One of the big questions Mary Beth Hertz often poses to her students is broad and up for interpretation: “what is art?”
And recently, the answers to that question have become even wider — Hertz has began exploring the world of Web3 and NFTs and their relation to art with her group of high schoolers at the Science Leadership Academy at Beeber in West Philly.
In her 18th year teaching, Hertz has ninth graders in an intro to tech course and 10th through 12th graders in a visual arts class and a media and design class. Hertz said she’s been teaching with technology for a long time, starting with Web2 in 2006 or 2007, but has recently been implementing Web3 into her curriculum.
Hertz’s interest in Web3 and NFTs started when she followed the account The Tech Rabbi on Twitter, and she started sat in on conversations about education and Web3. She also joined a Web3 for educators Discord where she realized there were a lot of people who shared her thinking. She’s since joined new discords and has worked on three minting projects and put up her own NFTs for sale.
“I’ve kind of realized that I need to start bringing that stuff in, right, because that is the big conversation right now around the future of the internet, and what our data looks like and what privacy looks like and all that kind of stuff,” Hertz said. “So I’m still learning and I’m in the process of learning and that’s part of why I joined the community that I joined.”
One way she implements Web3 into her art class is by looking at artists whose art is on OpenSea and looking at AI-generated art. She said she talks to her students about NFTs, Ethereum, and using cryptocurrencies for buying and selling art. With the media and design course, Hertz said the class discusses design features and designing a website, and in the second half of the year, students will create and pitch a business.
“So the Web3 tie in there is that if they want to create a Web3 business, and they want to learn about what it means to build up Web3 and what it means to build your business that way, that door is open for them,” she said.
She said her classes discusses how artists make money, how Web3 disrupts the art market and how that impacts artists. The fact that artists can make a royalty on a piece of art every time it’s sold is something that’s never happened before in the visual art world, Hertz said.
Hertz said that she isn’t completely sold on the use of Web3 and NFTs in the future of art, though. There are conversations happening about using blockchain technology for education and accreditation — meaning kids would have NFTs that symbolize they learned a topic or achieved a skill. The idea is interesting because it puts less importance on what school kids go to or if they go to college, she said. It would also streamline people’s skills and certifications.
But Hertz worries about what would get put on blockchain, like disciplinary or health records. Hertz said she worries that certain things could follow kids through their whole lives if they exist on blockchain.
Hertz said her students are also pretty skeptical about Web3 and NFTs. She said this reaction probably has to do with lack of knowledge combined with influence from the media about what NFTs are. Before they dove into the subject, Hertz thought more students would be familiar with Web3, but only a handful knew what OpenSea was at the start.
Hertz said it’s important for her students to learn about Web3 because it will eventually impact the jobs her students go after later in their lives, even if they are skeptical. She said it’s ok if they laugh at NFTs or make fun of them, but they can’t ignore them.
“If we’re doing our jobs as educators, we’re looking ahead, right, we’re not preparing kids for now. We’re preparing kids for the future and where they will be,” she said.
Hertz said she wants to connect her students with Web3 builders and NFT people (like NFT Philly) and expose them to more people in the space. She said she also wants to keep her students’ perspectives open about how to make art.
“I don’t think it’s useful to be a purist,” she said. “If the question we have in class is, ‘what is art?’ Then we have to truly explore all forms of art, and talk about what is happening in the art world now. What’s happening in our world now is a lot of digital art.”
Sarah Huffman is a 2022-2023 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Lenfest Institute for Journalism.