why NFTs share the artistic community

NFTs, these titles of digital object ownership that are sometimes bought for handsome sums, open up new perspectives for digital artists who often have a hard time making money on their virtual works. But within the artistic community, these “non-fungible tokens” are causing a heated debate between its supporters and its opponents.

Living off your art has always been complicated. But perhaps even more so on the Internet, where a work is accessible to all and can be duplicated indefinitely. For years, digital artists have been thinking of the best way to sell their works. They most often take orders from individuals or rely on online sponsorship. Most of the time, they publish their creations on the networks in hopes of one day being noticed and recruited by video game or movie theater companies. But NFTs have come to disrupt the equation.

“Non-fungible tokens” (NFT) are kind of deeds registered in the blockchain – the virtual equivalent of a transaction register – which confirms that you are the owner of the digital object to which it is attached. You can stamp almost anything on the internet with an NFT: a tweet, a picture of a kitten, elements from video games, an excerpt from a sports match or a digital drawing … And then resell it in cryptocurrencies.

For an artist, an NFT makes it possible to place a unique and tamper-proof marker on his creation, indicating that this is actually the “original” work among the copies that will circulate and remain available to everyone on the web. An essential distinction as it introduces scarcity and facilitates a potential sale: the buyer is guaranteed to acquire a “unique” property. NFTs offer another significant advantage: artists receive a systematic percentage on resale, a “resale right”, which generally amounts to 10%.

Also read: NFT: what is “crypto art”?

Although they have been around for several years, NFTs have been in the news lately due to spectacular sales. Mike Winkelmann, an artist also known as Beeple, has sold a collage of 5,000 images for over $ 69 million. Weekdays: The first 5000 days, was thus the third most expensive work of art sold by a living artist. Another artist, Grimes, sold various works to earn $ 6 million in one weekend. Impressive sales that have led many creators to embark on the adventure with the hope of finally being able to monetize their digital art.

Non-fungible tokens, however, are controversial in the artistic community. Firstly due to its energy costs. Creating, selling, purchasing an NFT involves many computer operations. A computer has to solve a lot of complex equations that validate transactions elsewhere on the network. The problem is that solving a lot of complex equations requires a lot of computing power, which in turn uses a lot of electricity.

The impact on the environment

A question that engineer and artist Memo Akten was interested in. By analyzing 18,000 non-fungible tokens, he came to the particular conclusion that the average NFT produces a CO2 footprint equivalent to a London-Rome round trip by plane. Another artist, Joanie Lemercier calculated that the sale of six of his crypto artworks have consumed more electricity in ten seconds than his entire studio over the past two years. When he initially entered this market with the hope of reducing its ecological impact, he quickly realized that it was a ” disaster “and decided to suspend another sale” until the problem is resolved “.

Digital artists need to be able to make a living from doing the work they love. But it should not come at the expense of the huge footprint [environnementale] what this means at the moment », Summarizes the Memo Act in a manifesto for a “new ecology of crypto art”where he also condemns “ the current lack of transparency »NFT sales platforms. After her first sale, Joanie Lemercier contacted Nifty Gateway, where her works were marketed to find out the energy consumption associated with the sale, without success. ” To date, no information is available on any of the platforms to inform users about the meaningless waste associated with these transactions. », Emphasizes the artist on his blog.

The Memo Act and Joanie Lemercier’s research have shed light on the problem of the environmental impact of NFTs, but have above all inflamed the artistic community. Although more environmentally friendly platforms have emerged and considerations are being made to “green” the crypto market, some still find this inadequate and believe that the problem is systemic, condemning an ultraliberal logic. “ The current ecological costs of cryptocurrencies are very significant, and although steps can be taken to control some of these costs, the crypto market remains based on a system that fundamentally links value to the cost of material resources. “, Insists the American illustrator Everest Pipkin, in a gallery which has circulated widely on the networks.

Everest Pipkin’s article was regularly published by anti-NFT artists to try to convince their peers to abandon practice. Another post has also sparked much debate: an illustrated chart produced by the Cabeza Patata studio, which seeks to demonstrate that cryptocurrency responds to the principle of “pyramid sales”, that is, a system that would only benefit the minority who created it and would actually harm the majority of its members.

The topic is so sensitive that when ArtStation – a large website hosting art portfolios – announced on March 8 that it would start working with NFTs, the response on social media was so rapid and strong thatArtStation has withdrawn its ad within a few hours, apologize to its members while hoping ” that at some point we will be able to find a fair and environmentally sound solution to leverage a technology that the site claims is capable of bringing “ positive change for digital artists “.

Faced with this movement, which is strongly against NFTs, the American artist Jacqueline “Jisu” Choe, in turn, shared a long article in an attempt to alleviate the controversy. IN a post published in March last year on Medium (tracking early May for a second), she particularly questions the calculation methods used by the Memo Act or Joanie Lemercier and points out that the energy costs of NFTs are only a small part of the cryptocurrency market, which in itself does not represent much on the scale of the major players in global warming (transport, industry, etc.). And it points above all to the responsibilities of large corporations rather than individuals.


Jacqueline Choe even claims that NFTs have the potential to reduce artists’ environmental impact: Many artists usually have to sell physical works online or in exhibitions, and this whole journey (print, travel, etc.) produces a significant CO2 footprint (…), as it is completely digital, NFT reduces the ecological cost of mass production and travel. An analysis shared by collector and gallery owner Guillaume Horen, founder Buy Art. “ The logistics of the works of art are complex. Sending an NFT to the US takes two minutes and uses a lot of electricity, but sending an array via a shipping company has a undoubtedly greater cost to the environment. »

Theft and fraud

However, there is one issue related to NFT that everyone agrees on: theft of works of art. Many artists regularly report on Twitter that some of their creations are stolen and sold on sales platforms without their knowledge or permission. Illustrator Derek Laufman even tell The edge that someone pretended to be him to sell his drawings. Concerned about the phenomenon she saw spreading on the networks, illustrator Devin Elle Kurtz went to check if her name stood out, thus discovering one of her images taken up and put up for sale on a platform. ” The person who had turned it into NFT had put his signature all over it “, She explains The edge. And his case is not isolated.


There are also automated services that can instantly stamps a tweet or an image with an NFT, and although artists can submit removal requests, it is still a time-consuming and annoying job. Result: some create blocking lists to prevent automated accounts from creating unauthorized NFTs from social media posts. Other artists simply lock their accounts so that only existing followers can see their posts – which of course comes at the expense of visibility.

Pro-NFT artist Jacqueline Choe herself admits that this is a “ real problem “. Nevertheless, she recalls that some sales platforms require multiple levels of authentication before an artist can list his work, even if this is still the case.” insufficient “. That’s why she invites her peers to”. push for better platforms and for this technology to evolve in ways that protect our work “. Meanwhile, she advises them to resort to tricks sometimes used by digital artists (low-resolution images, watermark signatures, etc.) and reminds them that art theft” has unfortunately existed since the dawn of time “.


But it is also up to the buyer to take care, emphasizes gallery owner and collector Guillaume Horen. “ It is important that I, as a collector, if I decide to buy a work, an NFT, find out. NFT indicates the work’s history and pedigree. So we have a way of tracing the information, going to the artist’s social network to confirm that it’s actually a work he’s put up for sale. And we can contact him if needed. You have to be careful, look before you buy, do not buy just anywhere. »

If the ecological problems and theft problems associated with non-fungible tokens are far from resolved, projects and reflections have been launched to try to respond to them. This was also the purpose of the Memo Act’s alarm war when he published his research on the environmental impact of NFTs. Then he said he would start a discussion “on this subject. But the discussion got a little heated, to the point that he did an update on his page where one could previously see data on the CO2 footprint in the NFT market. ” Unfortunately, the information on this website has been used to insult and harass, so I take the page offline. “, We can read on the website with this call for calm:” I support artists and we should support each other “.

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