Why Did Photographers Embrace NFTs, but Artists Didn’t?

The above image depicts a group of randomly selected Twitter accounts from JBR’s research on creatives. As you can tell, those on the left are pro-NFT — they have their own collections — whereas those on the right are anti-NFT. What makes this especially interesting, however, is that everyone on the right is a traditional artist, whereas everyone on the left is a photographer.

These results are, for the most part, not cherry-picked. There are a handful of artists who are pro-NFT (there were no photographers that were anti-NFT), but for the most part things lined up in these neat little bundles. If you were a photographer and had an opinion on NFTs, it was positive. If you were an artist, it was negative.

At first, I thought there was a mistake in the data. I thought that somehow we must have gotten ourselves into the “NFT photographer community” and exclusively picked our photographers from there. But no, most photographers in the database didn’t have strong connections to the others. Same with the artists. This means that this dichotomy seemed to appear naturally.

But why?

There is, on the surface, no good reason why these two groups would vote opposingly. Photographers and artists have had their historical differences sure, but it doesn’t seem like an all-encompassing issue such as NFTs would create any conflict. By all rational means, both artists and photographers should agree one way or another.

If you’ve read this blog before, you know that I don’t have a particularly strong opinion of NFTs one way or another (outside of some specific use cases). But when I saw this strange dichotomy, I had to figure out what was causing it. I had to dive deeper.

Now that I’ve thought on it, I see three potential reasons for it existing.

Are Artists Naturally More Pessimistic?

Most traditional artists are socialists. It’s likely part due to their jealousy for their capitalistic brethren, and part due to the natural liberal slant of creativity. But it’s never just been about money. When photography was developing in the 1900s, many artists believed it a threat to their livelihood. They made the same argument on the release of digital art tools, and now again with art generation. So maybe it’s not political. Maybe they’re just pessimistic.

Artists are stubborn about this. In some ways, it’s a good thing — they sniff out bullshit rather quickly. In other ways, it causes embarrassingly incorrect rumors to circulate rather quickly, causing them to lose out on opportunities that would be good for them. With NFTs, it was somewhere in the middle. In many ways they were right in avoiding the hype, even though misinformation was abound.

When it comes to photographers, I think they’re more like everyone else. They took the whole NFT thing in stride just like everyone else. That’s one possible explanation.

Do Photographers Have More of a Technology Slant?

Another thing is that photographers seem to be more in-tune with technology. Photography in itself is tech, whereas art — for art’s sake — is not. Photography is art, sure, and artists do use new tools like Krita and Wacom. But there are incentives for people who practice photography to catch up with the latest technological trends that is not the case for traditional artists. There is also the fact that there tends to be correlation for those who are in tech to have photography as a hobby, as opposed to traditional art.

With this tech background in mind, it makes sense that photographers would be more interested in the prospect of NFTs than their fellows in the art community. Would also explain why there’s still some traditional artists who did decide to go the NFT route — they were simply more tech-savvy.

Is Photography “Easier”?

This last argument is one I take the least seriously, but is still fun to consider. In order to draw any artwork (even bad ones), there is some level of effort involved. You have to get out the art program, draw the strokes, shapes, color it in, etc. With photography, it is as simple as taking out your phone and pressing a button.

Now, if you look at the quality of the top NFT photographers, you know this is obviously not the case. But what about the average? Could it be that there are a few no-gooders who saw potential in NFTs, didn’t have any artistic skill, and just decided to take photographs willy nilly? And did they make any money doing it?

The only evidence in favor of this take is that there was a big uptick in NFT artists after artgen got big with Stable Diffusion. This, of course, made art as easy as pressing a button. But you could also argue the technology slant here — people who are interested in NFTs are also interested in artgen, simple as.

Regardless of the reason, it’s an interesting case to think about. And I wonder, when some of these other new tech innovations emerge, if there will be more curious divisions like this.

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