The Philosophy of Art is a wonderful realm, and in today's post on my poetry blog (go follow to support the work of some really underrated artists), I want to cover how one can approach assigning value to something as non-fungible as art. That's right crypto-heads, this one's for you too (After all, NFTs are all the rave right now) . Read on to find out about:
- What is 'Fungibility' and how does it apply to Art
- What is Art?
- How can we assign value to Art and come up with criteria?
- The objective theory
- The defense of the subjective theory
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder...
How many of us have heard the proverb above? I'd be very surprised if you haven't. Essentially it makes a judgement on how we can assign value to an artwork; in this case, through the value internalized by the observer themselves. However, a lot of people may disagree; in fact, a lot of people do disagree when they come across something abstract or alien to their tastes regardless of what medium that is (e.g. music, poetry, dance etc.)
At this point I'm not saying either case is invalid, but to play the devil's advocate here (hint!), would you consider the following "beautiful"?
According to the 'wise' proverb, it would be, given the 4 year old that drew that thought it was beautiful (some may claim I drew this due to my poor drawing skills to which I respond shhhhhhhh). Do we have any right then to perceive it as not? Let me know if you agree with this statement or disagree in the comments below!
Okay now that you have a little taster for what we're talking about, we'll move on swiftly to each topics as you're probably wondering what this has to do with NFT's (and for those of you that drew the link well done!)
What is fungibility and how does it apply to art?
You may be wondering if you're already familiar with the concept of fungibility as to how this Economics and Finance based term could be the defining label used in modern, digital art. That's right, NFTs, or, Non-Fungible Tokens. You might have been involved in the crypto world for a long time and have used this term daily, without knowing exactly what it is. Well here's the best way to envision it which I credit to my favorite game these days, Splinterlands', loading screen: they have an in-built "certificate of authenticity". What this essentially explains is why these token are non-fungible.
Fungibility in itself is the ability for an asset to be exchanged or traded with another asset of the same type. Examples of fungible assets include:
- Common shares
- Crypto (generally speaking)
Likewise, examples of non-fungible assets include:
- Baseball cards
Notice how non-fungible assets can differ in value from item to item as each one will have qualities that add or subtract from it's value. Baseball cards are easy to understand, and the NFT cards from Splinterlands are just as easy to conceptualize. Each player in a baseball card set has different attributes and so you would not want to trade the best card for a weaker one, even though in terms of all materials taken to produce the card, or any other physical quality may be similar.
Likewise, this generally applies to all art, which can be held as an asset. This is because should you consider any art, let's say your favorite works of Leonardo da Vinci, you would still assign more value to one and less to the other (to a subconscious extent) even though everything about that artworks in terms of production and economic value may have been similar. Let's say the cost of the canvas, the paint, and any other real world expense to create the good was the same: you would still not consider each one of his artworks the same in value as one may be more "beautiful".
Wow, I know right. Tell this to the next naysayer that tells you NFTs aren't real art or don't hold real value.
What is Art?
Okay so we've established that Art holds value even though it is non-fungible. What do we say to the critic who says that NFTs, however, aren't real art? Well, firstly, if you were me you'd have to keep your cool and set the record straight: each and everything he may attach value to in terms of art, can equally be questioned to the same extent. Let's suppose for a second that we were all fans of music type A and this person was from a group of fans of music type B. Upon hearing each other's types of music, we would come close ripping our own ears of for we saw no beauty in the other's music taste. I use music as a very deliberate example as this is common in real life.
We would then be able to, with the same level of justification, proclaim that music type B is not art! It's not beautiful and it's not valuable. But we're not going to do that because we understand that preferences aren't universal.
That is the key here. Preferences dictate value. That is, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. What is art, is what can be perceived as art. However, some find this response inconclusive as then the truth of "what is art" changes from person to person and thus we cannot have a socially constructed definition of "Art".
My response is, it isn't inconclusive, but all encompassing. Every damn thing can be art from the tree in your backyard, sculpted by nature, to the (often unpleasant) sweet melodies that I sing in the shower (I'm joking even I would disagree!)
How can we assign Value to Art and come up with Criteria?
This is the question some of you may have: how do I give an exact star rating, out of five, to the poetry that I feature on my blog? How do I construct this criteria in the first place?
The answer is, it's how I feel. After all, how many of you have come across, for example, a movie you felt was great, by chance lets say on Netflix, and then happened to come across some of the reviews and experienced the bewilderment as to how your perception could have been so different. That's because each critic holds different preferences which make the perception and degree of beauty, in the eyes of the beholder, different in each case. In fact, whenever someone tries to pass an objective judgement, they are in fact trying to equalize the criteria they have used with universal truths.
False! False! False! False!
Don't let someone tell your favorite movie is bad or your favorite poem is not really that great. Why? Because it made you feel a certain way. That perception involves the sentiment that you feel when you experience the art, no matter of what format. I love poetry as it can do this to me through words. This, I felt was the best way to substantiate the criteria, and remains the method through which I come up with the ratings...
Which none of you should listen to anyways. Seriously, other people's ratings are garbage when it comes to art.
The only ratings that should matter are your own, and how something made you feel.
The objective theory
There's always two sides to an argument and here's the other: the objectivist. Trust me, this type of person is annoying and I am lucky enough to call some of them my friends. Among the heated discussions, some of the best points bought up by the objectivist are theories such as:
- The golden ratio and it's objective beauty (I disagree)
- The "supposed" objectivity of human beauty standards (I disagree even more)
- The skill within the use of structure, and poetic devices in a Poem (Don't even get me started on how WRONG this is)
The defense of the subjective theory
I am going to deny each example in turn.
Firstly, for those of you unfamiliar with the "Golden ratio", it is common to hear with Fibonacci, one of the greatest mathematicians of all time. There is nothing wrong with the maths or the theory- there's something wrong with those that have tried to pick out this one ratio, which exists in nature, and pass it off as the "perfect" or "most beautiful" ratio. Sure, a lot of art can use this as a foundation and in fact does. But just like the next defense, of beauty standards, it is nothing more than tradition and culture informed perception.
Secondly, the best way to refute those that think human form has one "perfect" image, that is, the more someone looks like that, the more attractive or beautiful they are, is the historical evidence that we as humans, across societies, and eras, have seen beauty differently. Many cultures, for example in Southern Africa, my home, consider fat as an essential component to physical attractiveness and health. The bigger someone has gotten from being well fed, the more they are compliment-worthy. This would not at all be the case in a lot of places such as Hollywood where petite, or well defined, are characteristics of the attractive person. I must also mention that these are generalizations to show that beauty standards are preference oriented. Not everyone, everywhere, allows for society to tell them what's beautiful and attractive. And all of you my people, are the gorgeous, handsome and attractive! Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.
Lastly, a poem can make you feel a way. The clever poet uses whatever devices it takes to get there: some often more creative than the "rulebook" of poetry. You don't necessarily need to rhyme, have an "ABAB" structure, or use similes and metaphors in everything you do to write a good poem. Some of the best poetry to me, and what really truly achieves its objective of moving the reader, attempts nothing more than free form or abstract. It is with this open mindedness that you should judge all art, including NFTs.
And if you're a close-minded person, you can forget about NFTs all together thinking that the only "art" you know is in your local city's museum.
The world is colorful; it IS art to me.
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