The world of digital art has been struggling to find its place to compete in the contemporary art scene. For the longest time, collectors are most likely to favor and appreciate artworks that are constructed with craftsmanship or made traditionally. “Is it something that people made with photoshop?” is always the roaming perception around digital art, making it hard to see its value or even find a way of appreciating it.
The term digital art itself is fluid and open to interpretation. The extent of this new form of art is vast. Technology can be used as both medium, and, or technique to construct an artwork. For example, the use of 3D printing technology can help sculpture artists to create traditional and tangible sculptures. In this case, technology is used only to help the artist in creating a physical result; painting, sculpture, print.
In the other case, technology is treated as the new medium. In this notion of “new media”, the role of technology goes beyond the process or technique for creation, but it’s a model of the result itself; it indicates how art is stored and distributed digitally. The notion of technology as the new medium of art has had a weaker appreciation value than traditional tangible art which people used to comfortably consume.
Why is that? Appraisal for art is unmeasurable. The lesser amount of value and attention for digital art is caused by the lack of ways to appreciate this new idea. People are used to enjoying art by visiting museums and exhibitions. Therefore, when there’s a new invention, we need to find a new way to consume it. And the world of blockchain and crypto is the answer to give this new nuance of art its value and attention.
Non-fungible Token or NFT is a term that is undoubtedly familiar to us. Whether you have fully understood it or pretend to understand, it is a subject you have seen gazillions of internet articles about or have endless coffee break conversations about. After all these long explanations of what is the nature of digital art, NFT is a way to give digital art value and a way to appreciate it. What is NFT? Let’s not get too caught up with explanations about it because this article is not meant to confuse you even more. We are going to break down how NFT is a miracle for digital artists. But before we got into that, we have discussed a little bit about what it is and how it works.
What is NFT? And how can it help digital artists?
The idea of NFT seems so foreign – overwhelming to say the least. It seems very extrinsic compared to the traditional idea of art consumption. The empirical meaning of NFT is a unique code of ownership of digital goods recorded in a blockchain. Blockchain is a database that records and protects transactions.
The digital goods referred to here can be in the form of image, GIF, music, or video. NFT possibilities are endless. 3D artists, musicians, poets, photographers; if you make anything in digital media, you can jump onto this bandwagon.
NFT helps digital artists to monetise their work the same way that physical art objects can be collected, traded, and auctioned — only this trading activity happens inside the world of blockchain. The nature of NFT gives legitimacy to digital art. Another benefit of this system of art collecting and trading is that artists can apply a lifetime royalty system to their NFT. Lifetime royalties allow the artist to continuously receive earnings as long as the digital art tokens exist. So, every time the NFT changes ownership, the artist receives a percentage of sales profit.
To buy an NFT means that you are owning a code of certification. A certification that verifies the ownership of original digital art. Let’s put it this way; in the real world, if you buy an original art piece, you own the object of the art itself, as well as a certification that authorises the originality of what you bought. What makes it more authentic than other copies that exist is the certificate that comes with it. Well, NFT is just a contract for digital art. Indeed, the same exact image or GIF can also be screenshot in the same way that a print can be copied, but owning an NFT gives an authenticity verification that is listed and protected in the blockchain.
So, to answer the question of “what’s the point of buying art that you can screenshot or save on your computer?”, well, why buy original prints by Andy Warhol when you can print them yourself? The answer is the same – when you buy an original Warhol print you get a certificate of authenticity. Now, that certificate is in the form of a token, and it is protected in the centralised database: blockchain.
So basically, NFT is just a contract. Now the big question is, what kind of legal and authoritative power control do NFT owners have over the intellectual property of the original art?
The Grey Area of NFT and Intellectual Property
A lot of people associate possession of NFT with copyright ownership. However, when you buy an NFT the only underlying possession you get is the claim of authenticity of the digital good. Besides that, it depends on whatever terms are applied to the NFT.
An interesting story happened with the NFT auction of Free Comb with Pagoda by Jean-Michel Basquiat. A firm called Daystorm put up an NFT of the famous drawing on the OpenSea market and promised the winning bidder the ability to destroy the original artwork, making the NFT the only remaining form. Daystorm stated that the owner would not receive the original drawing. However, they would have vague ownership that regulated the original piece with an option to make the NFT the only “original” form, meaning the winner could destroy the original piece. Luckily, the estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat addressed this issue and requested the auction to be withdrawn. David Stark, the licensing agent of Jean-Michel Basquait said that Daystorm didn’t own any copyright to the original piece.
Indeed, the nature of NFT is a miracle to digital artists, but when high monetary value comes along with it, there is always room for commercial disruption. NFTs were started to give digital art a market and scene. When the NFT boom happened, the world of physical art started to jump on the bandwagon. Well, that, in particular doesn’t necessarily create a huge problem. It just saturated the initially niche market, until the incident involving Basquiat NFT happened.
The value of crypto art shouldn’t interfere with original physical art that already has its own way of appreciation. It is very unfortunate to see historically popular artwork being ruined, especially in the name of monetary gain.
Every good invention comes with drawbacks. Earlier, we saw how the overly commercialized trait of NFT is one of the downsides that comes with it. A lot of people, who are not even artists in the first place, tried to make a quick buck out of this new trend. But the biggest negative impact from this new craze is the environmental cost to run the system.
You might think unprinted art creates zero environmental waste but actually, the average NFT transaction has a carbon footprint of around 211KG of CO2, the same amount as the monthly electrical power consumption of a European resident. How is that possible? Well, the world of NFT is bound to cryptocurrency and blockchain. Most NFTs are Ethereum-based tokens, which means you need Ethereum tokens to make a purchase that is protected and secured inside the blockchain. Unfortunately, all types of crypto transactions require massive amounts of energy. But how is that?
Blockchain is a digital ledger that is built on the principle of proof of work. It keeps a verification of every transaction, and each piece of information is held on multiple computers all around the world. So, in every crypto transaction, computers around the world have to solve a complicated math problem to verify it – this process is called mining. This mining system is built to prevent fraudulent transactions. Mining requires a lot of computers that are massively wasteful of electricity, and we all know that our power consumption is still heavily reliant on fossil fuels.
The good news is that there are other “climate friendlier” alternatives to run and trade crypto art. Other platforms offer a lesser environmental impact such as Harmony. Harmony is a fast blockchain that runs Ethereum applications with 2-second transaction finality, lower fees and lesser environmental impact. Harmony is connected to Davinci Gallery, an NFT marketplace that supports hundreds of digital artists.
Moreover, Ethereum is working on its 2.0 model that promises a system with 99% less harm for the planet. So right now, we can hope the climate problem caused by this evolutionary digital art collecting system can be solved in the near future.
NFT 101 for Digital Artists
After a long argument about whether NFT is a good idea for emerging artists, at this point, you probably have decided to put your work into the world of crypto art. Let’s start your engine!
Step 1: You Need a Digital Wallet
In order for you to do any buying and selling, you need your money and a place to store it. NFTs are run with crypto coins, so before you can get paid for what you sell, you need to prepare a place to store your payment. Many different wallets are available, such as MetaMask and Trezor One. You just need to sign up, and you will receive a wallet code that you will use for your crypto transaction.
Step 2: Get Your Crypto Capital
Now you need a little bit of capital before you can establish your “business”. Every action you make to establish your art in NFTs costs tokens. Whether it’s to mint or receive a payment, it all incurs a fee, referred to in the crypto world as a “gas” fee.
You can use Coinbase or PayPal. These wallets are very simple to use and can be connected to your bank account. However, sometimes the regulation depends on the country you are in. So, you need to do a little bit of research about which one is the best platform to get your coins from.
Step 3: Choose Your Market Place
Once you have your wallet and capital, you need to choose which platform you are going to put your NFT up for sale on. There are so many big NFT marketplaces to choose from such as, Opensea, Superrare, Nifty Gateaway, and Ephimera. You need to choose your platform wisely according to what kind of digital assets you offer. For example, Ephimera is commonly used by photographers. Moreover, there are so many considerations you should take in choosing the right platform. Some have higher gas fees than others, and some are specialized in a specific type of content. So, you need to search for the marketplace that fits your needs best.
Firstly, you have to apply to these platforms to start selling your crypto art. The process of applying takes varied amounts of time from weeks to months, so expect competition with other artists. Prepare your portfolio! If you have established social media accounts or a website showcasing your work, it will help to make the process easier.
Step 4: Upload Your Content
When you are approved as a creator on your chosen platform, you just need to put your content up for sale. It is as easy as uploading your picture on Instagram. You may want to choose whether you want to sell it at a fixed price or you want to be open to bids. You can write a description as well as the underlying terms of the digital good you are selling.
Don’t forget that you can apply the royalty system to monetise every transaction of your NFT in a long run.
Step 5: Promote Your NFT on your social media
After setting everything up, you are good to go! Don’t forget to promote your NFTs on your social media platform as creatively as you can!