We can no longer ignore it: the popularity of digital artworks and virtual museums is growing at lightning speed. Art in Metaverset is becoming increasingly important. The value of these works of art is inextricably linked to cryptocurrencies using NFTs (non-fungible tokens), unique codes that determine the ‘authenticity’ of the digital work of art.
During my research, I notice that there are a lot of misconceptions about this transition from ‘real’ money and ‘physical’ works of art to conceptual representations in the digital world where you pay with cryptocurrencies. This is because there is a lot of confusion surrounding this transition. For what is an NFT at all? What can you do about it? What does this mean for the value and understanding of art? Is it total chaos for art, or is it the latest fashion that is going to shake the world? In this blog I will provide more clarification about the developments within NFTs and what this may mean for the art world.
What is an NFT?
The word NFT stands for non-fungible token. In fact, it is a piece of code that belongs to a digital file, such as a digital work of art. In quite extraordinary cases, NFTs also occur with a physical object. An NFT is therefore not the work of art itself. It’s like a digital certificate or signature. As with an oil painting, the signature or material confirms originality, or with a photo artwork, a certificate guarantees its authenticity, an NFT does so for digital artworks.
But how do you guarantee the authenticity of something digital that always copies without any problems? The information about the NFT is contained in a digital log that is controlled and monitored by a network of computers. The latter we call blockchain. This system (chain) of individual computers (blocks) validates the information about the NFT, making it almost impossible to manipulate this data and falsify the certificate of authenticity. This way, fungible – interchangeable – information becomes non-fungible – non-interchangeable – information: you can not exchange one NFT or copy with another.
Liselore Tissen for NEMO Knowledge Link
Certificate of originality
But what does an NFT really do? Artwork that you buy digitally is usually available indefinitely and can be downloaded at any time without loss of data or resolution, e.g. What NFT does is designate a copy of the digital file as unique or exceptional. But what good is it? What did you actually buy when you bought an NFT? For until now, it is only the proof of ownership of a digital copy that is yours, but not the work of art itself.
Just think about buying a skin for your character in video games such as Fortnite. If you buy an exclusive skin with digital money, you have proof that your character can wear it. But you are not alone as more people have the same skin which is just as valuable. Because these skins do not yet have a unique sign to distinguish one skin from another.
Some of the most exclusive skins in Fortnite.
An NFT can show even more. Especially in the case of digital artworks. Such as a unique message from the artist or a specific way in which the artwork is to be displayed. This extra information makes an NFT valuable: it shows something that only one version can show. Unlike physical works of art, the identities that guarantee the originality of a work of art, such as craquelure, discoloration, or a signature, are not on the surface. This is hidden in the code of the artwork or digital object.
This is what an NFT looks like!
Liselore Tissen for NEMO Knowledge Link
Significance for the art world
But what significance does this new development have for the art world? In an increasingly digital world, NFT offers a very important solution for the digital artist. Until recently, there was almost no profit on digital and reproducible art, NFT ensures that these artists can also go to art auctions to sell their artwork. It also brings in a new group of potential buyers and collectors who previously did not invest in art.
NFT opens up a whole world of new art and artists. It also makes them interesting for well-known museums, which means that great initiatives can emerge. Celebrities like community star Paris Hilton sell NFTs in collaboration with digital artists, increasing the reach, popularity and value of the artworks.
I love that AND legend Tinkerbell Hilton will be remembered forever in my first ever #NFT collection. I know she’s so excited to be in the meta verse! Art is forever and the piece I got created with @BlakeKathryn wearing Tinkerbells #ICONIC inheritance perfect pic.twitter.com/DeYsx3jN3E
– ParisHilton.eth (@ParisHilton) April 19, 2021
Paris Hilton sold a digital version of her dog Tinkerbell as NFT, now her fans can get a little closer to the celebrity.
In addition, there are already some examples of museums choosing to move more towards hybrid exhibitions, in order to increase the connection with the public. An example is Crypto Connections from The National Museum in Liverpool, where participants made personal descriptions of physical objects from the museum’s collection. These personal combinations were immortalized and sealed with an NFT. Finally, NFT provides a way to guarantee that online information is legitimate information.
Now that we are working more and more with digital 3D models, with online images and on forums where everything is openly accessible, it is sometimes difficult to know whether one is looking at the correct digitization of an object or a work of art. Museums and research institutes can use NFT to guarantee the validity of a digital model or image for the user.
One of the objects from the crypto connection exhibition, together the object and the description have become ‘unique’ by an NFT.
National Museums of Liverpool
But as you might have expected, there is also a downside to NFT. For example, a stunt like Burnt Banksy, where a real Banksy is burned and filmed and then sold as NFT, shows that NFT can be a threat to physical and existing works of art. We must not forget the invaluable value of the three-dimensionality and the haptic (tangible) characteristics of the work of art. As a result, the significance of the object as a source of documentation and historical context may also be lost. In addition, blockchain technology is still fairly new and there are hardly any laws or regulations to prevent fraud.
Because the market is also so new and moving very fast, the value of an NFT is vulnerable. All of a sudden, the bubble can burst and your digital artwork is worthless. In addition, it is a hugely burdensome system as you have to continually run and refresh the validation of originality through various computers.
Change in perception
When we return to the title of this piece, NFT has many advantages and disadvantages. At present, the NFT is still in its infancy, and for many it is still a vague and perhaps frightening concept. For some, this looks like the end of the art world, a true disaster. Despite the fact that it still involves many risks, the market is growing enormously and NFT is getting more and more attention. At the moment we are still very fixated on material works of art. But when we believe more that digital works of art are also real works of art with their own authentic value, it means an interesting revolution within the art world.
Who knows, like Crypto Connections, we could end up with hybrid collections where the authentic material artwork is complemented or enhanced by a digital counterpart certified with an NFT. I believe that the latter has not yet been written, and that this craze – if properly regulated – certainly does not have to lead to chaos.