"Is Art" takes the Conceptual Art ideas of dematerialisation (art that is not presented in a fixed physical form) and nomination (something that is art because someone or something says it is) and combines them with the net.art idea of the interactive artwork that exists in or interferes with network protocols.
It is the first in a series of artworks that combined increasingly complex data, aesthetic properties, and governance schemes in order to place the claims being made for the liberatory power of the blockchain and the descriptive power of art history into mutual critique. Here the simplest possible piece of information, a single bit, represents the act of nominating something as art. It does so in response to anyone who can access the blockchain sending a transaction in order to do so.
Nominating something as an artwork requires the artist’s authority to be sufficient to make the nominated object be regarded as art. Replacing that authority with the security of the blockchain, which is enforced using a sizable fraction of the Earth’s computing power, transforms a qualitative gesture into a quantitative one. Opening up the act of nomination to anyone with the means to perform it democratises it, although it is a democracy limited to those with the means to access the Ethereum blockchain.
Is this sufficient to determine whether the contract is or is not art? Where and how is the claim really being made and determined? Who by, and who for? How does this relate to historical examples of such artworks? And how does it relate to other claims of fact stored in other smart contracts on the blockchain?