The hedonistic and utilitarian approaches to art theory have long been debated, with different schools of thought arguing for one or the other. These two theories are based on the idea that humans’ approach to art is rooted in pleasure (hedonism) or usefulness (utilitarianism).
Hedonistic art theory believes that beauty should be the end-all, be-all of art and would be considered the most critical criterion in judging an artwork’s worth. Whether or not art is functional, whether it serves any tangible purpose, is considered irrelevant.
Non-Fungible Tokens and crypto art represent the first literal instance of utilitarian art, where beauty and enjoyment are irrelevant, and functionality takes precedence over other ideals such as traditional aesthetics. The on-chain code base of the art serves as a function that can replace beauty or emotional appeal in some products. The inherent tradeability of art as an asset locked to a cryptocurrency gives art a degree of function that has the power to eclipse any philosophical value. Utilitarian art theory in crypto art argues that the value of art is solely based on what it can do for society and individuals through either its monetary value or its existence as a use case example for future on-chain applications and systems.
Can these two opposing theories find equilibrium in crypto art and NFTs?
Tokenized art could conceptually be the perfect mashup of hedonistic and utilitarian principles, with value coming from its aesthetic worth and functionality.Some value in an NFT must lie in its beauty and aesthetic worth; if people are willing to pay more for something that they enjoy looking at than for something they don’t like, then there must be some inherent artistic merit or beauty behind it. NFT art still has to be aesthetically pleasing if it’s going to find a buyer. Any brief overview of the marketplace on Rarible will tell you that. Form doesn’t necessarily trump function, but it certainly augments it. The minted rarity of an NFT doesn’t necessarily constitute functional value, while the aesthetic appeal can be the drawcard for buyers and traders.
Art can be seen as a reflection of our environment while simultaneously commenting on it. In these ways, we can see that crypto art has found an equilibrium between hedonism and utility by portraying the ever-changing nature of digital value through communities such as CryptoKitties or the on-chain Loot derivatives. As blockchain technology evolves, so too do its artistic mediums for telling stories about life in the age of information.
This means that while NFTs can have an economic value, this value does not lie so much in the material the NFT is made from but rather what it represents as a paradigm of digital art and assets in the metaverse.
Art has always been one step ahead on the forefront of innovation, with artists pushing boundaries at a faster rate than any other industry — often leading to necessary changes within our culture or giving a voice to shifts in the zeitgeist that can be felt but cannot yet be expressed in any other way.
The worth of an NFT is not inherently limited to the materials it is made from nor in its ability to be traded. They are a manifestation of a new art form, and they must be judged based on their aesthetic worth.