Is an NFT a work of art? The debate tears Wikipedia apart

A discussion among volunteers on the English version of Wikipedia raised the question of the nature of NFTs. Should they be considered works of art?

It was a discussion on a Wikipedia page that sparked a wave of outrage in the cryptocurrency and blockchain community: Should NFTs be considered works of art in their own right? For supporters of this system, it goes without saying. But for free and free encyclopedia volunteers, it’s much less safe.


NFT is a blockchain-based system, a technology related to cryptocurrencies. Used with works, NFTs aim to certify that you symbolically own the digital files to which they are attached.

It all started with a debate on the page entitled: ” List of the most expensive works of art by living artists “. In the comments section (each Wikipedia entry has one to discuss, for example to question the relevance of a passage or think about areas for improvement), the issue of NFTs was addressed.

NFT: works of art or not?

The problem that has animated internet users in the encyclopedia is this: Should virtual art sales that mobilize NFTs be perceived as art sales or should they be classified as NFT sales? The volunteers of the English version of Wikipedia involved in the debate decided: it is the second option to be preferred.

When the outcome of this discussion aired on social networks, NFT and blockchain fans took a leap, such as Duncan Cock Foster, who is a personality in this field with several non-fungible tokens (the name in French and full of NFT) of virtual works.

The data subject shared his point of view in a series of tweets: Alert ! There is an ongoing debate on Wikipedia that has the potential to officially classify NFTs as non-art across Wikipedia. Wikipedia is a worldwide source of truth. Having NFTs classified as non-artistic would be a disaster! “, he judgedspecifying that it is not even a question of saying that any NFT is.

Bored Ape Yacht Club NFT. // Source: Bored Ape Yacht Club

At present, NFT sales receive separate treatment, on the ” List of the most expensive non-fungible tokens referenced on the page on the most expensive works of art by living artists, alongside other similar but more specialized pages (on painting, photography, sculpture and books and manuscripts).

The debate on the nature of NFTs indirectly shows very well that these objects are still poorly understood. Their notoriety has certainly jumped in recent months, but in a sense they remain UFOs (“virtual unidentified objects”) whose outlines remain very vague. Perhaps not in the eyes of their supporters, but of the public.

If fans of this ecosystem have already solved the matter, others believe that it is just a certificate of authenticity, the value of which depends on the interest and credibility attributed to it. There are, however, concerns about potentially damaging consequences, even for virtual works of art.

No consensus on what these NFTs are

This debate also illustrates another problem: the lack of consensus, even among authoritative sources. It is not enough for NFT fans to decree that a digital file attached to this non-fungible token system is an art in itself. The exchange on Wikipedia shows that in the media, including specialized ones, the question is either not resolved, or it is negatively.

The New York Times, the Washington Post, The Verge and ArtNews are among the sources that have questioned the description of NFT as art. writes a volunteer, SiliconRed. Adds ” that it is clear that the sources are not unanimous in saying that NFTs should be on a list of the best-selling works of art, even if the reasons are different.

But another commentator, Hocus00, felt that the above cases seem more like editorials or opinions. He cites other media outlets (Forbes, CNN, Bloomberg) that have classified the sale of some NFTs as art sales. Therefore, NFTs should not be kicked off the page, but a banner indicating a conflict should be added.

Wikipedia NFT art
The Wikipedia page that sparked a debate among the encyclopedia’s volunteers. // Source: screenshot

A volunteer debate is not a centralized position

Even the debate, which began on December 31, 2021 on the article presenting the list of the most expensive works of art by living artists, must be reconsidered in its proper importance: it is a discussion on the English version of Wikipedia among volunteers, such as there are hundreds of others in the free and free encyclopedia, according to the rules that organize the decision-making process.

It is also a survey that concerns only this page and only a linguistic variation of Wikipedia: it is plausible that elsewhere in the project, in pages in English or other languages, NFTs and the question of their sale are valued differently. A banner above the survey serves as a reminder.

This is not a majority vote, but a discussion among Wikipedia contributors. Wikipedia has policies and guidelines regarding the content of the encyclopedia and consensus (agreement) is judged on the merits of the arguments, not counting the votes “, We can read. Clearly, the fate of NFTs as an art or not on Wikipedia has not been decided here.

To avoid wild editions by people who do not regularly contribute to the encyclopedia, the decision was made to protect this page as little as possible by adding a rule requiring unregistered members and new members to submit their editions for correction of drafts. This is to prevent the page from becoming a pitched battle of unproven facts and opinions.

Wikipedia remains an evolving encyclopedia. If the volunteers for the moment preferred to separate the ranking from the NFTs on the debate on the most expensive art sales in history, nothing says that it will always be like this in the future. Wikipedia volunteers will have no difficulty in considering NFTs as works of art, the day there is a consensus among authoritative sources.

The day, in short, when there will be no more UFOs for everyone.

For further

Cryptopunks' NFTs // Source: Larvalabs

(updated to further emphasize that this is an ongoing discussion on the English version of Wikipedia)

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