Cryptocurrency has invaded not only the world of internet transactions and finance but the art world too. Contemporary art takes on new forms as the digital age infiltrates its form creating fresh and exciting possibilities for the future of creation and transfer between purchasers in the art community. With recent terms such as Non-fungible tokens (NFTS) popping up alongside our developing understanding of blockchains and the cryptocurrency Ethereum (ETH), there is so much that the digital art scene can capitalize on to advance the digital art scene
Cryptocurrency is one of the latest trends dominating the internet right now, with A-listers such as Linkin Park’s Mike Shinoda and even political figures advocating for the decentralized currency. Taking advantage of the sheer accessibility of the internet, cryptocurrency (Crypto) works as a digital asset rather than our usual forms of physical capital as a means of exchange acting very similar to regular money. Crypto, however, unlike the standard currency, mainly uses decentralized control meaning that it does not come from a single authority like a bank or government.
This then opens up the possibility, although highly volatile, with the value it can be worth as it removes the need for an intermediary thus making it immune to government interference and manipulation. Instead, it is a direct transaction to the other party without the hassle of processing fees. As a result, it makes it virtually impossible, if you pardon the pun, to counterfeit processes and purchases as crypto are based on the technology of blockchain which is essentially a massive digital ledger of transactions and records that adds a new ‘block’ after each interaction.
But what are NFTS and how do they contribute to the whole system? Dissecting the term, a ‘fungible’ token means that it can be swapped for something completely identical as every part of the unit is the same, an example would be the infamous Bitcoin where one coin has a set value and functions the same as another coin. A non-fungible token then means that it is completely unique and cannot be interchanged to complete a transaction. NFTs are cryptographic meaning they take on special appearances with each has its own value based on the ‘rarity’ of the token. This brings the art element into play with the domains of crypto. As each NFT is unique, they are often presented as items or collectables and are managed solely through blockchain-managed ownership. NFTs or sometimes ERC-721s are becoming a crucial part in the digital art world as they offer artists new roles as creators, collectors and investors in the world of cryptocurrency.
A major example of how NFTs rose to fame includes one of the first blockchain games on Ethereum, CryptoKitties. Taking on the basic mechanics of an NFT, the game allows players to play, breed and buy virtual cats. Each is completely unique with rarer combinations producing a higher NFT value in ETH. CryptoKitties isn’t the only NFT to come out of the Ethereum blockchain with CryptoPunks, a simplified earlier version serving as Ethereum’s first NFTs as there will only ever be 10,000 Cryptopunks.
These early versions of NFTs are a symbol for the market potential for digital art. After all, much like the popular crypto-collectable trading card games to acquire a more valued NFT, the scarcity must also be incredibly high.
This is where the novelty of NFTs and digital art comes in. In the physical world, esteemed pieces of work are often valued for the quality of the condition, the date of production and the artist. With digital art, the risk of plagiarism and artists’ rights being stolen is a major problem. Blockchains help eliminate these problems as artwork can be produced as an NFT and their information, as well as every single interaction they have with a new client, will be recorded.
To get into the world of NFTs however, artists must familiarize themselves with an understanding of codex as a way of indicating provenance. The provenance of an artwork can be implemented onto a digital artwork through sites such as Codex. A popular website for creating and understanding how codex records work, the artist must create an account and upload an image of the artwork plus details and previous records of sale or auction. This then serves as the original fingerprint and footprint of the artwork per se and allow viewers to identify the authenticity of the piece. Any transactions after the codex are created will be recorded and can add a new valuable aspect to the artwork, for example, the amount that it was last auctioned for. Documentation and provenance are not the only uses for codex as they provide a more permanent context around art and is often a practical tool for history research.
NFTs are now intriguing digital artists who are creating and uploading their artwork as NFTS. By incorporating the systems of blockchain and cryptocurrency, crypto art has skyrocketed in value from the innovative ways digital artists are using this direct ability to interact with audiences
One of the hottest crypto art websites that are the perfect example of artists exploring this crypto landscape is NFT.ART. Aptly introduced with the tagline “In crypto we trust; in art, we believe” the website serves as navigation and social point for an audience to interact and delve into different ‘locations’. NFT.Art features up and coming crypto artists who have purchased ‘parcels’ an individual NFT in this virtual world allowing them to build and construct on their piece of land. These virtual galleries allow the ‘player’ to walk around these Digi-scapes (artwork in itself), using computer controls to purchase and be directed straight to an artist’s domain and even chat to fellow viewers currently at the same location.
Other notable crypto art sites that host multiple NFTs for purchase and viewing include AsyncArt. More traditional in the sense of a regular gallery website, AsyncArt features crypto artists such as Micah Johnson who is opening up a discussion around the power of technology especially when utilized with cryptocurrency.
‘sä-v(ə-)rən-tē the art piece highlighted by AsyncArt is a time-sensitive photographic artwork that changes on the birthdays of the two boys, Jacque and Rayden featured within it. Hugely symbolic for the use of art as a medium for communication, the artwork reveals on their birthdays what they would like to be, as well as a bitcoin wallet for anyone who would like to donate to them. The astronaut is the only layer that serves as an NFT allowing the collector to choose the state that the astronaut is in – either visible on the other side of the door or taking off their helmet in front of the boys. A poignant reminder of the need for equity, the piece prompts viewers to appreciate diversity and inclusion as a factor that can make a massive difference to those in marginalized communities who are less fortunate.
NFTs in crypto art is rapidly diverging from the general use of monetary gain. Whilst still incredibly sought for and expensive, latest projects from artists such as Murat Pak, the second highest-grossing crypto artist is more of a tribute to the discussion and thought. Dividing Michelangelo’s iconic piece ‘The creation of Adam’ into 560 individual NFT tiles for collectors is a deeper homage to the original discussion of dominion and conception from the deeply religious roots that the painting was created. With a staggering amassment of more than $1 million across different crypto art platforms, Pak is followed closely by artists Hackatao and Xcopy and an army of emerging digital artists such as Beeple who are applying the aid of popular social media sites like Twitter.
The possibilities of crypto art and NFTs is immeasurable as of right now. With advancements in the concept of decentralized finance which would allow way more digital procedures such as loans or insurance using cryptocurrencies, the art world is inevitably going digital bringing with it innovation, profit and debates.
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