While some claim the crypto bubble will burst any day, the seller of Beeple’s Everydays, Pablo Rodriguez-Fraile, is adamant NFT’s are more than just a hyped-up craze. He told the online publication, The Verge, that they are “a catalyst for a generation.” To understand what Rodriguez-Fraile meant by this, it’s vital to understand what an NFT is and how they are being used to sell Digital Art. NFT stands for Non-Fungible Token, but for those not well-versed in economics and blockchain, that definition doesn’t exactly clear things up!
Non-fungible refers to any unique asset and cannot be traded like-for-like, e.g. you cannot exchange your house for just any other house because it possesses qualities that make it different from others. A Non-fungible Token is a file that lives on the blockchain and allows you to verify the ownership of an asset. The NFT isn’t necessarily the artwork itself, but it can function as a digital certificate of authenticity for the work. The NFT allows a creator to name a rightful owner of a file, giving them the rights to present, access or resell it.
In the Digital Art space, this is beneficial technology. It allows the purchaser a guarantee that they are the owners of a one-of-a-kind digital asset. For those who are more sceptical about adding New Media works to their investment portfolio, this opens up the possibility of certifying proper ownership over the work and claiming genuine “scarcity”. This reassurance could help digital artists break into a market that relies on originality and authenticity.
Wait, can’t you just copy and paste a piece of Digital Art and claim ownership? Technically yes, but the argument for NFTs is that they enable artists to verify originality. You could download a picture of the Mona Lisa on your device, but the painting that hangs in the Louvre is still worth millions. In the art world, owning the real thing still holds value.
Ethereum is the most widely used blockchain for the release of NFTs. According to the website of the nonprofit Ethereum Foundation, a huge selling point is its financially decentralised nature. Ethers (ETH) are a currency traded outside the control of large corporations, banks and governments. These technologies can help those who have limited access to banking or traditional credit benefit from investment opportunities in the right hands.
While big auction houses like Christie’s have been jumping on the NFT bandwagon, blockchain can also create opportunities for artists who reside outside traditional art world hubs like Paris and New York to gain recognition in the arts community.
In Seoul, NFT art agent Numomo connects artists in the crypto-community and enables them to navigate the blockchain. In a conversation with Agora, they described how they support artists networks via social media. The direct-to-user nature of NFT sales means that artists can get real-time feedback from the market on their work. For emerging artists who are looking to build up a base of support from local and international collectors. The opportunity to adjust to the market can save vital time and resources and pocket profits without the need for a middleman.
Artist Nigel Fogden also tells Agora writer Francesca Miller about the opportunities NFTs can create for underrepresented groups such as women artists, giving them a platform for direct audience engagement. This helps them break the glass ceiling in a market that has long overlooked and undervalued their work.
Even beyond the visual art world, Russian collective Pussy Riot also claims that NFTs can be a force for good in the music industry, organising a four-part NFT drop on platform Foundation to accompany their music video. They donated the proceeds to a women’s shelter to help protect victims of domestic abuse. Musician, designer and founding member Nadya Tollonokova told online magazine TechCrunch, that for her as an activist, “it’s really exciting to see a tool that’s not controlled by any government.”