On Jan. 14, Seattle tech entrepreneurs Jennifer Wong and Peter Hamilton will open the city’s first-ever Non-Fungible Token, or NFT, Museum. Titled the Seattle NFT Museum, or SNFTM, Wong and Hamilton hope to provide a space for the artwork to be showcased. As the craze for NFT artwork continues, digital art lacks an actual space for it to be appreciated. As she described to GeekWire, Wong said that “As powerful as online communities have become, there is little substitute for looking at art, standing next to another person.”
NFTs are a budding new addition to the multitude of blockchain-based technologies, which is the same technology that cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, Etherium, or the infamous Dogecoin are built on. With that technology, NFTs act as a sort of digital receipt or certificate of ownership, showing that you own the “original” copy of a digital object. This makes them highly sought after by collectors and investors alike, and the trend has only continued to grow.
While I am thrilled that digital art is getting the attention it deserves, I am concerned if excluding the show to purely NFTs is the right fit for the vision that Wong and Hamilton have. There are millions of talented artists online, and having a brick-and-mortar museum that only showcases art that has a specific type of digital ownership behind it seems unnecessarily exclusive. NFTs are purpose-built to be for investors and collectors; people who value them not just because of the art but also because of the value associated with them. They also do not prevent other people from owning that object; they are merely a certificate. Anyone can copy-and-paste a digital image, regardless of whether or not someone owns the NFT for it.
The art that will be in the museum will undoubtedly be beautiful, but sadly the only reason that it will be in the museum is that someone bid an exorbitant amount of money on a digital object. The current state of NFTs leads to an exclusive circle of wealthy individuals controlling much of the market, and it would be a shame to see other amazing pieces of digital art go by the wayside purely because it isn’t an NFT. I fear that walking through the museum will feel less like walking through halls of amazing high-resolution art, and more like walking through halls of framed 100 dollar bills.
In addition to the ways that the museum is heavily biased towards wealthier portions of the population, there has also been a lot of controversy regarding the environmental impacts of NFTs. Like all blockchain technology, it requires significant computing power to manage and handle blockchain transactions. This is because to add something to the blockchain, computers need to solve extremely complex mathematical operations. All that computing takes a large amount of power and produces a lot of heat. That heat then needs to be cooled off, which requires even more power. All of these power requirements combined lead to strain on the power grid and additional burning of fossil fuels, only aiding and encouraging the rapidly oncoming climate disaster.
Non-fungible tokens certainly have a place in our culture, but I fear that museums such as this are taking the wrong approach to their promotion. All digital art should be promoted and shown, and rather than being based on whether or not it has an encrypted receipt behind it, it should be displayed because the maker and their art have an important story and message to share. Though, as the museum isn’t even open yet, much remains to be seen. I plan to visit the museum upon its opening, and I hope that it will be a much more wonderful experience than the pessimistic view I present here.