NFT art sales have rapidly drawn attention as one of the best new places for digital artists to fully monetise their work, as well as opening doors to a diverse range of other artists from filmmakers and photographers to celebrities and brands. Nearly all of these project exist within a very narrow realm of NFT art though, and there is a potential for much more which ties together fully with the ideology of digital art.
Most online lists of the most unusual NFT artworks tend to focus on unusual art styles, or NFTs of digital items which are not a simple animated gif or jpg. Some well known examples include the Kings of Leon selling an NFT of their album, Eminem producing an NFT collection which included beat loops and digital action figures, or Jack Dorsey, founder of Twitter, selling his first Tweet. These raise artistic questions already covered extensively throughout Modern Art’s “what is art?” period, and Dadaists making a sculpture of a bicycle wheel.
The real bleeding edge of NFTs is underexplored by artists, perhaps because it takes more of a technical deep dive into the potential functionality of NFTs. The blockchain that stores them can also hold all kinds of other data, and carry out an almost limitless range of tasks following a list of instructions called a smart contract. Through smart contracts, an NFT can be programmed to do almost anything a computer can, and that provides almost limitless creative possibilities.
Leveraging the functionality of NFTs for funding creativity
Smart contracts can do most of the things that a normal contract can do, and some of the most exciting movements in NFTs have been on the business side of creativity, such as the creation of DAOs; decentralised autonomous organisations. The DAO structure can be run alongside a conventional company as a structure to sell small parts of the company to investors; similar to going public, with much less paperwork.
By buying a share-style NFT from within the DAO, you can receive a proportionate voting share on key decisions, and financial benefits similar to dividends, all controlled by a smart contract running on a blockchain. It doesn’t have to include either of these features. it could be some kind of voucher for products the company will make; anything. Adopted very early as a model by organisations working in cryptocurrency and blockchain, the DAO format is now being explored by artists who want to leverage fanbases interested in supporting their favourite digital artist, much as crowd funding has fuelled many creative projects, but rarely offers a return on investment beyond a gift, which may never arrive.
DJ and music producer 3LAU has been developing a platform around a similar concept, where fans of music artists can buy shares in albums and songs, enabling them to be recorded, and assuring themselves a proportionate share of royalties and other earnings from that music. This format largely eradicates the need for artists with a large fanbase to work with record labels, instead they’re working directly in partnership with their fans.
Adding artistic creativity through NFT and blockchain functionality
These are disruptive technologies for the business side of the industry, and the smart contracts used for most NFT art, which enables the original artist to earn commissions on all future sales of their digital art, has already brought more money direct to artists without an auction or art gallery taking a huge cut. There is more to offer here than alternative forms of funding though, or simple variations of format such as collectible limited editions of digital assets, designed to create a baseball card or Pokemon card style market.
A rapidly growing area of innovation involves companies combining blockchain and smart contracts with RFID chips, augmented reality, and NFTs to enable much deeper real life experiences. A chip in a badge can locate you in an event like a festival to provide information on what’s happening around you, vouchers for nearby food and drink, or an alert to check out augmented reality features in place at your location. Currently mostly in the domain of large scale festivals and museums, the applications in digital art, as well as art happenings, experiences, and installations are many, and starting to be explored by artists such as Simon Denny and art galleries and exhibitors.
The combination of these technologies can also allow viewers to interact with an artwork, individually or collectively, perhaps becoming a part of it’s form in an augmented reality in an art gallery or even a public space. Though blockchain is remarkably simple in concept, its expansion into smart contracts and ability to interact in unique ways with other emerging technologies creates an incredible potential for experiencing art in new ways, or for adding a fourth dimension to it. “The Switch” by popular NFT digital artist PAK, who sells pieces for millions of dollars, is a 3D rendered image of a cuboid structure hanging in a black void, but at some point in the future it will change; no one knows what to or when, but it gives the owner a good reason to take a look at it every day.