(above, a couple of NFT artworks by the author)
#NFTs. You know it all about it already, don't you? For those of you not in the know, NFT stands for Non Fungible Token, a type of smart contract that allows to create scarcity of a digital file, by representing that file on a blockchain with a given set of properties. When you create an NFT you "mint" it. When you mint an NFT, you can set if it's a unique piece or if it's a set. You can set a price to it. You can set a percentage to be payed to the original creator even after the NFT is sold in the secondary market. For every transaction, the original creator receives a percentage. NFTs are used to create collectibles in many industries. You can create unique items within a game. You can sell tickets. You can buy your favourite NBA play for quite some money.
NFTs have been around for some time now. I came to know about them last year. They started making a pretty big impact in the art world. By the end of 2020 the Beeple drop in NiftyGateway took place. I hear you say "Beeple who?" "Nifty what?" "Drop?". Beeple is a digital artist who, among other things, has published one original artwork every day for the past 12 years. Nifty Gateway is one of the curated marketplaces for NFTs. A Drop is when you release a work or a collection of works. Beeple dropped a collection of his Everydays and in one day it sold over 3 million USD. Only that, of course, it was all sold in cryptocurrency, since fiat currencies are so old. His works sell for hundreds of thousands of USD in the secondary market. He recently dropped a collection of pieces for 1USD a piece (!) in a raffle. Some of the early collectors have sold theirs now for over 100K USD (!!). Now you can buy a tweet from someone you admire as an NFT (!!!). Dmitry Cherniak, an artist in the generative/algorithmic space, sold 1000 outputs of his Ringers collection, basically unique works produced by each iteration of an algorithm he put up into Artblocks.io, where the hash written into the block onto the chain serves as the seed for the code, which will produce a unique work for that block. And you own it. Sold at 0.1 ETH each one, the 1000 were gone in less than 30 minutes. The Nyan Cat sold for 300ETH. You can see the whole bidding process here: https://foundation.app/NyanCat/nyan-cat-219. It's not about the money. It's about the rules changing. And it matters to you.
Welcome to the what comes next. Which is just now.
...for roughly a hundred years, only advanced art has made any consequential contribution to civilization
As an art aficionado for many years, I have been following what contemporary art means today over several waves. What it meant back when each new significant art movement came about. The early years in the 20th century, the need to break with the established criteria, the revolution(s). The Irascibles, a group of american abstract painters, wrote to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in a letter in 1950 that "...for roughly a hundred years, only advanced art has made any consequential contribution to civilization". Each art movement reclaims the role of thought leader for the new generation. Whatever that may mean at every moment in history.
What does it mean now? We live in a permanent wave of new things that become plain normal and become invisible all too quickly. We have products that exhibit a behaviour which can change over time, pervasive automation, new human-machine relationships, and machine-machine relationships. We have global pandemics and vaccines in record time. We have unprecedented levels of wellness and unprecedented challenges and inequality. We have a generation that feels they've been robbed of their future for various reasons. We have a serious trust issue where younger generations don't perceive the system as a friendly place to be, and for whom brands are not what they used to be anymore. Reputation is a devalued currency.
With all that, you must have heard about decentralized finance, web or apps. Focus on decentralized. With the advent of Bitcoin and Satoshi's seminal paper, trust has been declared useless. Centralized data need not be the reigning paradigm across the web. The consequential contribution to civilization comes in the shape of decentralization. Not just art, but the whole system is about to be decentralized and embodied with radical transparence. Which makes trust and reputation irrelevant in so many respects.
Art, however, does play a critical role so far, and probably a larger role into the future, in this whole story. NFTs have been around, like we said, for some time, mostly used for various niches. Gaming, rare collectibles, early experiments at ticketing, etc. Over the course of last year art started growing in the space, as NFTs represent a solution for digital artists to have a go at making a living off their work in a similar way as non-digital artists have. The ownership of your work is now demonstrable, and there is a market for it. And a transparent, no-trust market, which is one of the things that will reshape many industries and services in the years to come. As art has grown bigger, it has started drawing lots of attention from artists, technologists, investors and passersby who wanted to take a peek. It does so because art appeals to everyone. We all recognize what we like, and it is innate in us humans the appreciation of whichever qualities that move us in a work of art. It doesn't matter what art means to you, or if you are even aware that you like such a thing as "art" or not. We all feel when we see the right painting, sculpture, dance, photograph, drawing, when we read the right poem or we listen to the right music. Art is, therefore, an excellent way to bring people who are not aware of what is going on in the blockchain / crypto / NFT world into the space of the new possible.
It is not just for that reason that art is important, though. Art is the tool that the human race has to explore what is yet to come. To explore critically what the current state of affairs is, to explore what new capabilities we have in store if we move in this or that direction as a species. It is critical that we open up to the idea that art has something to tell us in business processes, strategic planning, society debates, everywhere.
(above, a conversation posted by Beeple on Twitter. His counterpart? Tyler Winkelvoss. Remember the twins that wanted some guy named Mark Zuckerberg to code a site with a social component to it for them? They're into crypto for a long time now, they own a company called Gemini, which in turn owns NiftyGateway, where Beeple did his drop. And yes, history was made)
So far, the art community (not the establishment, but it is trying to catch up quickly) is indeed exploring what decentralized means to digital art. Are there new forms of art because the way to manage rights, sell, exhibit, etc. are new? This exploration is going on as you read this. The answer is a resounding yes.
Your industry, whatever it is about, would better understand what this all means to them. The business world is still trying to digest what data and artificial intelligence mean. While most are still focused on optimizing their activities, a few are opting for exploring what do things look like if you do them differently when you consider what you can do with all that. The same goes for decentralization and radical transparence. There are investment funds hedged on a collection of art NFTs. There are funds to support artists in the space. There are new models of selling and accessing art. All while keeping the art piece itself available for everyone (it's digital, remember? You can still see the video, the image, the illustration, the generative artwork, but you don't own it). Perhaps this is a way to support art creation in a way that there is actually more art available for everyone while at the same time allowing more people to live from it. It sounds like a step in the right direction for our race. What else can we do in other industries? How can we find synergies with all this?
I wouldn't like to end this brief note about this exciting space without mentioning the environmental cost of all this. There is a heated debate over the sustainability of NFTs. Transactions on the blockchain, which you obviously need to record the smart contract, to keep the transparency, etc. are computationally very expensive. There are arguments that explain how the NFT related transactions are not adding expense to the system, since the system would be creating transactions anyway to validate other operations, to mine new blocks (the coins you hear all about), etc. There are those who say the opposite, that an NFT means extra transactions on top of the network activity. Be it either way, there is a lot of work being done for more efficient blockchain networks, and it is just a matter of time (short) until we have sustainable blockchain technology. On the meantime, those who are exploring wisely and responsibly will be changing the world, one service at a time.
If you're interested in the art NFT world, be sure to have a look at Nifty Gateway, Superrare.co, Foundation.app, Opensea.io or perform your searches online and wander freely trying for it to make sense to you.
I, for one, am exploring what this means. I have found a way to channel the creative works I have been doing for the past 20 years, and I am creating my own art NFTs (currently on Opensea.io, where minting NFTs has fewer environmental impact). Thanks to that, I am now exploring certain financing models to enable access to education, and certain models to foster artistic creation and access to art for everyone. I am learning about the opportunities in the space, trying to follow a philosophy of learning by doing. I encourage you all to do the same.