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A response to Jisu’s NFT superdocument

This is in response to Jisu’s post on NFTs.

First, let me start with the fact that I appreciate that someone would spend so much time to research, to learn about, to compile, and then to write a big document that discusses the information involved in NFTs. This is not meant as an attack to you or the work that you did (which I know you did not have to do). I simply wish to respond to the parts of this document you put out that are relevant to my grievances with NFTs. If you don’t end up liking my tone or how I argue things, I am really sorry. I still really like your art, and I still really appreciate the fact that you took so much time to do a bunch of research and work for free. I just feel that there are some things that you did not talk about in your document that I feel are the core of what a lot of people’s issues with NFTs are.

To be fair to everyone, I will outline first the words I use, and do my best to make them consistent with the words you have chosen.

I like this quite a lot. It is very accurate. I, like you, will use the term “blockchain” to talk about the application of the hashing technology, and the hashing technology alone.

We will get around to disagreeing with parts of this later, but I will use the term “NFTs” when I talk about the application of blockchain technology to the specific context of the art world.

And lastly, I will not be talking in depth about cryptocurrency, except once later, to discuss why they differ from NFTs. I actually find it quite strange that your document was a LOT of information about cryptocurrency. It is nice (and very well researched), but I do feel it is a bit of shadowboxing. I like your definition of cryptocurrency too, which is why I found it strange, your document, in which I expected to read about NFTs, I read instead about cryptocurrency.

That’s the first thing that is concerning to me is that your document contains a lot of work regarding cryptocurrency. None of which is particularly wrong either. The problem I have is that NFT is an application of blockchain, just like cryptocurrency. Except that NFT is an application of blockchain to digital art, rather than to currency. Usually that wouldn’t make a difference. Except in this case, I feel it makes a tremendous amount of difference.

You say it best here:

This is a case of being technically correct (actually my favorite kind of correct :3). In fact, you go on to say the word “certificate of ownership” a sentence down, which is funny to me because even certificates of ownership require a form of authentication (you mention this as well in your later section, calling it “trust,” which I agree with the definition).

The problem being, if everyone has a right to create a certificate of ownership, then there is no authentication. There is no trust. Surely an artist can appreciate and recognize that a certificate of authentication is not the same as a currency. Currency being decentralized works because the entity generating that currency is not important, while certification being decentralized does not work because the entity generating that authentication is important.

Who made the money is not so important as to whether the money itself is legitimate (blockchain does confirm it is legally made). Whether the art itself is actually art is not so important as to whether or not the art was made legitimately (blockchain does not currently confirm who legally made it).

Which is why it is so bizarre to me that you don’t seem to have the same reactions to this that many artists have. Especially when it is so clear that you have a much better understanding of the underlying principles of blockchain compared to most artists in the field. You get really close when you say this:

I will not lie, I am not even a fraction of the artist you are, and have been doing art for even far less time than that, so I cannot say that I have experienced this particular situation of someone who is not educated about how digital art works giving critiques. But reading this example, I understood a bit better where you come from.

But the problem is that NFTs don’t solve this issue you presented. The same people who are not educated about how digital art works will not understand how blockchain guarantees legitimacy. They just won’t. And even if they did, it doesn’t matter because they still won’t think your art is art. They’re just kinda shit like that. All NFTs do for this situation is at best replicate systems of authentication that already exist physically, and at worst an additional insurmountable barrier to gatekeep artists who don’t belong to the “elite” club.

In fact, you present this exact argument later on:

You talk directly about trust (authentication). I will expand on this core issue exposed by NFTs with my favorite example. I will use a word here, “enrollment,” which is in the security contexts, the application to get a certificate of authentication (i.e: authenticating your authentication…)

For instance, if I wanted to get verified on Twitter as pop-sensation Taylor Swift, I would need to (theoretically) submit my documents to show that I own the handle “taylorswift13” and that also I am actually pop-sensation Taylor Swift herself. The issue is that enrollment also needs to be authenticated in some way. Reddit has a verification method where the person in question takes a photo of themselves holding up a piece of paper that has their reddit account name on it. Now I presume that it is two-factor, in that the reddit account in question also needs to state that they are verifying. But you can kind of see the problem with this authentication method. If the image itself is fake, then there’s no guarantee that this enrollment is legitimate. If the account itself is fake, then there’s no guarantee that this enrollment is legitimate.

And you do present that perspective. However, I do not think you then continue to discuss this problem, but instead present an argument for why it should be legitimized, that it needs to be adopted to eventually it can be regulated:

The issue here I feel you miss, is that if everything you say comes to fruition, we will at best have created a digital version of a process that already exists. The application of blockchain in this case does not solve the issue of authentication, because enrollment needs to be authenticated. Because authentication of the creator of a piece of work cannot be decentralized by nature. And if we’re saying that from now on, every artist can just use blockchain to protect all their future works by minting it first as an NFT, I hope you can agree with me that regardless of how environmentally friendly NFTs are (and we’re not sure that they are), that this still does not solve issues of art reposts getting more traffic, artists works being printed on t-shirts without permission, etc.

The example I like is this: if you forged the Mona Lisa, you can do two things to get some money. One, you can sell it as a replica. Two, you can sell it as the original. Both can get you some money, however, only one should be considered a “legitimate” act. Furthermore, imagine tomorrow I sell printed copies of the Mona Lisa all as the original. Usually, nobody would pay top dollar for replicas. But let’s say that every one of my replicas sell for multi millions. Then it becomes impossible to claim that I can solve the security issue because there is no legitimacy being enforced. If Twitter does not care whether or not the image I sent to get verified as pop-sensation Taylor Swift is genuine, then the concept of verification holds no legitimacy (anyone can be the pop-sensation Taylor Swift), and this system collapses. An illegitimate system cannot collapse if it is artificially propped but by insurmountable amounts of money. You correctly state that this system requires trust. The issue is that we already have a system in place that requires trust. We need a solution that can replace that. Whether or not it is possible, it is very clear that NFTs cannot do that. So what even is the point of it? It is not cryptocurrency, which does have all the benefits you stated it has, it is an application of blockchain to replicate a broken system for art.

You mention that these downfalls are not inherent flaws of NFTs:

This is technically true. Nothing about the broken aspects of the system that NFTs is digitally replicating is inherently the flaw of NFT and blockchain technology. So, what do we call a replication of a system that is flawed, in which the replicate is not formed with the intent to, and does not in fact, solve the flaws with the system it is replicating, all the while generating tons and tons of money flow similar to economic bubbles and speculation seen only in the likes of 2008?

I would prefer to call it a scheme. I would prefer to call it a front. I would prefer to call it speculators taking advantage of the digital art world while continuing to fester problems of digital art theft while doing nothing to try and solve the problem it claims it does.

Furthermore, what happens when someone decides that they want to create a NFT of a physical piece of work, and then destroy the original? It may not be a problem inherent to NFT, but certainly a problem that was uniquely caused by the widespread surge of money enabled by NFTs.

It is one amongst many reasons why I dislike it whenever anyone says blockchain, because the technology can be really cool and be used for really good things, but instead, what we get is an eerie replica of the “elite club” arts system artists dislike, or the worst case of speculative tech bubbles that many feel the negative effects of.