Only a few months ago, many aspiring artists were posting their artwork online for free; Artists like 20-year-old Jazmine Boykins, whose dreamy animations of Black life were drawing plenty of likes, comments, and shares, but not much income. But Jazmine has recently been selling the same pieces for thousands of dollars each, thanks to an emerging technology upending the rules of digital ownership: NFTs, or non-fungible tokens.
The world of blockchains, cryptocurrencies, and crypto art isn’t easy to unravel for newcomers. But with NFT art selling for prices higher than a Monet, it’s definitely time to investigate. And there are plenty of questions that need asking: Is NFT here to stay? Are we looking at the future of art collecting or is it a fad destined to fade away? While time will tell, having a firm grasp on the basics will help keep you in the know and maybe even turn you into a collector.
What is an NTF?
NTF is a non-fungible token. More simply put, it’s a piece of data stored inside a secure record called a blockchain. And a blockchain is a technology where all transactions and information related to digital assets are stored permanently in a digital ledger and in a decentralized manner across multiple nodes.
While the technology used to create NFTs are similar to cryptocurrencies like BitCoin, these tokens aren’t interchangeable like currency. So, it’s impossible to exchange one NFT for another. It’s often compared to an autograph — just on a digital file. An NTF not only tracks the creator of the artwork, but also the ownership and market value.
Non-fungible tokens have been around since 2015 but started making waves in 2020 when its market tripled. But it was really this year that it picked up steam. Once Twitter’s Jack Dorsey sold the first tweet he ever wrote for $2.95 million and digital artist Beeple sold an NFT at Christie’s for $69 million, the whole world started paying attention. Now, platforms for artists to sell their work as NFTs are cropping up.
Why buy an NTF if I can see the artwork, GIF, tweet, etc., online?
Here’s where things get a bit confusing. Yes, it’s possible to still see Jack Dorsey’s million-dollar tweet on Twitter. And yes, an NFT of a popular gif may still be shared millions of times online. But, only one person is the actual owner of the content, and that is the person who owns the NFT. The Verge’s Mitchell Clark equates this to the fact that “anyone can buy a Monet print. But only one person can own the original.” So when an NFT for any creative work is sold to a buyer, the tokens get added to the buyer’s digital wallet.
Lately, NFTs are linked to almost all types of creative works including music albums, tweets, photographs, paintings, and collectibles like baseball cards. Everyone from Grimes to Kings of Leon to even the NBA is making use of this technology.
Many digital artists, fed up after years of creating content that generates visits and engagement on platforms like Facebook and Instagram while getting almost nothing in return, have lunged headlong into the craze. These artists envision a future in which NFTs transform both their creative process and how the world values art. Now it’s possible to truly “own” and sell digital art for the first time. At the same time, technologists are saying NFTs are the latest step toward a long-promised blockchain revolution. It could radically transform consumer capitalism, with major implications for everything from home loans to health care.