We can no longer ignore it: the popularity of digital works of art and virtual museums is growing at lightning speed. Art in the Metaverse is becoming more and more important. The value of these works of art is inextricably linked to cryptocurrencies through NFTs (non-fungible tokens), unique codes that determine the ‘authenticity’ of the digital work of art.
During my research, I noticed that there are many misunderstandings about this transition from ‘real’ money and ‘physical’ works of art to conceptual representations in the digital world where you pay with cryptocurrencies. That’s because there is a lot of confusion about this transition. Because what is an NFT anyway? What can you do with that? What does that mean for the value and understanding of art? Is it total chaos for the arts or is it the latest fad that is going to shake the world? In this blog I want to provide further clarification on developments in the field of 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, for example, a digital work of art. In very rare cases, NFTs can also occur with a physical object. Therefore, an NFT is not the artwork itself. It is like a certificate or digital signature. Just as with an oil painting, the signature or material confirms originality or with a photographic work of art, a certificate guarantees its authenticity, an NFT does the same with digital works of art.
But how do you guarantee the authenticity of something digital that always copies without problems? The information about the NFT is contained in a digital registry that is controlled and monitored by a network of computers. We call the latter blockchain. This system (chain) of individual computers (blocks) validates the information about the NFT, which makes it almost impossible to manipulate this data and forge the certificate of authenticity. In this way, fungible – exchangeable – information becomes non-fungible – non-exchangeable information: one NFT cannot be exchanged or copied with another.
Liselore Tissen for NEMO Kennislink
Certificate of Originality
But what exactly does an NFT do? The artworks you buy digitally usually have unlimited access and can be downloaded at any time, without loss of data or resolution, for example. What the NFT does is designate a copy of the digital file as unique or exceptional. But what good is that? What have you actually bought when you buy an NFT? Because until now, only the proof of ownership of a digital copy is yours, but not the artwork itself.
Just think about buying a skin for your character in video games like Fortnite. If you buy an exclusive skin with digital money, you have proof that your character can use it. But you are not alone, as more people have that same skin that is just as valuable. Because these skins don’t yet have a unique token 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 works of art. Like a unique message from the artist or a specific way the artwork should be displayed. This additional 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 cracking, discoloration or 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 Kennislink
Importance to the art world
But what does this new development mean for the art world? In an increasingly digital world, NFT offers a very important solution for the digital artist. Until recently there was hardly anything to be gained from digital and reproducible art, the NFT ensures that these artists can also go to art auctions to sell their artwork. In addition, this brings with it a new group of potential buyers and collectors who did not invest in art before.
The NFT opens up a whole world of new art and artists. This also makes them interesting for well-known museums, which is why great initiatives can arise. Celebrities like socialite Paris Hilton are selling NFTs in partnership with digital artists, greatly increasing the reach, popularity, and value of artworks.
I love that OG legend Tinkerbell Hilton is forever commemorated in my first #NFT collection. I know she’s so excited to be in the metaverse! Art is forever and the piece I have to create with @BlakeKathryn wear bells #ICONIC legacy perfectly 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.
Furthermore, 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 at the National Museum of Liverpool, where participants made personal descriptions of physical objects in the museum’s collection. These personal combinations were immortalized and sealed with an NFT. Finally, the NFT provides a way to ensure that information online is legitimate information.
Now that we work more and more with digital 3D models, with images online and in forums where everything is freely accessible, sometimes it is difficult to know if you are dealing with the correct digitization of an object or work of art. Museums and research institutes can use NFT to ensure the validity of a digital model or image for the user.
One of the cryptographic connections exhibit objects, together the object and the description have been made ‘unique’ by an NFT.
National Museums Liverpool
But unsurprisingly, the NFT also has a downside. For example, a trick like Burnt Banksy, in which a real Banksy is burned and filmed and then sold as NFTs, shows that NFTs can be a threat to physical and existing works of art. We must not forget the inestimable value of the three-dimensionality and the haptic characteristics (the tangible) of the work of art. As a result, the importance of the object as a source of documentation and historical connection may also be lost. Furthermore, blockchain technology is still quite new and there are hardly any laws or regulations in place to prevent fraud.
Because the market is also so new and moves so fast, the value of an NFT is vulnerable. In one fell swoop, the bubble can burst and your digital artwork is worth nothing. In addition, it is an enormously cumbersome system, as it has to continually monitor and update the validation of originality across multiple computers.
change in perception
Going back to the title of this article, the NFT has many pros and cons. Currently, NFT is still in its infancy and to many it is still a vague and perhaps frightening concept. To some, this seems like the end of the art world, a real catastrophe. Although it still carries a lot of risk at the moment, the market is growing tremendously and NFT is getting more and more attention. Right now we are still very obsessed with material works of art. But when we believe more in the fact that digital works of art are also real works of art with their own authentic value, this means an interesting revolution within the art world.
Who knows, we might like Crypto Connections to get hybrid collections where the authentic material artwork is supplemented or enhanced by a digital counterpart certified with an NFT. I believe that the latter has yet to be written about and that this madness, if properly regulated, certainly need not wreak havoc.