Should sales of NFTs be classifed as art sales? Wikipedia Editors say no.

Everydays by Beeple

Wikipedia editors of a page dedicated to the most expensive art sales by living artists recently voted not to classify NFTs as art, ending their two months long debate on whether art sales such as Christie’s $69 million sale of Beeple’s Everydays should make the list.

In resolving the classification dispute, the editors had put the question to the vote, and five out of the six editors voted not to include NFTs on the list.

Although, the NFT market has been tagged as ‘contrived’ and ‘bloated’, it has provided artists with a new channel to earn from their works and the potential to earn in perpetuity as they get a slice from subsequent sales of their works. So why are sales of art NFTs not being regarded as art sales?

The Debate

Explaining the rationale behind their decision, an editor wrote the following on the discussion page:

‘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. There’s a separate issue of artificial price inflation of NFTs, though that’s something that would need to be decided in the NFT list and not here.”

However, pointing to reports from media sources which described Beeple as the “third-highest-selling artist alive” after his Christie’s sale, the lone dissenter out of the six editors stated “The overwhelming evidence from secondary sources places NFT art as art and thus worthy of inclusion on this list. If we agree Beeple and Pak are artists, why would their sales not count on this list? I don’t understand the logic.”

Following the Wikipedia editors’ decision, a list of the most expensive non-fungible tokens has been created to showcase the most expensive NFT sales by living people. This list includes all of the high value NFT sales, including art and non-art pieces like Jack Dorsey’s first tweet which sold for $2.9 million.

The dispute about the categorisation of NFT art pieces as art calls to mind the struggles faced by digital artists in seeking collection of their pieces. Traditionally, art collection and buying behaviour has mostly been limited to physical works of art. NFTs have provided digital artists with the opportunity to build a following and attract collectors. However, several traditional collectors and curators do not regard NFTs, and by extension, digital art, as real, collectible works of art.

Artists React

Reacting to the recent move by Wikipedia, David Oluwatoyin, a curator in Lagos state stated. “The editors were right. NFTs are not art works. Buying an NFT does not guarantee ownership of the actual artwork. All you own is the NFT”.

Echoing David’s statement, Linus Eyimeghia, an artist and creator of the Danfo series, agrees that NFTs are not works of art by themselves. The underlying artwork is separate from the NFT which was created to sell the art.

“Investing in NFTs is different from art collection. NFT collectors who are also art collectors categorise their NFTs separately from their art collection. Artists can sell their art works separately from the NFTs they create from the works, or they can sell them together, depending on their preferences. But no, an NFT is not art.”

Yewande Ambeke, an artist in Lagos Nigeria, disagrees. “Anything can be art, including NFTs,” she says. “The most important thing is the story behind it.”

The Wikipedia editors have stated that they will revisit their decision on a later date. In the meantime, members of the crypto community are pushing back against the separation of art NFTs from other art works. In a series of rallying tweets to other members of the NFT community, Duncan Cock Foster, co-founder of the popular NFT platform Nifty Gateway stated: “For the first time, digital artists are getting the recognition they deserve. galleries and the legacy art world never recognized that digital art was a true artistic medium, but the NFT world did. Digital artists have been fighting for legitimacy their whole lives. We can’t let the Wikipedia editors set them back!”

Take this knowledge and run with it.

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