Posted on Mar 13, 2021Read on

NFTs Burn the Authority on Art

Single Mona Lisa by George Pusenkoff

When an image is presented as art, the way we see it is affected by our learned assumptions about beauty, form, status, and taste.

In the United States, many of these learnings stem from a cultural "authority on art" that began in the 1850s in Boston (by those known as the "Boston Brahmins"). These institutions have aimed to legitimize art versus entertainment and "sacralize" special works as "high art".

Many of these learnings, however, are incongruous with a modern, digital world.

The legacy of the "authority on art" originates before the camera, when the same painting could never been seen in two places at once and ownership was power. But when digitalization destroyed the uniqueness of images, power was ascertained through authority on authenticity. When an image is reproduced through digitization, its meaning forks into many meanings, and the meaning of the original will lie in its relation to its reproductions (i.e. as "the first of x reproductions"), more than its relation to other images ("the first painting that used linear perspective).

Through digitization, the meaning changes from what the work says, to what it uniquely is. Its value depends upon its rarity as a specific artifact — i.e. as a relic.

After the Mona Lisa 8, 2010 - Devorah Sperber

For the most part, the value of these physical relics has been perpetuated through a sophisticated culture of experts that spend years cataloging and verifying who commissioned the work, who owned it, its likely date, etc. This elaborate system creates an authority on authenticity and therefore of value, which serves to perpetuate the status of the ruling class it belongs to.

Blockchains change this, because they precisely handle matters of authenticity for all digital media. Since the majority of art is now digital, there is much less for this old system to claim to do, and the mysterious aura surrounding the world of art over past centuries will likely dissipate. This demise will likely invite greater democratic participation. Pop works such as Nyan Cat fetch for high prices, and authenticity is in theory guaranteed and accessible forever.