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Because they are unique and irreplaceable, non-fungible tokens (NFTs) have become an interesting option for marketing works of art. Several artistic productions (involving graphic arts, music, and audiovisual pieces, among others) have already been auctioned in this way, which guarantees the exclusivity of the buyer. Currently, memes are also starting to be sold this way for very significant values.

The most recent example is the meme of the “suspicious dog”, created from the photo of a dog of the breed Shiba inu, produced in 2010. The image, which became popular on the internet thanks to the expression of the animal, was auctioned on June 11 for no less than 1.696.9 ETH.

The value exceeded other memes also sold through NFTs, such as the photo “Disaster Girl”, which shows a little girl with a sarcastic smile in front of a fire, for 180 ETH, or the video “Charlie bit my finger”, for the equivalent of US$ 760,000. In February this year, the meme Nyan Cat was sold in the same way, for 300 ETH, and its creator put other tokens (“Bad Luck Brian” and “Me Gusta”) up for auction in the NFT format.

 But, after all, what is a meme, and why do these pieces arouse so much interest? Can meme be considered art? Check in this exclusive interview with Panorama Crypto, the opinion of the critic and curator Patricia Toscano, specialized in connecting the ecosystems of art, technology, and innovation.

What’s a meme?

I love Etymology and prefer to start talking from this point on. The term meme comes from the Greek “mimema” and has the same root as “mimesis”, which means “imitation”. Memetics is the study of memes. Memetics applies concepts from the theory of evolution to human culture. In memetics, the entities involved are memes, and it focuses on the cultural basis of human behavior, going beyond biological evolution and seeing humans as products of cultural change. A meme is the smallest memory unit in existence, the cultural equivalent of the gene. This concept was created by the thinker Richard Dawkins, in his book “The Selfish Gene”, classifying it as the fundamental conceptual unit of memory.

Like genes, memes also replicate in a cultural dimension, transmitting information from one mind to another autonomously, independently and agilely.

In the digital environment, memes can be ideas, sounds, graphic designs, collage, illustration, phrase, or any media that spread on the net. It is a language of ephemeral expression, ironic, humorous, critical, satirical or fateful, historically contextualized, endowed with aesthetic, moral, social or political values. A meme portrays a situation, a clipping, that is relevant to society or to a specific social group at a given time.

They go viral with the potential to transmit messages in bulk, creating connections that engage people, and as a result, their shares generate an audience with exponential results.

Many memes appear unconventionally, from a funny, curious image. The ‘Disaster Girl’ itself came from a photo taken by her father, which ended up being used ironically, in different contexts, in addition to the fire of the original image.

A meme is art? 

Not necessarily a meme is considered art. In these recent events like the girl in ‘Disaster Girl’, is the girl an artist? No.

She was portrayed, and by the photo’s features, it ended up becoming a viral image. The image was sold like that, but that doesn’t equate her to an artist who has produced art in meme form.

But can a meme be art?                   

  Even though art is considerably subjective, considering a meme as art will depend on several factors and the context. Memes are a form of expression and visual representation of our times. Nothing prevents an artist from using memes to artistically express their ideas, thoughts, and emotions as a memory-making practice.

When whoever produces the meme is an artist recognized as such, and the meme is perceived as a work derived from its artistic expression, and the perception of the value of the context (public/collectors, market, institutions, critics, etc.) in which he belongs is aknowledged, we can consider that it is art. There are contemporary multimedia artists producing memes and specialized galleries abroad who have already held exhibitions and some research projects and even Museums of Memes (of more thematic and experimental characteristics). But what are the relevance and real recognition of these initiatives? We still have no answers, just time, the market, and the public will tell.

What is your opinion about selling a meme as an NFT? Does that equate to art sales?

It depends. NFT’s mainstreaming is terrific. Any item, even a meme, artistic or not, with an NFT has its authorship assured and adds value when transformed into a collectible digital asset, which can be marketed in the crypto market. I believe it is equal to the sale of something exclusive and collectible.

The NFT helps to ensure the uniqueness of the ownership of an item and other benefits. Nevertheless, it does not necessarily mean that this item can be considered a work of art and be marketed because it is linked to an NFT. Such judgment will depend on some criteria.

On the other hand, if a physical, virtual, digital, or hybrid work of any kind, derived from an artistic expression or act, is technologically linked to an NFT, its status quo as a piece is enhanced. This is undoubtedly a very interesting new way of marketing items as assets, including art.

In your opinion, who buys a meme?

Those who buy a meme identify themselves and connect with it in some human behavioral sphere. They are people with a new practice of collecting, much more interested in consuming experiences and intangible goods that connect them emotionally. They are usually younger enthusiasts engaged with new technologies who value works from the digital universe. They may be engaged with some cause, including socio-cultural and environmental causes (if it is a Green NFT).

A meme pegged to an NFT becomes a digital asset and opens up an opportunity for acquisition as financial investment and monetization in the secondary market. It is a new collector profile, more precisely crypto collectors engaged in a new type of market.