Art curator discusses NFTs with students


Curator of contemporary art, Dr. Tina Rivers Ryan, visited Visual Arts Department Chair Dr. Anna Hetherington’s classes over Zoom this week to discuss non-fungible tokens (NFTs).

NFTs are pieces of digital media usually bought and sold using cryptocurrencies — a type of currency that uses digital files as money, like Ethereum or Bitcoin, Ryan said.

People who own NFTs own the certificate to a specific piece of digital artwork or media — not the artwork itself — and can sell those tokens for a profit, Ryan said.

“It is similar to dollar bills or casino chips,” Sari Sladkus (10) said. “They don’t really mean anything themselves, but in the end, they can be worth something.”

Hetherington scheduled formal lectures with Ryan because many of her students expressed interest in NFTs’ relationship with the art world, Hetherington said. Because of the complicated structure of NFTs, Hetherington wanted students to have a solid understanding of NTFs and their impact on the art world.

During her visits, Ryan described the pros and cons of NFTs. For example, NFTs increase digital privacy and security and provide an “alternative to the centralized authority of governments and banks,” she wrote in her presentation. However, the lack of regulation surrounding NFTs can lead to problems like fraud, IP theft, and “dark web” illegal activity. In addition, NFTs are

harmful for the environment and suited for tax evasion and money laundering, Ryan wrote.

After listening to Ryan’s presentation, students were able to ask her questions in a Q&A session.

Miller Harris (10) found Ryan’s visit to be “eye opening.” He was fascinated by the impact of NFTs on the environment as well as the economy, he said.

Leading up to Ryan’s visits, students read optional readings that Hetherington provided to familiarize students with NFTs. Before attending Ryan’s lecture, Emmi Zeitler (11) hoped to learn about the role that art plays in the digital world and how it is sold and presented digitally, she said.

Sonia Shuster (12) did not have much knowledge of NFTs before Ryan’s visit, but hearing her speak clarified the topic for her, she said. “The biggest way [Ryan] influenced my perspective on them was by telling me what they are, because I didn’t know exactly what was behind NFTs.”

Jaden Richards (12) found the concept of NFTs interesting. “[It] is very different from how we do most things,” he said. “Buying an object usually comes with a deed of authenticity, but here, you’re buying a link that proves you own something.”

Hetherington hoped that students would be able to understand NFTs and the cryptocurrency world better, as well as the complications between art markets, financial markets, contemporary art, and digital art after the discussion, she said.