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NFTs have made a big splash in the art world and elsewhere, with a few fine artists selling their pieces for several millions of dollars per work. This is a major turn of events for a select group, but are NFTs having an overall positive impact on the fine art community? Should skeptical creators embrace NFTs, or is this just a passing trend that’s about to burn out?
You might be asking yourself: What even are NFTs? Essentially, NFTs (non-fungible tokens) are unique digital assets that are sold via the internet, often purchased with cryptocurrencies. NFTs are stored on a blockchain, a decentralized online ledger. The history of NFTs and fine art goes back to 2014, with Kevin McCoy’s groundbreaking animation “Quantum.” In 2017, the arrival of the “CryptoPunks” characters put NFT art on the map, and in a few short years, the market exploded.
As a career gallerist, I have seen trends in the art scene come and go, but this perhaps changes the landscape in an unusual way. Having represented artists who feel like the internet has robbed them of their choice of where their work lands (i.e., Instagram), to me it’s a positive spin to be able to add a digital fingerprint and provenance to art in the digital age. Grasping the power of NFTs is often challenging for those new to the idea. Here’s one way to think of it: The Mona Lisa is a masterpiece that will likely degrade over time and with age, but a digital version of it could last an incomprehensible amount of time.
Last year, in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, NFT art really took off. In September 2020, Matt Kane’s “Right Place & Right Time” became the first NFT artwork to sell for six figures. Incredibly, that now seems like small change compared to the current record high for an art-based NFT, which belongs to Mike Winkelmann, better known as Beeple. In March, his “Everydays: The First 5000 Days” went for more than $69 million. Recently, there’s been talk that the NFT bubble has since burst.
So, there’s the potential for fine artists to make a lot of money on their NFTs, but what are some of the basic appeals and benefits for the average creator?
First of all, with NFTs, artists are able to create limited edition digital files of their artwork that each contain a signature in its code that can’t be replicated. The file within the NFT can be copied, but not the signature. This is a huge change for artists who have lived in a world where digital files are easily copied and shared on the internet.
Artists can attach a royalty arrangement to their NFT, meaning every time the NFT is resold, the artist gets a percentage — a major win for creators who produce one-of-a-kind artworks, such as paintings.
For many fine artists who were previously struggling to get by, proceeds from NFT sales have earned them enough to make a living, which has been life-changing for those creators. I believe that even artists who aren’t well-known can make some money selling NFTs to a small group of faithful fans. NFTs give artists more control over their art, enabling them to sell directly to the public and cutting out the intermediary. NFTs are also a fun new way for artists to get creative, and even comment on the digital art craze, as artist Pak did with “The Pixel.”
A negative aspect of NFTs that has been noted by environmentally conscious creators is the amount of energy it takes to run the chain of computers that maintain the blockchain, specifically the commonly used Ethereum platform. Though this unease is understandable, there are a few more environmentally friendly options on the horizon, in which less energy is used.
It’s very possible that NFTs are just the latest craze and could fizzle out like Beanie Babies, but despite the speculative chatter that the bubble has burst, NFTs continue to be created and sold. Could NFTs be a pandemic-related trend that’s coming to an end as life returns to normal?
We just don’t know the answer to that yet. For now, NFTs are here and having a positive impact on the art community.