Following a public debate, a group of Wikipedia editors has voted not to categorize NFTs as art—at least for now.
The row began last month, according to the crypto news outlet Cointelegraph, when editors of a page dedicated to the most expensive art sales by living artists questioned whether examples such as Christie’s $69 million sale of Beeple’s Everydays, or Pak’s $91.8 million NFT “merge,” should make the list. (Jasper Johns and Damien Hirst currently top the ranking.) Their conversation quickly took a turn toward semantics, with debaters wondering whether NFTs constituted tokens or if they represented artworks themselves.
As is common for classification disputes on the free online encyclopedia, the question was put to a vote. Five out of six editors voted not to include NFTs on the list. (As of press time, the page on Wikipedia had not yet been updated.)
“Wikipedia really can’t be in the business of deciding what counts as art or not, which is why putting NFTs, art or not, in their own list makes things a lot simpler,” wrote one editor on the discussion page, echoing the prevailing sentiment of the nay voters.
The lone supporter, meanwhile, pointed to reports in credible media sources like the New York Times, which referred to Beeple as the “third-highest-selling artist alive” after his Christie’s sale.
Though the vote occurred between just a half-dozen people, all volunteers, on a secondary page, the conversation epitomized a larger cultural debate around newfangled forms of digital art and their relationship to traditional modes of artistic production—and for this reason, people paid attention.
The conclusion angered some in the crypto community, in particular. “Wikipedia works off of precedent. If NFTs are classified as ‘not art’ on this page, then they will be classified as ‘not art’ on the rest of Wikipedia,” wrote Duncan Cock Foster, a co-founder of the popular NFT platform Nifty Gateway, amid a long series of posts on Twitter. “Wikipedia is the global source of truth for many around the world. The stakes couldn’t be higher!”
Cock Foster followed up with a call to action, asking the NFT community to “rally and let the Wikipedia editors know that NFTs are, in fact, art!”
“Digital artists have been fighting for legitimacy their whole lives. We can’t let the Wikipedia editors set them back!” he wrote.
The issue is not closed for good, however. Following the vote, the Wikipedia editors agreed to revisit the conversation at a later date.
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