Crypto art: When the art world meets blockchain
By: Ching-Yin Foo
March 15, 2021
Nyan Cat, the viral animated rainbow space cat GIF with an infectious soundtrack, recently sold for over half a million US dollars. Technically, it was won by an anonymous buyer for 300 Ether on crypto art platform Foundation. At the time of sale, that was equivalent to US$587,000.
And just last week (on 11 March), venerable 255-year-old auction house Christie’s sold its first fully digital artwork, a JPEG titled Everydays: The First 5000 Days (2021) for a whopping US$69 million (watch Beeple’s reaction here).
This is the world of crypto art, where the fine art world intersects with blockchain technology. It has created a new way to own art, resulting in a whole new marketplace.
Crypto art hinges on non-fungible tokens (NFTs), unique digital tokens that artists can ‘mint’ to an encrypted image or video file, a lot like how a painter signs their canvas. Just like a signed canvas, the token signifies the authenticity of a digital file and verifies the ownership of it. A file becomes a completely unique piece of art that can be bought and sold, and even resold.
The impact of NFT is game-changing: an artist can mint and sell separate pieces of identical digital works, just like physical prints. Moreover, they have the potential to get a cut of future subsequent sales, theoretically into perpetuity. The technology enables digital artists to claim and maintain intellectual and creative rights to their creations. So, they can monetise images, photography, GIFs, video clips, even memes, that would otherwise be easily duplicated. Ever right-click, save or take a screenshot, anyone?
NFTs are disrupting the traditional art market like how iTunes and streaming platforms disrupted the music industry. At the moment, it is primarily dominated by technologically savvy creators eager to profit directly from their artwork without the middlemen. It is also the newest speculative game in town, setting off frenzied activity amidst a whole lot of hype, resulting at times, in different versions of the same image being sold at wildly different prices.
There are a growing number of digital marketplaces where you can check out the crypto art scene for yourself: SuperRar, Zora, Nifty Gateway, Foundation, to name just a few. You will want to get yourself a digital wallet, as Ethereum is the currency of choice for transactions in these marketplaces.
At an estimated US$20 million, the crypto art market is – at the moment – just a tiny fraction of the US$60 billion art world. But it is certainly a market to keep your eye on, whether you are an art enthusiast or just looking to make a quick buck in a hot cryptocurrency-based market.
See also: Will crypto make Facebook too powerful?