Written by: Catherine
Edited by: Megh
Visual by: Solenne
We’ve all heard of artwork being sold at prices exceeding millions of dollars at packed auction houses. However, over the past few decades, art as a medium has expanded to all types of digital artwork including digital images, videos, and even GIFs. Setting a record-breaking sale at $69 million USD, graphic designer Beeple’s “Everydays: The First 5000 Days” was a digital artwork sold as a JPEG file at a major auction house Christie’s.
“Everydays: The First 5000 Days” received widespread media acclaim as the first marketable digital artpiece sold at an auctionhouse, officially marking the beginning of a new movement in the art industry towards purchasing digital artwork.
To prove the artwork’s authenticity, the work included a “non-fungible token” (abbreviated as NFT) – a unique digital token encrypted with the artist’s signature in the form of a code. Non-fungible tokens are a new development for digital artpieces, allowing buyers to gain ownership and legitimacy over digital assets by assigning a specific code. These codes are unique sets of characters linked to a blockchain system – a highly secure system recording digital transactions across a network of computers. If you buy an NFT, you gain access to the digital item in forms such as JPEGs or PDFs. NFTs have continued to make waves when the iconic meme, the “Nyan Cat” gif, was even sold as a form of “crypto-art” with the attached certificate of authenticity.
Though it may seem useless to have the rights to digital assets, the recent sales of NFTs show that the feeling of ownership may be a gamechanger. The recent star in the NFT art world is Mike Winkelmann, also known as Beeple, famous for his socio-political commentaries in the form of digital graphics. While he has garnered over 2 million followers on Instagram, he has never had a traditional art showing. When Winkelmann decided to sell “5000 Days” as an NFT at Christie’s, its final price of $69 million formed a stark increase to his previous prints, which ranged to $100 USD.
The same trend has even expanded to trading cards. Despite traditional cards being sold and traded in physical forms, the NBA created a digital platform called “Top Shot” where cards of high demand are linked to the blockchain network and are sold as NFTs along with player highlights. It has been massively popular among basketball fans and has become the new evolution of collectibles.
Although there still exists controversy on whether NFTs are simply an ephemeral fad, their growing popularity has definitely opened up new doors for artists. NFTs are beneficial as they allow artists to claim ownership of digital artwork, which can later become a source of income for them in a world where digital art is easily used without artist recognition. As some NFT marketplaces have an option where a certain percentage of the transaction fees go to the artist, the marketplace will provide the artist with continued earnings. NFTs also make the art auction scene more accessible to new artists, allowing them to utilize the platform to sell their work at higher prices and to audiences that can now be built through social media.
According to London-based artist Robert Alice in his interview with Forbes, “NFTs are the single biggest reorientation of power and control back into the hands of the artist basically since the Renaissance and the printing press.” (Brown) In contrast to the former disinterest in digital artwork and the artist’s difficulty in establishing recognition, NFTs open up the discussion about bringing the power of the artwork back to the creator. Despite the recent introduction of NFTs to the world, they can be a driving force to stimulating the digital art scene, redefining the power dynamics within the arts.
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Kastrenakes, Jacob. “Nyan Cat Is Being Sold as a One-of-a-Kind Piece of Crypto Art.” The Verge, The Verge, 18 Feb. 2021, http://www.theverge.com/2021/2/18/22287956/nyan-cat-crypto-art-foundation-nft-sale-chris-torres.
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