Artists Sell Feelings?

People buy things for how things will make them feel. Desires for status, connection, and emotion. At its core, we sell feelings.

-Radia. “An artist’s guide to surviving NFTs.” March 12, 2022

What is art? Non-fungible tokens, or NFTs, raise an interesting aspect about answering this question.

If we think about making art as a process, the art is all the decisions that are made in making something. What we call “art” is actually the artifact. When you commodify that artifact, it turns it into a product that people buy, and this brings us to this statement about people buying feelings.

I think the other end of the equation is more interesting. Why do people make things? Do people make things to sell them and have a livelihood? Some do. It seems obvious that this would shape the decisions that go into making the artifact. An artist looking to sell other people feelings is abstracted out of real experience. It’s a kind of alienation. I think the art will reflect that.

At base, if you are making art, the best art is part of a process, where you tap into something in yourself or maybe something larger than yourself. There’s nothing wrong with selling and making money as an artist. But, thinking of it as a product doesn’t improve the art.

NFTs cut the direct connection to the artifact. An NFT of a digital image is a claim of ownership but without a physical object or exclusive access to it. It’s a kind of deed, and deeds aren’t fertile ground for artistic inspiration. Even if we try to make analogies that art (the artifact) is somehow like homes, with all the good feelings homes give us, it seems patently absurd. I’d guess that is probably why NFTs are so incomprehensible to so many.