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This article was published on January 17, 2022

Can NFTs be art? Wikipedia isn’t sure — and crypto bros are terrified

It's an "art emergency," apparently

Can NFTs be art? Wikipedia isn’t sure — and crypto bros are terrified Image by: Marco Verch (edited)
Thomas Macaulay
Story by

Thomas Macaulay

Writer at Neural by TNW Writer at Neural by TNW

NFT art has exploded in popularity, but it faces an uncertain future on Wikipedia.

Editors of the online encyclopedia recently voted against categorizing non-fungible tokens as art. The result sparked fury in the crypto community.

The poll stemmed from discussions about Wikipedia’s list of the most expensive artworks by living artists, Cointelegraph reports.

The editors debated whether NFTs such as Murat Pak’s $91.8M The Merge and Beeple’s $69M Everydays should join the list. A majority of editors have voted against their inclusion.

While the result isn’t binding and involves a single Wikipedia page, the vote has caused consternation among NFT advocates.

Duncan Cock Foster, the cofounder of NFT marketplace Nifty Gateway, described the situation as an “art emergency.”

He warned that Wikipedia’s decision could deprive digital artists of their legitimacy:

Wikipedia works off of precedent. If NFTs are classified as ‘not art’ on this page, then they will be classified as ‘not art’ on the rest of Wikipedia. Wikipedia is the global source of truth for many around the world. The stakes couldn’t be higher!

The debate highlights the confusion surrounding NFT artworks.

While digital artists view NFTs as a medium for making and selling art, critics describe them as merely “financial instruments.”

The Wikipedia editors agreed that Beeple and Pak are artists. However, some argued that buying an NFT of an artwork isn’t the same as buying the artwork itself

Another issue for Wikipedia involves the mechanisms of selling NFTs.

One editor said the sales of NFTs aren’t similar enough to other artwork sales to belong on the list.

As evidence, they pointed to doubts about the record sale of Pak’s The Merge. Critics have questioned claims that it’s the “largest-ever art sale by a living creator,” as the piece could be classified as a series of artworks.

The Wikipedia vote ultimately led to a new proposal from an editor: Beeple’s Everydays would retain its place, albeit with the addition of a note about the suspicions around the sale. Pak’s The Merge, however, would be excluded from the list:

The only source I have found which states it should be considered a singular artwork sale is a Nifty Gateway press release, the vendor who facilitated the sale. This is a primary source: it is not sufficient to qualify the item for inclusion.

That’s not likely to impress Nifty Gateway, although it does leave the door open for a potential inclusion.

The discussions still require a consensus supported by Wikipedia policy, but they’ve already exposed the skepticism — and bewilderment — around the NFT art world.

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