There is no doubt that art has played a critical role in shaping the world as we know it today. What other universal language has the power to enlighten, illuminate, inspire? With art’s dark history of catalyzing uprisings, organizing rebellion, and deviating from the cultural norms, we can safely say that art is a disruptive power held by the people.
Ironically, it is not the people, but the wealthy and higher-echelons of society who get to dictate what becomes art. In the Renaissance, the rich commissioned artists, painters, and craftsmen to create pieces of art, no doubt beautiful, but definitely with an ulterior motive. While people can interpret art in many ways, the disruptive power was always in the hands of the wealthy to manipulate.
Fortunately, the Renaissance of old is long gone, we are living in a new age, the Internet Renaissance. With widespread connectivity, vast information, and emerging innovations all enabled by the internet, this is a prime time where art can truly reflect the hearts and souls of the people.
Welcome to the Art Renaissance of NFTs.
Patrons of the Arts In The Past
A patron of the arts is someone who financially supports the creation of a piece of art. Artists have their families to feed, so creating artworks for the wealthy was the perfectly logical choice for most intellectuals.
To put this into context, artists were generally regarded as intellectuals, and some were even elevated to positions of nobility in the Renaissance. Through their craft, they were promoted to the higher-ups of society and mingled amongst aristocrats and royalty.
Why should artists of old ever create pieces for public enjoyment, or for art’s sake? It was in their best interest to only create what their patrons asked of them, for it was that which elevated their position above the commoners.
In a highly close-knitted, elitist circle of aristocrats, the people would have no chance of letting their voice be heard in the form of art. Art was for the people to interpret, but for the patrons to dictate.
Why the Middle-Class Patronage?
In the heading of this article, I am focusing on the impact of NFTs on the middle class. You may find it peculiar, why doesn’t NFTs benefit “all” or the “general public” in this case?
According to Pew Research, they define the middle class as people earning between two-thirds and twice the median American household income.
But the ‘middle-class’ in the universe of arts refer to those who treasure the value of art, but may not have the means to do so. If a peasant in the Renaissance age cherished art, he could only lust upon the pieces commissioned by the rich, but never have a chance of owning one himself.
NFTs give such people the power to have ownership of meaningful art, and patronage of arts for the middle-class.
As for the unenlightened and skeptical, NFTs are of no meaning to them. According to a study mentioned by Yahoo Finance, 98% of people don’t fully grasp the basic concepts of cryptocurrencies. How do you think they will fare with NFT knowledge?
Some are also highlighting the environmental impact of NFTs, citing extensive energy usage to create digital art. While these concerns are valid, skeptics choose to claim NFTs as an unworkable system and downplay it completely. Meanwhile, physical copies of art take far more resources to transport, safeguard and display in prestigious auctions.
Hence, only those who choose to believe in NFTs can benefit from owning them. Rightfully, it should only be for the middle class.
The Influence of NFTs
Most of you should know that NFTs (Non-Fungible Tokens) are the next hottest thing after cryptocurrency. But what most people don’t notice is the fact that NFTs have erased the boundaries for patrons of the arts – almost entirely!
As American Painter Thomas Kinkade once said, “Art transcends cultural boundaries.” So why can’t they transcend class divides too?
This is the change NFTs are trying to bring about.
Previously, we mentioned that art was confined only to the nobles of society. The main reason was that art in the past was a political agenda, a self-glorification scheme, or a tool to promote widespread propaganda. The rich would only commission artists, in hopes of obtaining more power or amassing even more wealth. As such, art was discussed behind closed doors.
But today, NFTs are accessible to all. Stored on cryptocurrency blockchains such as the Ethereum and Solana Blockchains, NFTs exist on a public ledger. This means that all NFT artworks are publicly showcased, with all its information (such as the buy and sell price) known to everyone.
Instead of pushing for some hidden agenda, NFTs can be enjoyed and appreciated by all, whether it’s a piece of art, profound poetry, or even music. In a sense, patrons of art no longer stand to have a political or economic advantage by purchasing an NFT. They simply have the satisfaction or fulfillment of owning one, commissioning art for the sake of art.
Another aspect of NFTs that cannot be overlooked is the buying and selling of artworks. Although artists have always been supported by patrons of the arts, buying and selling differ in the Renaissance, the Modern era, and the age of the Internet.
Patronage of the art bloomed from the Renaissance. Artists were outrightly commissioned by the wealthy to create pieces of art – they were rarely traded among people.
In the modern era, artists started having more autonomy with what they wanted to create. As an artist, you would make a piece, and sell it to the highest bidder. That was the first step towards appreciating art for itself, but still, very much related to motivations in the Renaissance, such as a show of wealth, or bragging rights.
However, there is an ever-growing group of traders in today’s world. With NFTs open to the public, enterprising individuals start to notice the value of digital art, and “flip” it for a profit. By buying not into the art of the NFT, but the influence of the NFT community, the talented middle-classes can play a part in boosting interest and exposure of the online art world.
Last but certainly not least, NFTs allow us to express 21st-century culture in the best way possible. This 21st-century culture refers to the freedom of expression of ideas, or the portrayal of one’s emotions. No longer is the artwork talking about the glory of some King, but rather an artist’s view of society.
So, why is the NFT community the best place to portray 21st-century culture? Well, because it is a place for expression and belonging.
Take for example, an aspiring digital artist who creates their first piece of work. The NFT is simply a picture of scenery – it doesn’t have much aesthetic value, and neither does it put across a strong political message. Thus, there’s no reason to buy it, except for the story behind the picture.
NFT collectors or curators don’t simply take a look at the piece of art, they look beyond the monetary or aesthetic value. Instead, many curators buy an NFT because they feel a sense of belonging to the specific project, or feel represented by the particular artwork.
And that is the very beauty of NFTs, by allowing ordinary people to own an expression, playing a part in shaping our 21st-century culture.
Addressing the Elephant in the Room
While the introduction of NFTs clearly shifts the patrons of the arts to the middle-class, it isn’t a perfect system. Let’s be real, there are still cases of patronage “Renaissance-Style” in the NFT community.
Just a few months ago, financial services conglomerate VISA bought Cryptopunk 7610 for $150,000 in Ethereum. It is pretty obvious that VISA commissioned the NFT to boost their brand in the digital space, especially geared towards NFT collectors and cryptogoers.
While this may be a good sign that the NFT community is gaining attention from large multinational companies, it may not be a step in the right direction for middle-class patronage of the arts. Visa buying a Cryptopunk is just the beginning, more companies will follow.
But, why could this spell disaster for NFT patronage as we know it?
As more companies enter the NFT space, with a motive to boost their online presence, NFTs will be the tools for extensive marketing. The big businesses will play the role of capitalist aristocrats, and we’ll be back to the Renaissance days of bragging rights.
Furthermore, this will drive up the prices of NFTs in popular projects, especially those in which businesses are heavily invested into. How can the people compete with the businesses? If businesses dominate the NFT arena, collectors can no longer shape the internet renaissance. And the sad truth is if it comes to this business-dominated stage, the NFT metaverse is worth abandoning.
In a nutshell, NFTs are more than the new concept of digital art. It marks the shift of arts patronage, from the rich to the middle-class, or those who believe in collecting art for appreciation’s sake.
As Winston Churchill once controversially said, “History is written by the victors.” If the NFT community can promote a space for universal art ownership and admiration, untainted by hidden agendas of the “victors in wealth”, perhaps NFTs can truly be the solution to middle-class arts patronage.