Debate: NFT-WTF? at Arendalsuka, 2022. Photo: Erling Slyngstad-Hægeland

A debate about digital art and NFTs: opening up to a completely new audience

New Perspectives 23.08.2022

Is digital art the future? What are its possibilities, and what are the challenges associated with it? And what will this mean for artists? These topics were discussed when Kunstsilo arranged an NFT debate during the Arendalsuka event in August.

“NFT’s possibilities lie in how it opens things up to a completely new audience that’s ready to experience the digital revolution that stands before us. Through platforms such as Discord and the attendant digital communication, I can get closer to the audience,” says artist Bjarne Melgaard.

Melgaard has received a lot of attention for his NFT collection The Lightbulb Man, and he was present when Kunstsilo arranged its “NFT-WTF?” debate together with Sparebanken Sør and Cultiva. Also participating was Siri-Helen Egeland, who is researching digital intellectual property rights with funds from Sørlandets Kompetansefond and is the first person in the museum industry to do so. In addition, Cornelia Svedman, a representative at auction house Christie’s, took part in the debate.

Watch the entire debate here (in Norwegian)

Reaching the young

NFT art is digital art that comes with a proof of ownership that uses blockchain technology, and thus makes it clear safely and securely who owns the original and can then resell the work. In practice, when you buy an NFT you are buying a unit of data, actually metadata, in which the artwork is the link underlying it.

The format’s existence became more widely known when the artist Beeple sold an NFT artwork for USD 69 million last year.

“NFTs are going to be a major part of art in the future, but this won’t cause the traditional art world as we know it to fall apart. Digital exhibitions can be done that will be able to reach more people, especially younger generations. Primarily, young people are the ones showing an interest in my NFT art,” says Melgaard.

More efficient transactions

Bjarne Melgaard and Cornelia Svedman. Photo: Erling Slyngstad-Hægeland

Melgaard adds that he sees digital platforms first and foremost as new channels. And because he has had previous experience with digital and virtual art, NFTs weren’t as alien to him as they are for many artists.

“What’s important to understand is that there’s more to it than just making art and putting it on the blockchain. You have to build a narrative around it, and you need people around you who know what they’re doing. You need to have a community that engages in and follows up on the NFTs they have bought, which they can sell again. If a buyer sells an NFT to someone else, then I as the artist will also receive a payment. Instead of waiting for a gallery to mediate the sale, the transaction happens immediately. This is something that differentiates it from other channels,” he says.

Many challenges ahead

The possibilities here are great, but what challenges does this format pose? For now, according to lawyer and researcher Siri-Helen Egeland, they are quite a few. Not least, it revolves around a boundary-crossing aspect moving towards what we call the metaverse, i.e. digital meeting places.

Lawyer and researcher Siri-Helen Egeland. Photo: Erling Slyngstad-Hægeland

“Different legal traditions meet one other here with different rules and interpretations of those rules. In addition, some growing pains have been and will take place. Dealing with money laundering has been a challenge, the same with copyright misuse. There’s quite a lot that ought to be sorted out legally to clarify things and find good solutions. They do exist, but a lot of people don’t know about them yet. So, lawyers have a job to do to inform people about the applicable rules connected to the metaverse,” says Egeland.

“Speculation has played a part in the NFT bubble. A gambling element infiltrated the buying and selling of NFTs, and there’s been space for fraudsters to operate in. There’s been a slight crash in the market, and now I think growth in this field will be of a healthier nature. Large sums of money are not in circulation in the same way as before,” she explains.

More passionate participation

Cornelia Svedman believes that 90% of those buying traditional art do so out of a passion for it, while 10% of them are speculators.

From left to right: managing director at Kunstsilo, Reidar Fuglestad, moderator Eirik Norman Hansen and artist Bjarne Melgaard Photo: Erling Slyngstad-Hægeland

“Within crypto art it has been the opposite, 90% of the buyers have been speculators. In order for the content of the art to be more important than just that it happens to be an NFT, we have to get those who are passionate to become prominent in the market. And I think that’s what’s going to happen. Since there’s been a crash in the market now, we’ll lose the speculators, and then the artists will direct their work towards the collectors who are passionate, the ones whose hearts are in it,” she says.

Svedman thinks it will become commonplace to collect art in the metaverse in relatively few years.

“The metaverse will become a place we can inhabit, experience togetherness and where we can collect art. This is quite far off for many people, and for me, too. Maybe I’ll be the last person who’s going to get in on this, but younger generations are going to be drawn to it. The artist’s role will be to create something so beautiful and exciting that it makes us want to be in the metaverse,” she says.

Museums will play an important role

Bjarne Melgaard says that museums have to keep up with the NFT phenomenon if they are going to continue to be relevant. Cornelia Svedman thinks that museums will play an important role in the future.

“Traditionally speaking, museums have had the role of curating and ensuring the quality of the art, as well as helping to get it out to a greater audience. They’ll play a very important role, because today NFTs only reach a narrow, crypto-oriented audience. A lot of people ask what an NFT artwork looks like, because very few people understand it. The threshold for interacting with them is high, and this is partly due to technical issues. Priority number one is to solve the technical and structural challenges so that more people can participate in the market,” she says.

Kunstsilo’s digital advisor Torill Haugen thinks the debate shed light on many important questions concerning NFT art. She says that Kunstsilo participated in a debate about hybrid museums together with The Met and Sørlandets Kunstmuseum at the Museum Computer Network Conference in 2021, where it was discussed how a museum can develop a virtual museum and facilitate for a digital audience on different platforms, such as Discord.

“Museums are changing, and how one should develop a digital twin for them and open themselves up to a virtual audience was discussed. And digital art is nothing new. We have an initiative for promoting Nordic artists in this field. As administrators of public funds, no museums as of yet have entered the market Cornelia Svedman describes as being immature, one where many speculators have been operating. But when it comes down to it, it’s the artists and what they produce and their activities within digital art that will form the foundation for a museum’s collections in the future. The future will be a hybrid,” says Haugen.   

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