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A note from the editor: To whom does art belong?

The Lounge art special this week examines many of the changes in the art world that were years in the making and accelerated by the pandemic

Details from ‘The Next Chapter’ by Beeple.
Details from ‘The Next Chapter’ by Beeple. (Instagram/@beeple_crap)

The pandemic has changed the way art is created and viewed—photographers found themselves locked in and having to shoot at home; folk artists, as one of our stories notes, began to paint themes of migration, masking and covid-19 prevention; galleries and museums took to social media and opened up collections to everyone; our screens became our private viewing rooms. The Lounge art special this week examines many of these changes—from comics and Instagram art to digitisation—that were years in the making, and accelerated by the pandemic. Perhaps the biggest shock the art world had was the flurry around NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, that can be traded and serve as a unique and unalterable digital record of a work of art.

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Artists have always been at the forefront of experimenting with rules, boundaries and freedoms. Yet ownership of art has been somewhat opaque, controlled by a powerful world of collectors, galleries and critics. Social media, NFTs, AI and AR/VR are challenging ideas about art. They let meme-makers, video creators, and others who wouldn’t have been defined as “artists”, participate. They promise some kind of decentralisation and transparency as every resale brings the artist a royalty. These digital platforms were born out of a utopian idea of shared spaces, an alternative universe where the traditional gatekeepers would not have the sway they do in the real world. Since social media and software made creating and sharing images so much easier, art’s “democratisation” was celebrated. The virality of an image became a marker of its value, not merely its selling price. But now markets, auctions, trading and individual ownership have crept into this seemingly free-to-all space. Or as New York-based artist Seth Price told the MoMA magazine in April, “The NFT is the triumph of a kind of hedge-fund thinking.”

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What has remained unchanged through the months and years, though, is art’s power—it draws us out of our cocoon and prompts us to look at and relate to the world with greater curiosity, consideration, and, maybe, even wonder. And that’s what our art special celebrates.

Write to the Lounge editor at Twitter: @shalinimb

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