Something that we, historians don’t tell you very often is that we like collecting old stuff. Some of us even have very odd respect for old objects. History gives you this eccentric obsession to collect stories, knowledge and both literal and figurative snapshots of the past. Then there are also historical objects we collect that also have a monetary value, like coins, art, and books.
So, it is in this way that I have enthusiastically joined the NFT market as a buyer and collector. Not as an art collector, because primarily I am a historian. Of course, I’m invested in this market on the premise that first and foremost, crypto is indeed a historic phenomenon that is here to stay and that the NFT market is indeed a game-changer for the culture industry.
Yeah, right. Scrolling through the Open Sea marketplace, the most popular NFT marketplace, most of the JPEGs for sale look like crappy cartoons. Your favourite artists aren’t even there and everything is overly-priced. At face value, this looks like just another crypto scam where the big pumpers dump their shit on the have fun staying poors.
Lots of people will lose a lot of money in this market because they simply don’t know how an art market works. Whether you like the NFT JPEGs or not is irrelevant – it’s still an art market. Now, I come from the culture industry and for this reason, I also have a general idea of how the art market works. Not an expert, but I know some rudimentary basics, at least. And just like the NFT art market, the physical art market is full of shit. People who are awed and surprised at the high priced shitty-looking JPEGs in the NFT art market have never been to an art market before.
The art market is irrational. It is not driven by meritocracy. A piece of art is not a car or a machine that has calculable variables and results. Art is categorized by words and ideas and not numbers and this situation can lead to contrasting and relative opinions that can easily change. The only reason that a balloon by Jeff Koons can sell for millions and the Colombian’s amazing fine art is selling for hundreds of dollars in the side-streets of Cali is only due to the genetic lottery. There’s is nothing particularly special in the art of Jeff Koons and you shouldn’t wreck your brain why his work sells so much: that’s just how the art market works. It’s irrational.
In the world of crypto, you have the irrational exuberance of the pumpers and the mooners who want to make it big. This irrational and speculative exuberance has entered the NFT market and this is good for art. Probably, it is also the best thing which has happened to artists in a very long time. Let me put it this way. There is out there a large number of reckless crypto-heads who know nothing of art and are spending millions upon millions of dollars in Ethereum buying art which most of it is very shitty. Suddenly, artists have a new market, new clients and new money and most of them don’t even care about the art. I bet that eventually, the market will become more rational as old-time established artists begin moving into the NFT space. Some rationalisation is already in. The first art collection ever launched on the NFT Ethereum blockchain, Curio Cards, has been getting nice and regular bids.
The NFT marketplace will break barriers for artists worldwide. Middlemen are also cut off and artists have more control over their products with higher profit margins. What’s not to like if you are an artist? This is a game-changer and for this reason, the NFTs which have a historic or historical value will probably be considered in the future as the pioneering gems of a game-changing phenomenon in the culture industry. As, a historian, I’m in. In my attempt to try and capture a little bit of the history of this phenomenon, my preferences when buying NFTs are strictly geared towards NFTs which have both historic (cultural significance) value and historical value (time). So, I don’t need to like the art to buy an NFT. I just see whether the NFT, in my humble opinion has any historical and historic value. In order to get an idea of how scarcity in the market helps add value to historical pieces, check out these charts made by Aether City and White Rabbit1111 which roughly quantify the number of NFTs across time.
These are my categories to me only. And it’s not financial advice. I don’t think that NFTs are a way to make money for people just as much as I think that the art market is not a place for people to make money. People with an average income don’t afford to invest in art as a speculative asset, and that’s something only rich people afford to do. Nowadays, rich people also includes a huge number of young people who made money in the crypto space and most of these crypto-owners don’t give a fuck about your Koons and Matisse – many of them are just having fun buying and flipping NFTs.