With subjects such as cryptocurrencies, AI, and the Metaverse arising as popular discussion topics within popular media I am sure most of you have seen or heard of the term: NFT. NFTs emerged from the deep dark world of crypto into our everyday lives in February 2021, when Beeple’s NFT, EVERYDAYS: THE FIRST 5000 DAYS, sold for $69,346,250. The first ever NFT, however, was minted in 2014; thus, while NFTS may seem like a new creation to many of us, they have been around for almost a decade. Maybe your finance boyfriend has mentioned the topic to you while showing you his newest crypto investment, or your parents have asked you to explain it to them, or perhaps you skimmed an article about it on Instagram and are now confused. Do not worry, NFTs and cryptocurrency can be an inaccessible and difficult concept to understand. I find that most of the confusion surrounding the topic comes from the fact that you cannot visualize or really fathom what cryptocurrency is, even though there are an abundance of advertisements promoting it. While a cryptocurrency is a ‘currency’ it’s not something that one can conceptualize or use in the physical world and its common definitions are often wordy and difficult to understand.
When you google the term cryptocurrency, which I have done many times in an attempt to wrap my head around the concept, you are met with this definition: a cryptocurrency is “a digital currency in which transactions are verified and records are maintained by a system using cryptography, rather than by a centralized authority.” Essentially what this means is that it is an encrypted link of data that represents a unit of currency, and instead of being monitored by a central authority or government organization, it is maintained by a peer-to-peer network referred to as a blockchain. When trying to learn about NFTs it is important to understand the concept of cryptocurrencies, as NFTs are bought and sold through these blockchains. You have probably heard of some of the popular cryptocurrencies before: Ethereum, Bitcoin, Litecoin, Dogecoin, Zcash, etc. Bitcoin is the most popular cryptocurrency; it is often advertised as being sold at corner stores and appears frequently in commercials on tv. What I found very surprising is that 1 Bitcoin is equivalent to 45,938 Canadian Dollars; thus, the value of these cryptocurrencies is immense.
As an art history major, people seem to assume that I would know what an NFT is, because technically it is “art” however NFTs have very little to do with the art itself, anything can technically be an NFT, from NyanCat, to autographed tweets, to videos of Eric Andre’s floating head. The term itself stands for: Nonfungible Token. What this means is that it is unique and irreplaceable. For example, crypto currencies such as bitcoin are fungible and can be traded for each other, but NFTs are one of a kind. NFTs are part of Ethereum’s blockchain. Ethereum is not the only blockchain that can support NFTs, but it is the most popular. NFTs are a way for digital art to be unique, like a notable painting. NFTs are the digital art world’s way of implementing an insurance of individuality in the works that are being bought and sold.
What may be confusing is that the originality of an NFT is identified by its blockchain, but it will look identical to all other copies and can still be downloaded. While I understand how NFTS may seem pointless for this reason, this same logic can be applied to physical paintings, as art forgeries exist and many of these copies are only identified by an X-Ray. Thus, to the untrained eye, both NFT and physical art forgeries will be unidentifiable. Still, many people have asked me the question, “why would you want to buy an NFT?” And to this I think the answer is fairly obvious: it is a collector’s item! Think of an NFT as a rare Pokémon card or an autograph from an actor you care about, except it will only exist online. Furthermore, since so many new and talented artists are emerging from this new digital arts community, many collectors will be encouraged to purchase NFTs from their favourite artist.
Another common question is: “how do you make an NFT?” I was surprised to discover that it is actually quite simple to mint your own NFT. This is due to the existence of various community owned NFT marketplaces, such as Rarible or OpenSea. Both services allow you to mint your own NFT if you have a “wallet” that is compatible with your choice of blockchain, for example an ETH (Ethereum) wallet. The NFT community marketplaces differs from the physical art market, as it does not have links to institutions and features more work from new and current artists. This digital medium also supports a variety of artistic expressions, poetry, tweets, memes, photography, and graphic design, allowing a large variety of artists to engage in the production of NFTs. A popular example of an NFT is Beeple’s piece, EVERYDAYS: THE FIRST 5000 DAYS, which is comprised of different works of digital art that Beeple has produced every day for the past 13.5 years. This work of digital art is organized by different colour schemes and themes, as well as a loose chronological order, detailing Beeple’s history and artistic career. While many art historians were concerned by a piece of digital art, which is essentially a compilation of memes and other images, being the 8th most expensive work of art sold at auction in 2021. Beeple’s digital work sold for more than Jackson Pollock’s, Number 17, which is amazing considering that before October 2021, the most Beeple had ever sold his art for was $100.
Thus, NFTs are a way for art to become more accessible as anyone can create an NFT and therefore become a creator with the ability to profit off of their art. For hundreds of years art has been defined by art institutions and academies, but today anyone can produce art and easily share it online. Furthermore, it is a way for digital artists to make money and sell official unforgeable art. Especially during a time where art galleries have been closed and artists have struggled to find work and places to display their art, I think we should encourage outlets that allow art to be viewed and purchased. NFT community marketplaces allow people who have never been able to sell their art to do so, which is something that other art markets do not provide.
By: Rachel Salem-Wiseman
Header Image Source: https://www.aljazeera.com/economy/2021/12/15/sothebys-sells-record-7-3b-in-art-this-year-nfts-fetch-100m