NFTs: Assemblage for the 21st Century?

Once, when I was in my early adulthood, my girlfriend and I were in an artist’s gallery (that is to say, her dining room—she worked from home). And, in her gallery, what she displayed was something like nothing I’d ever seen before.

Hanging from her ceiling, at various heights, were mobiles of…well, let’s just say disparate objects. Okay, to describe it: For all the world, each of them looked roughly like the contents of someone’s kitchen junk drawer, super-glued together.

When we asked her how she got the idea for her ‘mobiles’, she corrected us. These weren’t “mobiles”, they were “Assemblage” (pronounced: ah-sem-BLAJ’).

Later, we, of course, had a lot of fun with that word. It became a shorthand for anything remotely pretentious. But, don’t get me wrong: as a former art major, I know that assemblage is a vital and important art form, with a lineage that goes back directly to Picasso.

And, after some investigation, we found out that this artist’s works were selling for quite a bit. The bottom line being: a thing is worth what some other person will pay for it. Full stop.

So, that brings us to Non-Fungible Tokens. NFTs. What to say, what to say… ?

I guess I don’t care how people spend their money. As long as we are realize there are two important distinctions. First, what isn’t real isn’t real. This is an excellent discussion about cryptocurrency, a distant cousin to NFTs. We need to always be able to take a step back and analyze these virtual products according to their actual, practical, effects in the real world.

And, second, there is an important distinction between markets and art. Just because something that calls itself art makes money, that doesn’t mean it’s art. Just like something that doesn’t make money doesn’t necessarily mean it’s artistic merit is lacking.

In fact, that would be true, even on its own terms: In a recent Tweet, Director Scott Derrickson: “Immediate popularity has never been a reliable measure for the enduring value of any work of art or entertainment.” Another example: Dracula wasn’t even the best selling Horror Fantasy in its own year of release. It was outsold by Richard Marsh’s The Beetle: A Mystery.

Now, I happen to like it better than Dracula. But, that just goes to show you: De gustibus non est disputandum.

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