What even is a non-fungible token and how does it enable digital art sales?
As cryptocurrency markets pumped during 2020, a whole range of crypto-related projects and markets boomed with it, and one of the most headline grabbing was the world of NFT art sales.
Cryptocurrencies work using a concept called blockchain, which is basically a record of all transactions which have taken place with that cryptocurrency; a record which can’t be changed. Where this gets interesting for the art gallery world is that other information can be recorded in these blockchains; such as the details of a work of art, it’s artist, and it’s owner. It’s similar to a certificate of authenticity system, but NFT art goes beyond simply authenticating real-world paintings and sculptures.
Artists working in digital art formats, whether digital painters, graphic designers, photographers, even musicians or filmmakers, have long had a problem; all of their work takes seconds to identically copy, making it very easy for original artwork to be stolen, and also preventing auction or gallery sales of an original work in the way a traditional painter can. By loading the details of a digital work to a blockchain as an NFT, the artist both claims the work as their own, and creates an asset; an NFT, which can be sold to art collectors in the same way an original painting can.
So people are selling .jpg files which I could download for free?
It can be hard to understand why anyone would pay money for a .jpg file identical to millions of others and available for free on the Internet, but it’s not the .jpg which is being sold. This is the NFT “original” of that .jpg; a unique, one-off, work of art, of which there are millions of copies in the world, but only one NFT original; just as there are millions or art prints of the Mona Lisa, but the original artwork still has a unique value.
The same basic concepts can be altered slightly to offer a limited number of NFTs of a piece, rather than just one, which is the NFT equivalent of a limited edition art print direct from the artist, but the really big attention has been on the one-off, “original artwork” pieces, the equivalent of something hung in an art gallery.
Almost $70m was spent at Christie’s of London on a piece by an artist called Beeple, $11m on a randomly generated low-res piece of pixel art, and $5.5m was spent on the source code for the World Wide Web. The last example illustrates that NFT art isn’t just about digitally created pictures; it can turn anything digital into a unique work of art; a music album, a feature film, even a tweet.
Whilst the possibilities are endless, modern digital art styles and animations dominate, from pixel art through to digital paintings, and often combining styles and influences similarly to many of the artists working with lenticular art prints; modern art, pop art, contemporary and commercial art styles are all present and popular.
Is cryptocurrency really the future of original art sales and limited edition art prints?
It might be, while cryptocurrency prices can pump and dump with alarming rapidity and lots of Governments seem keen to keep people away from it, the opportunities raised by NFTs rely primarily on the underlying blockchain concept. They also have utility in a huge range of applications beyond art, so they look set to stay in some form.
A huge benefit for artists is that all financial transactions are also managed instantly by the blockchain; it’s impossible to claim the ownership of an NFT without the money having transferred, and as an added bonus to artists NFTs are usually sold with a royalty-type system built in. In this way if a buyer sells the piece on, the original artist will automatically receive around 10% of that, and any further art sales of it, forever.
There are hundreds of NFT platforms emerging for artists to sell their work on, and the same care must be taken as in the real world. Most of the market is dominated by platforms using the Ethereum cryptocurrency, and there are around ten market leading NFT art galleries, or auction houses, like SuperRare, Foundation, OpenSea, or Rarible which are widely used and trusted; they also bring a community of NFT buyers with them.
At The Lenticular Art Gallery, based just outside London in Kent, we take advantage of blockchain registration as part of our TagSmart authentication system for all of our limited edition lenticular art prints; it’s incredibly exciting to see where NFTs continue to take digital and original art forms in the future.