Why are NFTs so important for Artists?
With the rise of blockchain technology, the art world has been turned on its head. How has this step change affected the art industry, and why should artists from all disciplines take note?
The rise of the digital world has been a magical revolution, opening doors to possibilities previously welded shut. Nevertheless, not all industries revelled in the advances; many lost their jobs to robot counterparts, or their businesses to software. As the crowds fled from brick and mortar to ones and zeros, many were unexpectedly trampled. As is often the case, this isn’t a clean dichotomy, and some saw losses and gains. The arts suffered such a complex fate.
Artists saw a plethora of advantages in the digital age. For the first time, anyone could market globally, sell their work to far-flung collectors, and be a part of dedicated communities for even the most niche of sub-disciplines. But, there was a problem: the shift from analogue to digital did not take with it many of the crucial value-creating attributes of physical artwork. To be more specific, the shift couldn’t take the attributes with it.
Lost in Translation: The Gap between Analogue and Digital Art
All forms of art represented digitally — whether created digitally or not — relinquished control of the work the moment it was published publicly. There was no such thing as an original JPEG or one-of-one PNG. Furthermore, duplicating an artist’s work was only a right-click away. The digital age had brought about opportunity and entirely new forms of artistry, but at a cost: there was no such thing as digital ownership, provenance, or even provable authorship.
The problems this created were myriad and terminal. Digital art could not be rare as duplications were simply par for the course. Similarly, no one could truly own a digital art piece as it would be impossible to prove ownership, even if you could somehow prove it is the original file. Thirdly, there can be no traceable history as there was nowhere for those tales to be recorded or verified. Without this trifecta of rarity, ownership, and traceable history, how could we possibly assign a value to it?
These are three of the primary ways we assign value, and even if we could consider craftsmanship or talent — which could be verified — without the rest of the requirements, it doesn’t give the artwork value.
This is where artists of all descriptions have been stuck for decades, in a sort of purgatory between analogue and digital worlds. To make any sort of living from your work, it was necessary that you were to sell your art physically as the entire process of making art and selling it could not be fully ported over to the new, digital world.
To many of us, myself included, this was all but unsolvable. The metrics with which we measure values in the physical world simply did not interact with the digital world in any meaningful or useful way.
Then, blockchain technology entered the scene and retrospectively built the foundations that were missing. Blockchain bridged the gap between the physical and digital by way of allowing us the properties that had been almost exclusively physical; proof of ownership, proof of authenticity, and so on. In addition to this, it added some extra solidity (pun gleefully intended) to the foundations that the physical world could not: permanence.
The Unexpected Arrival of Permanent Art
Throughout the history of art, there has been the difficulty of fragility. Whether it’s a painting on canvas or a statue of marble, there are far fewer in existence than have perished. It’s unfortunate, but in some ways, it made the artworks more precious, albeit not for a desirable reason.
What NFTs bring to the table, however, is permanence for as long as there is internet. That is to say, not just as long as the internet is the lifeblood of modern society, but for as long as we can access the internet. Even if innovation replaces the internet, we’ll likely still have access to it – and so, digital artworks minted as NFTs will be crucial in creating lasting legacies in a way we have never seen before. Blockchain means art can never perish and nor can its history.
In that sense, blockchain didn’t just allow for the physical attributes that digital art needed, but it provided perks above and beyond what the digital already offered. Not only did artists suddenly have worldwide reach with their work, but clients could purchase it instantly as one might music or films, without risk of loss or damage.
Value and All that it Affords
I’ve had my foot in both the physical and the digital art worlds for many years at this point, and while all artists stand to gain, it is the digital artists that have had their work better established by blockchain.
I first made digital art using Cinema 4D and Photoshop back in 2003 and it felt special. The internet was still reasonably young, and the digital art community was voracious. There had been digital art for decades, but it was the internet that gave it a true home. The problem was its home was incomplete.
Digital art could be displayed in physical galleries, but it felt as if that was betraying the medium somehow. It needed to be seen in digital spaces and enjoyed in the world from which it came. But, for any sort of a living to be derived from the craft, or any value to be assigned to a piece, the physical was more or less your own recourse.
With the introduction of NFTs, the arts have completed the digital wing of their home; artists needn’t use it if they’d prefer not to, but it’s there, and that empowers artists like few innovations ever have. It means that creators of all art forms, digital or otherwise, can feasibly make a living from their passions and talents.
If you thought social media and content platforms lifted the creator economy, blockchain is sending it to space.
The true impact blockchain and NFTs will have on artists will be unknown for some time. Although NFTs have gone parabolic in the last two years, both in terms of financial value and social relevance, this is the tip of the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the potential NFTs hold.
We’re fortunate to be enjoying a significant sliver of time with the rise of blockchain and what will likely be a pivotal moment in art history.
- Digital Ownership: For the first time, people can own digital-only items.
- Proof of Authorship: The author of an NFT is verifiable.
- Provenance: There is a complete and traceable history of any NFT artwork.
- Permanence: For as long as there is the internet, NFT artworks are immortal.
- Rarity: The rarity of an NFT artwork is unambiguous.