NFTArt News

Not Fully Terrifying (NFT) art

Not Fully Terrifying (NFT) art
Written by Publishing Team

Maybe you’ve heard of them already, maybe you haven’t. Maybe, like me, you wish it wasn’t a topic of conversation, mostly because you can’t fully understand why it’s a topic of conversation. But NFTs are here to stay — as long as they’re popular, anyway.

Forgive me, but I’m going to help NFTs make yet another headline.

As I was listening to a talk show the other night, I listened to a bit about baffling NFTs (that’s non-fungible token) and how they’re something of a trend in the art world. That may seem shocking if you rely on the art scene for high-brow goods and goodliness like a Chagall painting or a nice rendition of Figaro. But those familiar with early modern art of the 20th century might not be so surprised.

But let’s back up. Assuming “non-fungible token” is Greeker to you than actual Greek (and you’re in good company if it is), here’s a simplistic overview. Something non-fungible is so unique it can’t be swapped for an equivalent item (it can be exchanged for money, however; more on that in a minute). Dollars are fungible; one Washington is as good as any other (unless it’s crisp, in which case it’s always superior). Da Vinci’s The Last Supper? No equivalent.

Non-fungible tokens are basically unique, digital items and are often seen as hot commodities due to their uniqueness — and like many trendy goods, they’re going for a lot of cash. An NFT can be nearly anything that exists on the digital sphere (though it may represent something in the “real” world), but an increasing number of NFTs fall under the umbrella of digital art. (I won’t go into what counts as digital art, because we could argue about that for years — and somewhere groups of art historians are doing just that, but let’s just say it’s aesthetic and/or exists for not-totally practical purposes. )

Art NFTs include videos made by musician Grimes, digital paintings or drawings, and the original, restored image of beloved GIF (a sort of moving image) of Nyan Cat, a beloved cat-PopTart hybrid who leaves a rainbow trail in its wake as it scurries through a night sky. Many exist as a series and are sold as parts of a whole or as a set of similar or even identical works — in twos or thousands. (But if you heard about a series of NFTs based on a Picasso vase, you’re mistaken. It was a rumor.)

Still a little confused? Most of us are, too. Think it’s a scam? Many would agree.

Some are digging the newcomer into the modern art world. Some hate it. Many are baffled.

How is that art, you ask? So can just anything be art nowadays, you grumble? I’m going to sell my own doodles and make millions if it’s that easy, you snort!

If the above passed your lips, congratulations. You’ve joined a century-plus-long tradition of deriding, and being confused by, modern art.

I’ll skip the urge to give you the full history lesson, but basically, art became “modern” when it started pushing boundaries. Arguably, that was one boundary in particular: What constitutes as ‘art’ and who gets to define it. Modern art traditionally says “just about anything, as long as the artist imbues it with meaning as an art object.”

When it came to cubism or impressionism (which is sort of the bridge between more traditional and modern art), many get on board with this definition. We still see some people, some trees, some colors, so we’re good. But when Marcel Duchamp entered a urinal, upside down, with his signature on it, even much of the art world was affronted. Many still are, though his name is on every 20th century art syllabus.

Duchamp wasn’t the only button-pusher. If you study modern art even casually, you might feel like you’re watching a pissing contest. More joined the “hold my beer” epoch. German Mary Wigman danced without music or much dance training as early as the 1914. Mark Rothko painted 1-2 overlapping squares of color on canvas for decades. German performance artist Joseph Beuys carried a dead hare around an art museum and talked to it (How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare, 1965, Dusseldorf). Yoko Ono sat still in a crowded room and let the audience do what they wanted to the clothes on her body with a pair of scissors left beside her — from timid snips to tearing her shirt off — without acknowledgment or reaction “to see what they would take” (Cut Piece, MoMA, 1964). Some of you may even remember when video artist Nam June Paik engaged artists around the world for a bewildering New Year’s Day 1985 television broadcast “Good Morning Mr. Orwell.”

And, my personal favorite: For a time, Italian artist Piero Manzoni sold 90 cans of his personal “Artist’s Sh*t” (1961). Yes, really.

So in the grand scheme of art things, NFTs are, frankly, a little tame.

So someone’s “fractionalizing” a piece purchased by Banksy (the controversial street artist whose piece once self-destructed immediately after purchase) to split ownership among thousands of people.

Wake me up when someone sells the poop emojis their virtual avatar just defecated.

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Elena Johnson can be reached at


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Publishing Team