What is Art? From primitive basket weaving to modern NFT’s

Art takes many forms. Quite often it’s the 2D variety that hangs on a wall that people most associate as fine art. Paintings or prints livening an otherwise blank space. Or a piece of sculpture displayed just so to activate the space around it.

Art beautifies our homes, offices and public spaces. It can be uplifting or thought provoking. Some can find themselves lost in a work. Others don’t even give it a glance. Art is subjective. What artists choose to make, and what people choose to engage, are all dictated by a myriad of personal response. At its core, art is personal.

Art taps into the creative energy of artists to produce boundless results and it manifests in countless ways. Installations (most often displayed in Galleries or Museums), including materials, sound, or lighting the artist chooses to best convey the concept. Public art beautifies a space, or acts as a monument to signify an accomplishment or a moment in time to be remembered now by all. Artistic social practice that advocates. Artisan makers who blow glass, or potters, or fiber artists, metal or wood crafters. Jewelers. Traditional studio artists. Digital artists. Performance artists. Designers. Photographers. And the list goes on.

The point is, that when considering What is Art? it could well be beyond your first inclination. Early people started with primitive cave painting, personal adornments, and portable carvings. Original indigenous around the world included designs on baskets used to gather or store food. Pottery and everyday items became vehicles for design elements. Early forays into expressing ourselves and our ideas recorded in some form to be able to interact with again and again.

Today, we see the rise of NFTs – non fungible tokens – art that most often exists only in digital form. Occasionally it is a reproduced image of an original 2D or 3D work, but usually it is art originated in digital form. As a computer file, an NFT can just as readily be the winning shot of a game as it is a painstakingly designed image.

To become an NFT involves a few more steps than just posting the image for sale. Because images are so readily copied and reshared soon there is nothing of value to point to. You may capture the lucky moment and are the first to post, but if the image or clip gets copied and reshared, then you only are left with bragging rights. To monetize it, that original “version” of the image is ascribed into a blockchain. It can be sold with sale details recorded for posterity for someone to look at in a digital wallet over and over along with the actual bragging rights of ownership.

Like all art, NFTs do not disappoint in their personally subjective variety. From 8bit (highly pixelated) and poorly designed kitsch, to exceptionally conceived 4D works of animation and sound, there is an NFT for every taste and price point. And now, this form of visual art is evolving the transactional nature of art as well.

Artists can embed future income in the sales process much like a recording artist or an actor. What has generally held true through all of history is that the visual artist is compensated just once for the artwork. Their name splashed across the canvas may drive the resale value higher, but the artist rarely benefits. Now if the work trades again, the artist may be able to receive a royalty should the recorded contract define a residual payment or a retained percentage of ownership. Paying royalties on the sale of physical art where the value of the work has appreciated has become a rather standard practice in Europe in recent decades. Now making its way into a global phenomenon via the NFT craze. Artist may find themselves not starving (as much anyway) if art sales contracts can provide a residual income stream from a body of work like actors and recording artists.

So… What is Art? It continues to evolve and artists along with it.

Lori Illner Greene is director of Fort Madison Area Arts Association and a monthly contributor to Pen City Current

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