Crypto Art Makes Artists Millions; But Is It Killing Our Planet?

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Cael Brennan

As the world is ever-evolving so is its art, from pottery to paintings and now to GIFs worth thousands of dollars we have already begun the transition into a new age of modern collecting. NFTs or Non-Fungible-Tokens have become what many credit as being the next wave in high art buying and selling.

But what even is an NFT? Well, NFTs are unique or non-fungible pieces of distinct digital art that by utilizing crypto much like bitcoin exist on a digital ledger or blockchain that verifies its individual existence. They began to gain acceleration in their meteoric rise with the inclusion of unique trading card games such as one where buyers could obtain what were practically photos of cartoon cats to trade amongst others. The aforementioned nun-fungible nature of these NFTs acted as the incentive for countless potential buyers to take to the process with high confidence and thus began a new kind of high art. Although not a commonplace form of high art to obtain by any means, Non-Fungible-Tokens were now a thing. 

Crypto Kittens

However, what once was the makings of a miniature practice of private art buying and selling has now maximized its presence over the past few years. Collectives of artists independent or not have taken to expressing themselves through Non-Fungible-Tokens and the profits incoming are massive. Singer, Producer, and Performer extraordinaire Grimes (well known for her relationship with Elon Musk) brought in about 5.8 million dollars in under 20 minutes just by promoting ten of her new NFTs on Twitter. To think a bit of digital production and the promise of some unheard material could acquire that much cash. Many cannot even surmise this process of buying NFTs when one buyer can record or screenshot their entire purchase. Begging the question, is the unique quality of owning an original truly worth that much?

Either way, it is easy to imagine that even the promise of potentially obtaining one-fiftieth of that cash pool is enough to drive any artist to cash in on the NFT renaissance. To NFTs credit, independent artists without the profitable backing of a label have had success getting the dollars from their due diligence by creating Non-Fungible-Tokens. 

But NFTs do not exist without any strain on the world, specifically the environment. The Ethereum blockchain the NFTs are stored on has massive implications on our carbon footprint. The necessary computer power processing these chains utilizes increasing amounts of electricity that pump out heaps of carbon emissions. The website SuperRare, a popular ethereum trading platform for NFTs had released one average size NFT that added up to about 421 kWh (kilowatt-hours). 421 kWh is close to the amount of energy used by a single European household for a month!

It is due to striking numbers regarding the energy output of Non-Fungible-Tokens and all crypto that has frightened many with the prospect of them becoming the future of high art. Many dedicated fans of specific artists have quite swiftly attempted to dismay their favorites from contributing to the NFT economy, and for the artists that have sought out creating crypto art depending on their fanbase, they could see a lot of backlash

Grimes’ NFT

Singer and Producer Arca recently took to a large public discussion with her fans after announcing the introduction of her NFT. One of her largest points was that, “NFTs can be useful in opening spaces for people to live off of making art in new ways and in a more feasible way. One that has less to do with gatekeeping and industry, and more to do with collectors buying art directly off the artist.” Seeing as how Arca is an artist backed by a smaller label many were able to understand her perspective. However, several as well rebutted with the fact the ethereum blockchains are rapidly being worked on to become more environmentally sustainable, so why not just wait?

Both sides proving to be very valid arguments on the NFT conflict it is apparent that this debacle is very layered in its complexities. However, it is concurrent that the best thing, for now, is conversation. As one who has seen an array of artists take to making NFTs, receive heavy backlash from fans, and not really hold any formal conversations on the matter: I think performers such as Arca are indeed the example in these trying times of curating our art. It is true that conversations and mature debates can lead to more nuanced conclusions on the creation of NFTs and should continue to be upheld.