Right Click Save

I can just right-click and save that for free. Look at it any time I want. In fact I’m looking at it now, and I haven’t paid a cent.”

This, or something along these lines, is a thing some people say when they see an NFT for sale.

Their logic states that since buying an NFT is paying for ownership of an image which can be looked at, and right-click-saved, by anyone, freely, why on earth would you pay to own the NFT? They might even go as far as to do a quick right-click-save, for demonstration purposes, and show you the image: there it is, on their device. Not a penny transacted.

Genius. Let’s all give up and go home. Pack up the metaverse because it’s over, just like that.

Or perhaps not. Let’s, for a start, put aside the knowledge that NFTs have multiple utilities, and are not just media for art. That’s a huge thing to put aside, but still, we’ll concentrate on the idea of NFT as image.

That you can do a right-click-save is evidently true, but to think that is the be-all-and-end-all, and proves anything, shows a profound misunderstanding of, basically, everything.

Right-click-saving is very easy, but you can, in essence, already right-click-save traditional, non-digital art. It’s called making a copy. This might be entirely legal, or it might be outright fraud, but either way, it’s nothing new. Can you hang a Gustav Klimt artwork on your wall, at very low cost? According to the right-click-savers this is possible, since whether or not it’s an original, verified piece, is irrelevant. All that matters is that it looks the same.

And part of that might be true. All that matters is that you enjoy looking at it. But in that case, you’re overlooking the idea of some objects being deliberately marked out as unique, and you’re also dismissive of something many people think is very important: provenance.

NFTs have a much higher standard of provenance than traditional art. In fact, NFTs have absolutely flawless records. When you buy a piece of physical art, you’re relying on signatures, pieces of paper, and public consensus. All forgeable, all demonstrably not reliable.

And all sidestepped cleanly by blockchain technology.

When you buy an NFT, there is simply no doubt as to the authenticity of what you’re getting, since that data–about creation and ownership–is locked immutably on to the blockchain.

But then there’s that other dismissal, from the committed right-click-saver,

“Ok, but I can still just look at it for free.”

That’s true, you can. But… so what? When someone buys a piece of art, do they immediately take it home and lock it in a box, taking furtive, hungry peeks late at night, fearful that someone else will see their artwork? If they’ve hung it on the wall, do they flip it around when they have visitors, so no-one can see it?

Here’s an image by Takashi Murakami:

If the owner of that piece happened to find this site, what would they think, about us looking at the image? Not much, is my guess, because I’m fairly sure that’s not how it works. As in, we don’t buy art in order to have a monopoly on looking at it.

Where you might be on firmer ground is to claim that some of the pieces being sold at astronomical prices are not art, or at least don’t fit your categorization of good art, or are over-valued. That’s fine, but that’s just, like, your opinion, man.

And (unlike the technology underlying NFTs) such ideas are nothing new. My first memory of people expressing these kinds of sentiments was with regard to Tracey Emin’s work in the 1990s. And it may well have been me expressing the sentiments.

But the fact is that Emin’s work was categorized as art, and on display in an art gallery, and Emin was called an artist, and will be remembered as a rich and famous artist, and, well, you get the idea.

The point is, “it’s not art”, is not much of a takedown, particularly when aimed at headline-status pieces of work, and anyway, it can only be directed at specific pieces, not the underlying technology and medium of delivery.

Besides which, I’m not even sure that all of the owners paying enormous sums for CryptoPunks do believe that they’re purchasing art, or that it matters either way. What we can say for certain is that they’re taking ownership of a provably scarce item, which has acquired some degree of historical or cultural fame, is collectible, and which they believe has–or is imbued with through their actions–a value of [x preferred cryptocurrency].

And let’s get on to the money. Is it crass to talk about loot in relation to art? Is your collection just another stash in the vault? Shouldn’t we all simply be interested in beauty and creativity? Perhaps, but that depends on what we enjoy, and these things are not all mutually exclusive.

Yes, I experience artistry and emotion, and in that case cost doesn’t matter. But I also enjoy spectacle, and the human circus, and when you inject many millions of dollars into an emergent phenomenon, and have the cash flow freely, and actually, it’s not dollars anymore, it’s a new, decentralized, highly volatile currency, that’s programmable, and didn’t exist in the 1990s when Emin had a messy bed and Bowie was making drum & bass and talking about the internet… and so introduce that factor–the liquidity and speculation–and then the carousel really speeds up, and it might even take off and go into orbit.

That was a long sentence.

But what I’m saying here is that sure, you can right-click-save for free. But do you think those people who made hundreds of thousands of dollars flipping NFTs just right-click-saved? Or how about the many more people who made a thousand dollars, or a few hundred, by moving assets they like, in ecosystems they can navigate, with people they understand. Actually, forget profit, are they having fun? Did they have their fun with just a right… click… save?

What the frugal right-click-savers are essentially saying, in this case, is that a game is being played, but they very strongly do not want to participate. Well, that’s fine. No-one is demanding they join in. But I wonder, do they make a point of walking past chess players, or poker nights, or photography contests, and announcing loudly that they will not be taking part?

Do they stand outside art galleries featuring works they don’t like, and proclaim to anyone passing by that it’s all a waste of money and a rip off? Or visit anime events, where rare collectibles change hands for significant amounts of money, and declare that they will buy nothing?

Maybe they should. That would be quite a performance, and, in the end, all part of the spectacle.

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