The old adage states that art is subjective – a matter of perception and taste, one that pampers individual senses and provokes deeply personal notions of beauty and creative expression. Be that as it may, even the layman can tell that the level of effort and sophistication, both in terms of technique and sensational substance, invested by the artist into a specific work will reflect its quality and ultimately – its value.

In recent years, however, the endless debate about the definition of quality art has escalated with the advent of new mediums leveraged by artists in their pursuit of both expression and recognition through fortune. The Non-Fungible Token (NFT) is now an inseparable reality in the world of art, extending its reach into the digital environment in more ways than just presence. But when it comes to NFTs, critics are no longer carefully tiptoeing the fine line of definition, but boldly stating that there’s art and there’s art.

Art or Commerce? Or Does It Really Matter?

Now here’s the thing. There are two types of NFTs — commercial and creative. The former are associated largely with hype and are purchased with the only purpose of making money on their subsequent resale in case of continued valuation based on said snowballing hype and subsequent community interest growth. The latter, however, are actually true art objects representing artistic value from visual and other standpoints, given the amount of effort their creators inject into them.

Still, commercial NFTs typically receive more media coverage, while truly creative artworks may remain noticed only by a narrow circle of viewers. The reason is quite simple and deeply rooted in the general capitalist framework of the global audience’s mindset, which encourages and foresees the continued purchase and sale of misprized things. NFTs form part of this capitalist scheme, as they can be easily equated with mass-produced, poor-quality consumer goods backed by powerful marketing and advertising campaigns. Like Coca-Cola, Pepsi, and anything that is effectively worthless, but popular.

Take Beeple’s grotesque works that send the viewer’s gaze into a tailspin with their unfocused palette of colors and haphazard shapes. And yet, these random mosaics of images, like the “First 5,000 Days”, fetched millions of dollars at auction. Was the artistic value element at play? Not quite, just the prerequisite forced hype campaign launched on the eve of the sale.

And what of the ultra-low quality Bored Ape Yacht Club collection of pixelated monkeys that can be put to shame by even 8-bit era detailing? As one looks at the weird faces of the apes in the collection, their expressions that exude obnoxiousness, boredom, disdain, emotional emasculation, and even narcotic intoxication, the only thought that comes to mind is that each image parodies its owner, mocking their gullible nature for having fallen for such digital worthlessness.

Art like the Bored Ape Yacht Club collection feeds off emotions, impulsive drives of the moment, and the pressure of desire for social inclusivity in an imposed community of exclusives, while being nothing but a fleeting fad riding the slowly decelerating wave of hype driving NFTs. It is all about leveraging the individual ego of the rich and the overall consumerist framework for the sake of sales, not art. As long as some are ready to pay for a fad, because they are bored of all-permissiveness, there will always be Bored Ape Yacht Clubs.

The whole concept behind the Apes feeds on the brilliantly executed marketing ploy that it is. Exclusivity in a virtual social club through ownership of ugly digital avatars that are supposedly “unique”? Seriously? Drawing graffiti in a stinky toilet stall as a member of a community of digital avatar holders does not add exclusivity or status in artistic terms, but rather degrades the essence of art down to digital doodles.

Is There True Art in There Somewhere?

Art for art’s sake is one that excludes any financial component. Not a statement that relates to NFTs, many of which, like the Bored Ape Yacht Club collection, tend to be overpriced. Their hype-based nature implies that they lose their relevance as easily as they appear. Demand for classical art is what defines the course of development for the NFT phenomenon in the art world. Simply put, while physical artworks can be minted and sold online as NFTs, NFTs with no art-backing them can be exhibited at prominent exhibitions.

Take the “Metamorphoses” by Concept2048 as an example of direct opposition. Created by a duo of digital artists – Ekaterina Perekopskaya and Rostyslav Brenych, the collection of solemn portraits showcases a truly masterful approach to color blending and an intimate tango with light itself. Rightfully so, since Universal Light lies at the heart of the collection’s spiritual inspiration and backstory that delves into such iconic concepts as sustainable development and human progress. The more one gazes at the works in the “Metamorphoses” collection, the more it becomes apparent that conceptual artwork can seamlessly blend with philosophical foresight and the brilliant execution of artistic techniques to result in a vivid and provocative image. More importantly, the works are yet to be released as NFTs only on January 24, 2023.

Impact is what some talented artists are trying to offer, as Concept2048 is doing by conveying to its public the problem of global changes with a clear call for solutions embodied through creativity by involving people via the ownership of NFTs. This gives new meaning to ownership of their NFT collection as a conceptual idea uniting a 100,000 community and those involved who can actually impact the quality of life on Earth. This elevates Concept2048 in stark contrast to how owners of Bored Ape Yacht Club fret away hundreds of thousands for digital grimaces.

An important testimony to the actual ideological and even humanistic underpinning of Concept2048’s approach is the fact that the artists were offered to sell the artwork presented at the sixth edition of the biennial art exhibition “Personal Structures” in Venice for $137,000, but refused in favor of creating their own NFT collection. The presale of the “Metamorphoses” collection is currently underway, with the first round having been sold out in 18 minutes. Users can sign up for preminting on the project’s website. 

Have a look at Blake Kathryn, whose ethereal digital art transcends fantasy and futurism to blend dimensions and time into a visual feast. The marvelous texturing, vibrant color palette, and outstanding execution through the use of multiple tools and techniques indicate effort, time, and thought invested in the artwork.

Or just throw a fleeting glance at Richard Tea’s own Royal Cats&Dogs NFT Collection for some food for thought about whether the ghastly and simplistic, yet overpriced, Apes can compare with the level of artistic complexity and quality of the artists who actually put effort into their creations.

What You Get Is Not What You Pay For

Art has historically been considered a work that requires both inspiration and execution to attract admiration and recognition on the part of audiences and critics alike. There is a reason why we are perpetually mesmerized by the legacy of the great masters of the Renaissance, and yet squirm uncomfortably when the replicated and recolored snapshots by Andy Warhol are being forcefully shoved onto the same pedestal.

The absolute same concept of recognition applies to NFTs and the artworks leveraging them as a medium. Any hype eventually fades, and time will prove that only the NFTs that have some value and tangible art backing them will last to be displayed. Firm intrinsic value holds sway through time, which is why established brands like Adidas, or music artists like Steven Aoki, who maintain interaction with existing audiences of users have a greater chance of capitalizing on NFTs in the long term.

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