Opinion: Why Won’t Wikipedia Classify NFTs as Art?

Key Takeaways

  • Wikipedia editors have removed NFT art by Pak from the site’s list of most expensive artworks by living artists.
  • Editors state that they made the change because the work was sold fractionally and because of a lack of secondary sources.
  • The decision has caused uproar in the NFT community with many prominent figures arguing against the move.

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Wikipedia doesn’t want to acknowledge NFTs as art. Join Crypto Briefing as we dive into the reasons behind the controversial decision and the reactions and counterarguments from the NFT community. 

Wikipedia Fades NFT Art

A fierce debate is raging in the depths of Wikipedia’s countless articles and stubs. 

Editors of the world’s premier online encyclopaedia have weighed in on whether NFT artworks such as Beeple’s Everydays: The First 5,000 Days and Pak’s Merge should be included on the site’s list of most expensive auctioned artworks by living artists. 

Beeple, the pseudonym of digital artist Mike Winkelmann, put NFTs on the mainstream map in March 2021 after his collagic Everydays: The First 5,000 Days sold for $69.34 million in a Christie’s auction. More recently, Pak, another digital artist credited for having given Beeple his first primer on selling NFTs, broke his pupil’s record when he sold an NFT artwork called Merge for a combined $91.8 million through digital art auction platform Nifty Gateway. 

“Merge” by Pak (Source: Nifty Gateway)

Although both Beeple and Pak are widely recognized as digital artists, there is much debate over whether their NFTs should be viewed as art. “I think they should not. NFTs have their own list,” said one editor who goes by the name jonas. Several more editors agreed, citing a lack of secondary sources and the fact that not all NFTs that exist are being sold as art. 

Others have pushed back. One user posting under the pseudonym Hocus00 highlighted that several major publications such as The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and Forbes have all referenced Beeple’s NFT sale as the third most expensive work from a living artist ever sold at auction. As editors have frequently pointed out during the discussion, Wikipedia’s entries should aim to be based on multiple corroborating sources, not the personal opinions of its contributors. 

Some users approached the issue from a more fundamental perspective. “If we agree Beeple and Pak are artists, why would their sales not count on this list?” wrote an editor who identifies as Pmmccurdy. “I don’t understand the logic here.”

However, as the conversation progressed, the posts became more and more opinionated. Newer contributions to the discussion resembled heavily charged tirades. One user called FibrielSolaer wrote: 

“Purchasing via NFT is not in any way purchasing art; purchasing NFT is pretending to purchase art. NFT is a trendy new scam that targets people who are unable to tell reality from ideals, such as young children.”

The crux of the argument against NFT artworks looks to come down to how the underlying technology functions. Several editors have taken issue with the fact that lines of code on a blockchain that represent digital ownership are not the same as the artwork they represent. Additionally, many NFT artworks are solely digital, without a corresponding physical copy. This also seems a point of contention that some contributors think rules NFTs out from being “true” artworks.  

After weeks of posting, five out of six editors discussing the issue reached a consensus; Beeple’s Everydays would stay on Wikipedia’s list of most expensive artworks by living artists but with a caveat. Editors have attached a note describing the sale as “a promotion to increase the value of Ethereum.” However, Pak’s Merge would be axed, mainly because the only source currently citing the sale as NFT artwork was Nifty Gateway, and because it achieved such a high value by being sold in fractions to multiple buyers. Buyers could purchase tokens starting at a unit price of $575, which increased by $25 every six hours. It is worth noting that the visuals for Merge are generated on-chain, making the technology behind the piece integral to it. 

To the NFT community’s biggest enthusiasts, the decisions surrounding Beeple’s and Pak’s work seem arbitrary. While editors continue to dispute the minute details surrounding NFTs, one message has cropped up repeatedly: Wikipedia should not be deciding what counts as art or not—it’s up to the public to decide. 

Public Reactions to Wikipedia’s Call

Believe it or not, refusing to accept new forms of artistic expression as “true” art is not a new phenomenon. The pseudonymous Twitter user @punk6529, who’s become something of a thought leader in the NFT space, pointed out that NFTs could be the next in a long line of emerging art forms to be disregarded by existing artists. They said: 

“If you have read even the slightest bit of art history, there is a standard pattern that every new artistic movement is declared “not art” by the incumbents.”

In the 19th Century, Impressionist artists the world lauds over today, such as Renoir and Manet, were frequently seen as amateurs by both art critics and the public. This refractory attitude to new forms of artistic expression didn’t end with Impressionism; over the next two centuries, nearly every major art movement, from Kandinsky’s surrealism to Pollock’s abstract expressionism, was initially written off and separated from pre-existing conceptions of art. 

Another NFT collector who goes by the name @nfttank compared the work of prominent NFT artist XCOPY to contemporary modern artists whose work is currently classed as art by Wikipedia.

Among the line-up is Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain, an inverted white urinal first created in 1917. Ironically, while Fountain is now widely recognized as a major landmark in 20th Century art, it was somewhat predictably snubbed at the time of its creation. 

When comparing the attitudes toward Duchamp’s art over 100 years ago and NFTs today, there are striking similarities. Both occupy a new medium that was not traditionally considered art. Duchamp used everyday items, while NFT artists use blockchains.

Additionally, Duchamp’s art was initially only understood by those with a deep appreciation of the contemporary art world of the time. Likewise, the most ardent supporters of NFTs often possess extensive knowledge of blockchain technology that the average person is not familiar with. 

While many have pointed out the hypocrisy of Wikipedia’s rulings, others have highlighted the potential negative effects of separating NFTs from art. Nifty Gateway co-founder Duncan Cock Foster took to Twitter following the Wikipedia editors’ decision to express his thoughts, stating:

“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. Wikipedia is the global source of truth for many around the world. The stakes couldn’t be higher!”

In the past, while critics often snubbed emerging art forms, the evaluation of any one person was not definitive. This allowed others in the art world to change minds with sound arguments. Over time, the attitudes toward these art forms became less conservative, resulting in their eventual acceptance.

However, in the case of Wikipedia, the online encyclopaedia prides itself on being a source of authoritative knowledge. If editors are willing to set a precedent on such a subjective matter, it could do years worth of damage to artists exploring NFTs as a new medium for art. 

Fortunately, it appears that the uproar from the NFT community has not gone unheard. Wikipedia editors have agreed to revisit the conversation over whether NFTs should be classed as art later, leaving the door open to further discussion. 

Disclosure: At the time of writing this feature, the author owned ETH and several other cryptocurrencies.

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Wikipedia Considers To Stop Accepting Crypto Donations Because Of The ESG FUD

Even Wikipedia fell for the environmental FUD surrounding Proof-Of-Work mining. A proposal to “stop accepting cryptocurrency donations” is currently under discussion. It starts with the same very thin arguments that the whole mainstream media irresponsibly uses. However, it gets better and more interesting. In general, it’s amazing to see both sides of the argument unfolding. Even though there might be some information suppression going on.

Related Reading | Human Rights Foundation Accepts Fully Open Source Bitcoin Donations

Well do our best to summarize the whole thing, but people interested in the topic should take time to read it all. It’s full of twists and turns. The most amazing thing about the document is that real people wrote it. Wikipedia editors are not a sample of the world’s population, but, they’re heterogeneous enough to make the discussion interesting. 

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Wikipedia Falls For The Environmental FUD

The original proposal poses three problems with receiving cryptocurrency donations, but, in reality, we can summarize them all in the ESG FUD category. The three points are:

  • “Accepting cryptocurrency signals endorsement of the cryptocurrency space.”

  • “Cryptocurrencies may not align with the Wikimedia Foundation’s commitment to environmental sustainability.”

  • “We risk damaging our reputation by participating in this.”

It’s a shame that, to try to prove their points, the original author uses a questionable source and a discredited one.

“Bitcoin and Ethereum are the two most highly-used cryptocurrencies, and are both proof-of-work, using an enormous amount of energy. You can read more about Bitcoin’s environmental impact from Columbia or Digiconomist.”

Counterpoint: That Data Is Compromised

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Even though it’s widely cited, an “employee of the Dutch Central Bank” posing as a neutral journalist runs Digiconomist. That fact alone disqualifies him as a credible source. However, his data is also under question because “Digiconomist Bitcoin Electricity Consumption Index is not being driven by real world metrics and profitability as stated in the methodology.” So, we’re dealing with an intellectually dishonest individual who’s presumably paid to attack the Bitcoin network.

For more information on this shady character, go to the section “The Digiconomist is Disinformation.”

The Columbia report is newer, but it cites outdated data and debunked studies. Like the ridiculous one that doesn’t understand how PoW scales, or even works, and irresponsibly claims that crypto-mining could raise the Earth’s temperature by two degrees. Columbia’s main source, though, is the “University of Cambridge analysis.” That same organization literally said that “There is currently little evidence suggesting that Bitcoin directly contributes to climate change.” 

However, they suspiciously erased that part from their report. They changed the wording and now their FAQ just contains a “radical thought experiment” in which “all this energy comes exclusively from coal.” Even under those extreme circumstances, which are far-far away from reality, the energy use would be marginal. “In this worst-case scenario, the Bitcoin network would be responsible for about 111 Mt (million metric tons) of carbon dioxide emissions1, accounting for roughly 0.35% of the world’s total yearly emissions.”

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ETH price chart for 01/13/2022 on Poloniex | Source: ETH/USD on TradingView.com

Protecting The Process Or Information Suppression?

Under the whole thread, there’s a section called “Discussion moved from proposal section.” It contains several suppressed pro-cryptocurrencies arguments. The reason is that the accounts that made them had “no other editing records”. What do the people proposing that those opinions should be removed argue? That they “risk that both vote gaming and manipulation of discussion to introduce bias and fake “bitcoin” news.”

Coincidentally, those low-edit accounts are the ones bringing forward the information on how bogus the original poster’s sources are. Someone had to say it and they did. And the administrators removed them from the main thread. Is this really what Wikipedia is about. 

Luckily, other Wikipedia contributors managed to say that “Bitcoin is therefore a green energy stimulus, aligned with the Wikimedia Foundation’s commitment to environmental sustainability. “ Another user urged “everyone to understand more about Bitcoin as a whole package beyond its energy footprint (negligible when compared to the cost in oil and warfare of backing the US Dollar) as well as the continual exponential progress that has been made in making Bitcoin greener and greener.” Yet another one said “bitcoin core is a FLOSS project attempting to promote monetary freedom.”

In any case, the crypto detractors trying to game the vote might have a point. Except for the ridiculous “fake “bitcoin” news” claim. The header of the discussion says, “this is not a majority vote, but instead a discussion among Wikimedia contributors”. And the administrator tells them that they can’t remove their opinions or votes. However, “an optimal RfC scenario would not actively silence any voices, but would allow community members to inform each other which participants are not community members, who may have alternative interests.” That’s fair.

What About The Votes? Is Wikipedia Banning Crypto Donations?

The vote doesn’t look good for crypto donations, but that doesn’t mean Wikipedia will ban them. At the time of writing, the “support” votes are approximately double than the “oppose” ones. Plus, roughly 150 Wikipedia persons have voted. Does this mean the ESG FUD worked and cast a shadow over the whole crypto space that will be hard to shake? Absolutely it does.

Related Reading | New Contender Emerges Despite Wikipedia’s Begrudging Listing of Cardano

It also means that people WANT to believe. And are not willing to accept the overwhelming evidence that points to PoW mining being a net positive for the environment.

Fortunately, Bitcoin doesn’t care. Tick tock, next block.

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‘Art emergency’: Wikipedia editors vote against classifying NFTs as art

A group of editors on Wikipedia, the free user generated encyclopedia, have voted against classifying NFTs as a form of art and have come to a consensus to shelve the issue until a later date.

A survey and debate started on the platform at the end of December revolving around the most expensive art sales by living artists and whether NFT art sales should be deemed as “art sales” or “NFT sales.”

“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,” editor “jonas” wrote.

Much of the discussion centered on whether an NFT represented the art or if it was simply a token that was separate to the underlying art. The editors were torn on the definitions and some felt that there was a lack of reliable information to conclude from.

A call for votes found five editors opposed to including NFTs in art sales and just one in support. A consensus was made on Jan. 12 to remove sales such as Pak’s NFT collection that fetched $91 million and Beeple’s $69 million NFT from the top art sales list, and re-open the discussion at a later date.

The decision seems contentious when looking at Beeple’s NFT “Everydays: The First 5000 Days” in particular, which depicts a collage of original artworks from a renowned digital artist that sold at the prestigious Christie’s art auction house last year in March. The New York Times also described Beeple as the “third highest selling artist” alive at the time.

According to Wikipedia’s guidelines, neither unaminty or a vote is required to form a consensus. To reach a decision, the consensus must factor in all participating editor’s legitimate concerns that fall within the platform’s policies.

What do Wikipedia editors know anyway?

However, the consensus position didn’t go down well with the sole NFT supporting editor “Pmmccurdy” who argued:

“How can we have a consensus when, from the start, I have argued in support of including NFTs on this list. The overwhelming evidence from secondary sources places NFT art as art and thus worthy of inclusion on this list.”

“If we agree Beeple and Pak are artists, why would their sales not count on this list? I don’t understand the logic here,” they added.

Editor “SiliconRed” responded that the consensus they were reading was that: “NFTs should be removed from this list for now with the intention to re-open discussion at a later date. To my understanding, this incorporates all concerns, including yours.”

Related: Wiki contributors want to drop crypto donations over environmental concerns

NFT proponents such as Nifty Gateway co-founder Griffin Cock Foster were irked by the issue, noting on Twitter earlier today that:

“This is pretty messed up to see – Wikipedia mods are trying to say that *no* NFT can be art — as in, if it’s an NFT, it can’t be classified as art.”

Foster’s twin brother Duncan also chimed in, labeling it an “Art Emergency” as he called the community into action via a post that was re-tweeted by Gemini co-founder Tyler Winklevoss.

“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. Wikipedia is the global source of truth for many around the world. The stakes couldn’t be higher!” he said

Everipedia, a decentralized Web3 equivalent of Wikipedia, responded to the platform by comparing its approach to NFTs and art:

“Everipedia editors have created over 100 pages on

#NFT collections while Wikipedia is moving to mark NFTs as “not art” across their platform. It’s time for NFT projects to move to Everipedia $IQ, a Web 3.0 encyclopedia which supports art and innovation.”

This isn’t the first time Wikipedia has had issues with reporting crypto-related information. Cointelegraph reported in September 2020 that anti-crypto activist and senior Wikipedia editor David Gerard helped remove an entry relating to Australian blockchain software firm Power Ledger.

Gerard stated the post was deleted on the “basis of being a pile of press-release churnalism, and the only genuine press coverage was about how Power Ledger was a scam,” despite the entry being sourced from reputable publications such as TechCrunch and The Economic Times.