The Internet is full of buzzwords, and keeping up with the latest and greatest can launch an entire research project all of its own. One of those fun, hip, new ways people are talking about art form is with the phrase “Crypto Art.”
In the digital world, crypto art basically boils down to any digital art. Instead of assuming all digital files, such as .gifs, .mp3s, .jpgs, or .mp4 are not just strings of data, but instead are collectible-quality art. Generally speaking, this means treating digital art like physical art.
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A New Step In Art History
Crypto art allows for the unique piece to be bought, sold, or traded. Wait, you are likely thinking, aren’t filed on the web easy to copy, easy to “steal,” and hard to track? Yes, and no.
When it comes to true digital art, there is a way to know who owns the true, original file. This authentication comes in the form of a non-fungible token or NFT.
An NFT, by definition, is an item that cannot be replaced. There is not another one like it. One dollar has the same value as another, or for that matter, even four quarters, meaning that it is fungible.
An NFT, just like an original piece of art that hangs on the wall, has no equal. There is not something completely able to replace it. It is not exchangeable for another copy of the item.
As they say in the movie Highlander, “There can be only one.”
Can’t Files Just Be Stolen?
Many new to the world of crypto art are confused initially by the concept. Some ask “can’t you just take a screenshot of the image?” for example and walk away with the equivalent of what another just spent millions of dollars on to own?
Technically, yes, you could own a copy. We don’t condone stealing in any form, but could you take a picture of the file? Sure. You could.
If you again refer back to the tactical world of physical artwork, there are always prints. Only one person owns The Starry Night by Vincent van Gogh. (If you’re curious, it is presently hanging in The Museum of Modern Art in New York City.)
However, there are millions of prints of this piece. Millions have it hanging on a wall in the form of a poster. It is printed on T-shirts, coffee mugs, and mouse pads. You can get nearly any product on the market with its image slapped right on there, creating countless versions of this famed artwork.
Does this mean your morning coffee mug is now worth millions? Is it as equal value as the original hanging on the walls of MOMA? No. And no one would be crazy enough to think so.
A digital file, much like a copy of an original, can be authenticated. You can prove who owns the true original. Even art forgery, a professionally-produced copy, and a complete exact rendition is not the same. There is only one, authentic The Starry Night, and only one will ever exist.
Authenticating Digital Art
Verification of a piece of digital art’s authenticity requires an NFT. But what precisely is an NFT, besides being something that cannot be duplicated or replaced?
If you have already researched or taken the leap into crypto, crypto art is not as hard to understand. Both rely on a technology called the blockchain.
The blockchain is a virtual, public ledger that makes a record of each and every transaction that occurs on the chain. A block is created to hold data, such as the data of the transactions and identification information. A block is open until the network verifies the transaction and then is closed.
Once closed, a block is permanently recorded. It cannot be changed, nor erased. No single power holds the authority to edit, remove, or reopen the block. This feature, and the technology around it, is one of the pillars of the crypto universe. Having no central authority, such as a bank, company, or government, allows for a peer-to-peer network to have the power, not one entity.
This same blockchain technology is used to create NFTs. The blockchain serves as the incorruptible proof of ownership.
An Environmental Impact In a Digital World
Where both cryptocurrencies and NFTs have a major downside is in this blockchain creation, and you may be surprised to hear that it is the impact on the environment. The process of creating and maintaining a blockchain is incredibly energy inefficient.
What is happening “behind the scenes” each time a new block on the chain is created is that (albeit largely simplifying an intensely complicated system), in order to authenticate it, every block in the chain must be confirmed to be accurate.
To do so, each and every computer on the blockchain goes through a process of attempting to solve complex puzzles and mathematical computations relating to the blocks’ encryptions. In an effort to keep each block secure, these puzzles are incredibly complex.
To at least attempt to make it as simple as possible, programs operate by generating random number sequences to use as quickly as possible. If your computer is the one on the chain that solves the puzzle first, validating the new block (aka the last batch of transactions), you are rewarded the cryptocurrency.
This process, known as mining, is completely energy inefficient. Every computer is running this randomized series of numbers, in an attempt to solve the puzzle first. However, most of those (all but one, in fact) will be losers. They won’t be “first,” and won’t win any of the cryptocurrency.
Since each and every single device on the network is operating using actual, real-world electricity, this process is a major drain of resources, resulting in a very little reward.
A Plus For Digital Artists
Environmental impact aside, (and yes, of course, technology is working on improving these methods such as creating new ways to authenticate the blocks and still keep them secure or allowing work to be divided instead of competed for daily), there is a very interesting market out there for NFTs and the opportunity they represent for an entirely new form of art.
There is a well-known phrase dubbed “starving artist,” and there is a reason for that. Selling your art can be difficult. In a world accepting of copies, even poorly done ones, it is tough to be paid what you are worth. Art has always been a value in the eye of the beholder, and that is a very subjective realm. But, as the digital world increased in popularity, the value for and demand for true art has been devalued.
Crypto art offers artists an opportunity, not only to exchange their work online and to a global market but to also actually make money doing so. Some artists have been wildly successful, selling pieces for millions of dollars, some even appearing on the Christie’s auction block.
Above and Beyond The One-Time Sale
In addition to opening a whole new world of art, the digital world and NFTs also provide an artist with an opportunity to make money more than one time. Typically, when a piece of art is sold, the artist will receive a one-time payment in exchange for allowing the buyer to now owns the work.
Should that buyer die, sell, pawn, or trade this work (in other words, transfer ownership in any way), the artist will likely never know, forget to get paid again.
With the tech of the NFT, artists are able to be paid more in a royalties-like scenario. Much like a musical artist being paid each time a song is played on the airwaves, a digital artist has the opportunity to make a commission on each transaction. No matter how many collectors the piece may have over time, the artist has the unique opportunity with NFTs and crypto artwork to make money with each exchange.
A Booming Market for Art
While the future remains to be seen, the current market for digital artwork is booming. This past year, the top-grossing piece went for $69 million when American artist Mike Winkelmann, known by the name Beeple, created a piece called “Winkelmann’s Everydays: The First 5000 Days.”
This authenticated, original artwork was auctioned by Christie’s, with an auction closing on March 11, 2021. The piece is presently the highest-selling digital artwork in the world.
And, remember, the mere existence of the art being digital means there is a whole vast world open for interpretation. Art isn’t just ancient Italians working on canvas. These media format possibilities alone create a wide variety of artworks limited only by the creativity of artists.
For example, Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter, opted to make his first Tweet a piece of art. While it may not hang on the walls of MOMA, the piece did bring in $2.9 million. Art is truly in the eye of the beholder, but right now, this is a high-earning business, and business is booming.
A Science In Art
Advances in technology and science have ironically provided a universe full of artists a new way to boost sales, create new art, and explore an entirely new way of selling it. From a drawing to a piece of music, from video to images and pictures, to fashion and portrait galleries, almost anything can be art in digital circles. Crypto art takes the form of many shapes, with a future open to interpretation.
These two schools of thought, arts, and sciences, typically are on different ends of the spectrum but have come together in the form of digital art. Technology has provided a new space for inspired artists to come together.
Casting a Wider Net of Sales
The web has brought opportunities for collaboration for years, and along with it added a more united, global culture. Art is just beginning to see the benefits of this style of selling, adding not only a more vast market, but an increased value once thought lost to the field.
Artists can have an online store, directly selling their own pieces. Art no longer needs to hang in a private studio. In fact, it does not have to hang at all. Paintings can still have a place in the new world order, but creating entirely new art is rather magical. For starters, being able to store art at all will no longer require an underground bunker, and instead only needs some digital space, meaning art may in fact be safer in the future.
Unique Art Collections
Another interesting phenomenon with the still-developing digital art world is the ability to create vast collections, thanks once again to technology. For example, digital art often comes in the form of vast collections. Buyers may want to own just one floor-priced (read the lowest cost) piece, or they may want the 10,000-piece collection for their own.
This brings yet another chance for an artist to make money with the help of computers. Firstly, the sheer quantity able to be created quickly and easily means a bigger payday overall. Whether it is one buyer or many, at the end of the day the artist brings home a bigger paycheck when multiple pieces can be created easily.
If your real-world tactile art, let’s say, was painting, it could take you years to form a true collection of works. Paintings on canvas require a lot of time, effort, creativity, and the cost of materials.
However, to give you a sense of how quickly the pieces can add up, let’s say you want to make a collection of adorable penguins. With the help of computer coding and software, this may require you only to make a handful of penguin parts.
A digital artist may create a single original drawing. From there, she may then make a handful of webbed feet designs, a selection of unique beaks, some fun sets of eyes, and just a few body shapes. By selecting just four body variations, this art can take on a life of its own.
Plugging these pieces into some coding, the digital artist can then allow a computer to do the rest of the work. Coding can be written to randomize the organization and combination of these penguin parts, thusly creating a plethora of unique pieces of digital art.
Eye set one, added to feet two, and body type three, might be finished off with beak four, and there you have an entirely new piece. It doesn’t take a mathematician to realize that even four unique body parts alone could easily be randomized into 10,000 unique combinations.
The cost of 10,000 penguins will surely garner a digital artist far more than the cost of just one, and certainly more than the cost of a few randomized parts. A person could stand to make far more cash from collectors seeking their creativity.
By combining minimal creation and maximum coding power, a few randomized arrangements soon translate to a vast set of artworks. Entire galleries have been created in this manner, making an art form into a business overnight for some.
A Win For Accessibility
In addition to a wider audience in which to sell your pieces, not to mention an easier time in creating them, technology has also brought accessibility to art previously limited in different ways. Now that art only requires a computer, it may allow for those without an extensive background (read not classically trained) access to the same livelihood as someone studying at Julliard. In other words, having a background in each art media won’t be necessary.
Artworks created by computer also mean the skillsets necessary to produce saleable artworks has drastically changed. An old-school thinking process of the past typically put those skilled in the math and science fields to likely be about as far from the art world as you can get.
Now, those working in the computer space are just as likely, if not more, to bring a sense of style to digital art. This modern way of thinking helps to remove the stereotypes associated with the arts and sciences, bringing an entirely unique culture to the next generation.
Additionally, you won’t have to own an entire art studio to be successful in art. Maybe you shoot a simple video on your Smartphone. Maybe that video, coupled with its verifiable NFT, might sell for millions of dollars. The modern world has modern solutions, and art is no different.
Technology has shaped this field and will continue to do so in the future. And, while no one knows what the future holds for crypto art, it is minimally a very interesting and growing field.