While 2021 will be best remembered for its swathe of health issues and acts of civil unrest, the last 12 months also gave way to the emergence and popularisation of a new form of artwork. While the concept had been around for a while, it wasn’t until early 2021 that Non-Fungible Tokens (NFT) really hit the mainstream, with the introduction of communities such as the Bored Ape Yacht Club and Low Effort Punks. Fans were quick to throw their hard-earned cash at the digital images, dropping millions on the small-pixel designs that grant you…well, not much. Just this month rapper Eminem paid over $600,000 for an NFT that looks just like him while basketball icon Steph Curry dished out USD$180,000 on a Bored Ape. But for all their celebrity backing and high-interest sales, NFT artworks have still yet to win everyone over. In fact, one organisation that serves as the internet’s arbiter of truth doesn’t even consider them artworks at all.
According to reports in DesignBoom, a group of editors on Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia, have voted against classifying NFTs as a form of art. It’s a debate that has waged in art circles for months, but for Wikipedia, concerns were raised last month, when editors of a page dedicated to the most expensive art sales by living artists questioned whether Christie’s $69 million sale of Beeple’s Everydays, or Pak’s $91.8 million NFT “merge,” should be worthy of inclusion. The discussion reportedly took a sharp turn towards semantics, with sceptics voicing concerns over whether NFTs constituted tokens or artworks.
🚨 Art Emergency!! 🚨
There is a debate happening rn on @Wikipedia that has the potential to * officially categorize NFTs as ‘not art’ on all of Wikipedia. *
Wikipedia is a global source of truth. Having NFTs categorized as ‘not art’ would be a disaster!
— Duncan Cock Foster (@DCCockFoster) January 12, 2022
Now, it must be said that classification disputes on the encyclopedia site are nothing new, so there is a process in place to resolve disputes. The question of whether NFTs constitute artwork was put to a vote, with five out of six editors voting against including NFTs on the list.
“Wikipedia really can’t be in the business of deciding what counts as art or not, which is why putting NFTs, art or not, in their own list makes things a lot simpler,” one editor wrote on the discussion page, via artnet news.
While the Wikipedia editors did make a definitive statement on the legitimacy of NFTs, the conversation is far from over. With the impact of cryptocurrency and NFT projects only growing, the stronghold of support the community has is near unfathomable. Duncan Cock Foster, a co-founder of NFT platform Nifty Gateway took to Twitter in response to the decision, slamming Wikipedia for not supporting artists.
“Wikipedia works off of precedent. If NFTs are classified as ‘not art’ on this page, then they will be classified as ‘not art’ on the rest of Wikipedia. Wikipedia is the global source of truth for many around the world. The stakes couldn’t be higher,” he wrote. “Digital artists have been fighting for legitimacy their whole lives. We can’t let the Wikipedia editors set them back!”
Whether you think NFTs constitutes art or not, you can’t help but draw a similarity to the traditional art projects of yesteryear. Like Andy Warhol’s 1966 Banana or Marcel Duchamp’s 1917 ready-made sculpture Fountain, modern art is designed to upset the patriarch and challenge the order of things. While NFTs might not necessarily be the way forward, they do embody the same spirit of upheaval that made contemporary art what it is today.