NFT: the betrayal of digital images

OK, so I just created an NFT using the image above (yes, it’s for auction). Notice my tongue: I created a digital image and I hit an NFT accompanying this image. The image and the NFT are not the same thing.

There are still many misconceptions about people’s understanding of NFTs. These came up again very recently with the Australian van-dweller setting up a website for ‘hacked’ NFTs.

So let’s start with…

First of all, NFTs are not art. It’s a technology that’s most widely used by digital artists, but there are all sorts of use cases for NFTs beyond that. Or, to use a different example: you can use your computer to create art. It doesn’t make your computer a work of art.

Second, it is not the works of art that they represent. “Right clickers” and I suspect most people buying NFTs seem to confuse these two concepts in their minds.

The problem with digital art is that it can be copied endlessly. This is why digital artists use NFTs to monetize their work. Even with NFTs, the value of digital artwork is still zero because it can be copied over and over again. NFTs, on the other hand, can have value because there is only one finished sample for each artwork and the artist testifies that whoever owns the NFT also owns the artwork.

To use an example here too: I have a beautiful replica of a Salvador Dali painting in my living room. But while that ties the piece together, it doesn’t make me a Dali’s owner, and the ability to print cheap replicas doesn’t diminish the value of Dali’s art. Similarly, the ability to “right-click and save” NFTs, not even the ability to build a website with terabytes of NFT images, reduces the value of art NFTs digital.

NFT is short for Non-Fungible Tokens. In crypto, a token, as long as it is transferable, is generally understood as something of value, an asset in other words. Unlike fungible tokens (aka cryptocurrencies), where you can always transfer one bitcoin for another bitcoin and also decompose a bitcoin into smaller fractions, NFTs do not have this property.

You cannot simply trade one CryptoPunk for another (unless both trading parties agree they are of equivalent value). Also, you cannot split a CryptoPunk (unless you wrap it in a fungible token for split ownership). This means that NFTs can be used to represent material things in the offline world, such as a car deed, property deed, insurance policy, or debt.

In the context of digital art, NFTs are used to represent ownership of intangible things, namely digital works of art. I guess the easiest way to understand the concept of digital art NFTs is to think of them as certificates of authenticity. That’s really the one and only thing NFTs do. They certify that the owner of the NFT is the owner of the authentic digital artwork.

Interestingly, when considering NFTs simply as certificates of authenticity, it doesn’t matter that the images they represent are stored centrally, as the creator of The NFT Bay notes. When you have a painting certified, the certificate of authenticity is also not attached to the painting.

The certificate also does not guarantee that your painting will not be destroyed or stolen. You need to take other measures to avoid this. But if this case happens, you can still prove that you are the owner of the artwork. With that in mind, it actually makes sense to right-click and save all the NFTs you own yourself – or, ironically, use The NFT Bay in case your 404 NFTs.

The image above is of course a variant of René Magritte’s painting from 1929 Image betrayal (“Image betrayal”). The painting depicts a pipe, followed by the words “This is not a pipe”.

With NFTs, image betrayal is now taken to the next level. What you see in the title image is Banksy’s infamous painting burning ceremony, to “turn the painting into an NFT” (yes I know, it’s a photo of the fire…shut- you, Rene).

One might think that the words under the photo comment on the ceremony. As stated above, burning the array did not turn it into an NFT, it just destroyed the last remaining physical copy of the array.

In fact, the NFT speaks for itself. The image at the top of this page is of course not an NFT. This is a digital image stored on Hackernoon. Even if you search for it on OpenSea, what you see is not an NFT. It’s still just a digital image.

There is no way to see an NFT with the naked eye. They are intangible goods which you cannot see but which you possess. NFTs are inherently treacherous, and right-clickers, collectors, and artists everywhere are falling for their deception.

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