Burnt Banksy, A Measured Look at NFTs in the Wake of a Stunt

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NFTs, the acronym tripping off everyone's tongues these days. We might have a certain shredded Banksy artwork to thank for that surge in interest, but allow me to share my own perspective on this whole situation.
Brace yourself; there might be a hint of bias (ahem, towards preserving art!), but I'll try my best to keep things balanced.

Navigating the crypto-verse can be a bit overwhelming for the uninitiated. If “fungible tokens” sounds like something straight out of a sci-fi flick, fear not! I will likely break it all down in a future piece, alongside a peek at my own foray into the NFT art world.
For now, let's just say NFT stands for Non-Fungible Token, a fancy way of denoting a unique digital asset.

The Misunderstood Motive: A Shred of Doubt

One crucial misconception needs addressing. The burning of this Banksy piece seems to be lauded as an act perfectly aligned with his signature style, a continuation of his artistic rebellion. They directly reference the famous shredding of Girl With Baloon.
But here's the thing: Banksy himself didn't actually destroy the artwork entirely at that Sotheby’s auction. Yes, half was shredded, dramatic and all, but the essence of the piece remained. It simply transformed into something new, a unique, albeit bisected, creation.

Banksy Painting Spontaneously Shreds Itself Moments After Selling for $1.4 Million at Sotheby’s

Call me a conspiracy theorist, but I'm utterly convinced that the shredder malfunction wasn't a malfunction at all. And I'm not the only one.
Regardless of your interpretation, the artwork undeniably persists. It wasn't extinguished, merely metamorphosed.

Performance Art? Or Publicity Play?

Proponents of the burning, an NFT community largely made of American devotees, often defend it as a mere performance piece. Something akin to the artistic stunts of Duchamp, Tanguy, or Park – all valid points. However, there's a crucial distinction. These artists meticulously crafted something first and only then embarked on the act of destruction. In some cases, the artwork itself was designed with this very purpose in mind.

But here's the kicker: none of them splurged vast sums to acquire someone else's work solely to reduce it to ashes.

Frankly, this burnt Banksy NFT spectacle bears about as much resemblance to performance art as flushing a hundred grand down the drain does. It's a social media stunt, a desperate grab for virality, devoid of any artistic merit.

To me, the title of the original piece says it all: Morons.

Burnt Banksy NFT, the destroyed piece 'Morons'
Banksy's Morons. “I can't believe you morons actually buy this s***”

The Appropriation Abyss: When Your Napkin Doodle Becomes a Million-Dollar Mint

And here's another wrinkle that irks me: the perpetrator wasn't even an artist. They have no prior artistic output to their name.
This sets a troubling precedent – anyone with a bulging wallet can snatch up something valuable and torch it for a fleeting moment of fame (and potentially even greater financial gain).

Now, this might seem like a stretch, but consider this: what if someone stumbled upon your napkin doodle, the one you absentmindedly sketched during a coffee break, and minted it as a million-dollar NFT? Wouldn't you feel a tad miffed?

Hold Your Horses: The Money Motive

The whole “we're not in it for the money” narrative surrounding this burnt Banksy NFT stunt feels a tad hollow, wouldn't you agree?

It conveniently unfolds just days after the NFT world witnessed its first taste of mega-millions. Beeple, the renowned 3D artist, became the first digital artist ever to be auctioned at Christie's, raking in a small fortune for his work. 3LAU, another artist, followed suit, turning his music into NFT gold.
The timing reeks of opportunism.

BurntBanksy (yes, that's the self-proclaimed moniker) could have simply held onto the artwork, becoming the sole owner of the first Banksy NFT in existence. A prestigious title in this day and age, to say the least.
But no, the burnt Banksy NFT went up for auction, complete with a hefty reserve price. Transparency, a supposed hallmark of blockchain technology, revealed lukewarm interest during the initial 48 hours, necessitating a series of clear attempts by the burner's entourage to inflate the price.

Furthermore, BurntBanksy seems remarkably uninterested in sending Banksy any royalties (a crucial NFT benefit we'll delve into later), offering only a vague promise to reinvest the proceeds back into the NFT community.
Performance art, by its very nature, demands a clear vision. Here, there's not even a flicker of a plan regarding this alleged reinvestment.

The final hours of the auction were a spectacle in themselves – a Clubhouse event rife with frantic bid announcements, reeking of a singular focus: money.

Interestingly, when someone dared suggest it, the very notion of “burning” the burnt Banksy NFT (thus forfeiting future profits from the secondary market) seemed to horrify BurntBanksy.

We Made History? Debunking the Myth

“We've put NFTs on the map!” This phrase echoed through countless Clubhouse discussions before, during, and after the smoke cleared.

While the stunt certainly thrust NFTs into the spotlight, it's important to remember they were already generating significant buzz, fuelled by the eye-watering sums artists like Beeple were commanding.
The prominent entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk had already been directing the attention of his vast following towards this burgeoning space. CryptoKitties, one of the most successful NFT series, had been around for a long while.

The only truly “historic” aspect of this event revolves around the burning itself. So, let's touch on the fascinating (and sometimes controversial) world of art destruction.
Germany, for instance, has laws specifically safeguarding art from such acts. Can you guess why? Because the entire nation, let alone the world, was left horrified by the burning of Art at the hand of the Nazis.

Interestingly, the crypto world offers a parallel – NFTs can be “burned” as well, essentially removing them from existence and sending them into a digital abyss.

Was It Good Publicity? A Double-Edged Sword

Undoubtedly, the burning stunt has brought NFTs to the attention of a wider audience. But is this necessarily good publicity? Does it truly benefit NFT artists?
We've already touched upon the issue of appropriation – a blatant disregard for the original creator's work. NFTs, at their core, are intended to empower creators, not facilitate destruction.

Another crucial aspect is the concept of secondary sales, a major advantage of NFTs for artists.
These sales allow creators to earn royalties on each subsequent transaction. Here's where the Banksy situation becomes even more perplexing. Shouldn't Banksy, the original artist, be entitled to a portion of the profits generated by his artwork, even in its digitised form?

The Road Ahead: Embracing the Future While Respecting the Past

Now, the future of the NFT landscape remains uncertain. However, I firmly believe NFTs have the potential to be powerful tools for artists in the years to come.

Everything I've discussed isn't meant to be a rant from a grumpy old traditionalist resistant to change (though I proudly own a “grumpy old man” tee). As a digital artist myself, with nearly two decades of experience and several exhibitions under my belt, I'm genuinely excited about the possibilities NFTs offer for both myself and my fellow creators.

Though, myself, I will need a moment to recover from having been a member of the toxic community that generated the burnt Banksy NFT.
So, I may not produce much in this space in the near future.

What truly rankles is the notion of someone achieving viral fame simply because they “can”. With a complete disregard for history, artistic merit, or even basic respect for the original creator. Such acts lack creativity or ingenuity; there is only arrogance. But history, as they say, has a funny way of balancing the scales.

The art world thrives on innovation and pushing boundaries, but progress shouldn't come at the expense of the past. NFTs are a fascinating new chapter in the ever-evolving story of art, and I, for one, am eager to see how this narrative unfolds.
But with any powerful tool, there's a responsibility to wield it thoughtfully and ethically. Let's embrace the future while respecting the foundation upon which it's built.

Perhaps, instead of burning bridges, we can use NFTs to build new ones, fostering a more collaborative and empowering creative landscape for all.

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Creative. Nomad. Photographer. (he/him) /// formerly: Creative Director, UX Lead, DesignOps Manager, Web/Graphic Designer, Photographer, YouTuber, DJ, Public Speaker, Content Creator, AI-enthusiast, Food-Blogger... /// Award-winning Designer and Photographer, published and exhibited worldwide /// also known as Koan (DJ, Design)

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