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NFT art—a sales mechanism or a medium?

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The gold rush following the auctioning of digital images as NFTs (non-fungible tokens) in the spring of 2021—notably, Beeple’s Everydays: the First 5000 Days fetching $69.3m at Christie’s—put the spotlight on digital art. For complex reasons digital art has struggled to receive due attention from the art world and market since the 1960s and is more than deserving of the increased interest. But the NFT boom and surrounding hype profoundly diluted both an understanding of what digital art is and how this art (or any art at all) is tied to NFTs.

The term “NFT art” suggests it describes a medium like video art or performance art, but the vast majority of so-called NFT art uses non-fungible tokens as a sales mechanism, not a medium. As non-interchangeable units of data stored on a blockchain, NFTs ultimately are nothing but digital certificates of authenticity. They reside on a blockchain, but the assets they authenticate usually do not.

The NFT boom has reduced the public image of digital art, which covers a broad range of creative expression, to individual reproducible…

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