs won’t be around in the next 5 years.
33.33% Bullish / 66.67% Bearish
According to Marso, NFTs aren’t necessarily something to equate to art but rather are a new medium to elevate it. She said not all NFTs are considered art because code by itself isn’t art. To her, NFT art can be considered art but not just any NFT since those are code. She also highlighted the struggle of NFT artists just trying to be known as “artists” without the NFT.
Brian agrees with the bullish stance in that he can’t see NFTs equating to traditional art, Being in the business of digitizing traditional art, Brian states they can’t bring themselves to price the digitized version the same as the original.
Ian also adds his views of appreciating things in their physical form as an architect. When he enters a room and sees an artwork, it’s there. If he removes the internet, it’s still there. He states that the same is not true for NFTs thus making it just code.
Countering with the bearish stance, JBond admits that though by nature NFTs are code, there are different types of NFTs. He stated that saying NFTs are just code diminishes their quality since there are many utilities. For those artist using NFTs to make digital art, there is spirit behind them showing NFTs aren’t just code.
Highlights of the open discussion included Marso saying that traditional art can’t really relate to NFTs. This is especially due to the textures seen and felt with traditional art which is absent with NFTs. Chris also noted there being only one physical Spolarium. If it was made into an NFT, there would be several copies. JBond also raised an interesting point that if he went to Louvre to see the Mona Lisa he wouldn’t be sure if that was the original or a copy but with NFTs he could verify it.
66.66% Bullish / 33.33% Bearish
Marso opened her bullish position by stating that NFTs can help traditional art through adding their specific utilities. For example, a lot of collectors like to get to know artists and NFTs help with that through their utility of provenance.
Brian agreed that NFTs can add value to art and said that we don’t need to separate the two. He noted that a lot of traditional artists are actually exploring NFTs for the provenance they bring. Brian didn’t think NFTs necessarily increased the value of traditional art but it helped in guaranteeing they weren’t fake.
JBond also backed the bullish side saying that NFT provenance in itself increases the value of an art. He also noted NFTs that backed tangible goods.
Chris viewed art as a creation and its value was not based on the medium. To him, art is valuable because of its creator and how it was made. Chris believes NFTs don’t enhance traditional artworks because the medium has nothing to do with it.
Ian was more neutral here where he added that when creating art, there is a certain amount of artist spirit that goes into it. To him what makes art valuable is how it is made. He did note that NFTs have their own method of making art valuable by creating more copies
Highlights of the open discussion included Brian stating how NFTs can also add value by creating online communities. Marso focused on how NFTs help protect artists from copycats. JBond also believed in valuing traditional art more but NFTs are something that could help do that through raising awareness of traditional arts.
60% Bullish / 40% Bearish
For the remaining time, the stage was open to the audience to ask the debaters any questions they may have. Here are some of the audience’s questions and the debaters’ responses:
Chris responded by highlighting the non-fungibility of NFTs. He said “If i give you 500 pesos and you give a different bill back to me it’s the same thing. With NFTs, it wouldn’t be”
JBond decided to focus on the ownership aspect by saying that posting images on Facebook or Instagram does not necessarily mean we own it since the centralized company could take it down. For him, “with NFTs, it’s like your photo will live on the internet forever”.
Ian responded by saying that when we play music, soundwaves enter our ears and we feel it. He said that in artwork, there’s no interface, we need another device to see the art.
Chris also added that we couldn’t compare money with NFTs since that’s a fungible item. Art is not fungible.
JBond said he would pick the digital one if he believed they could deliver on their utility but for simply appreciating art for art’s sake he would pick the physical one.
Marso found the topic subjective. If she wanted something in her house, she’d pick the physical art but for utility she’d pick the digital one.
Ian said commercialism degrades the value of art so he’d pick the physical one since it’s worth more to him.
Chris replied that he’d get the digital art for the free room but also because it’s easier to sell.
She said that to her “art is a sensitive tactile experience. It's a human thing to want to experience art. Other cultures integrate art into lifestyle and don't even call it art. A lot of people now commodify art by putting their signatures and selling it.”
She finds that in terms of sensual experiences “traditional art is like having sex face to face but NFT art is like porn or virtual sex but because of modern culture they are both commodified and it is sad. Both will exist, both will find their own market, both are necessary. This is very subjective and individualistic. Just choose your bed fellow carefully and make sure you get a good deal.”
Chris: “What I love about NFTs is that it gives a livelihood to artists. They are no longer starving.”
Ian: “Coming from architecture, we have a chance to integrate everything to create experience. This is still an evolving thing”
Marso: “Anything that moves you is art. Memes, movies, art is anything that touches you in an emotional way.”
JBond: “As we move as a society it's up to us to accept what's new and what is being introduced (digital art). NFTS are technology. Web3 is the next phase of the internet and its up to us to identify how it can change everything.”
The Brushes & Pixels debate thoroughly discussed the issue of whether NFTs could be considered an art. Throughout the event, debaters held different viewpoints, with each offering their perspectives on these contentious issues.
For the most part, the audience were divided in their opinion about each topic. Although there was no general consensus among debaters on whether or not NFTs were considered art, the possibility of it evolving to an art form in the future was considered and each debater was open-minded and agreed in supporting both traditional art and NFTs.
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