You’ve probably heard the term “NFT” a lot lately. It’s covered in various media outlets and large sums of money are involved. But is this yet another passing crypto trend? And how are art and creativity implicated? Let’s take a closer look.
First off, it’s best to clarify the term. NFT stands for non-fungible token. This is a unique token that is stored in blockchain technology – similar to other cryptocurrencies, like Bitcoin or Ethereum. The crucial difference to those cryptocurrencies (or any currencies for that matter) is that NFTs are not interchangeable, which is exactly what ‘non-fungible’ means. NFTs or Digital Collectibles are, to put it simply, “unique digital items”.
NFTs are representations of digital property and can consist of different forms of art, tweets, avatars, videos, you name it. Digital artists, celebrities and influencers alike have now started to generate incredible sums of money through this new practice. Mainly stored on the Ethereum blockchain, NFTs have a unique signature which allows for the ownership to be verified as well as traced back to its creator.
This form of trading and the start of NFTs in itself goes back to 2017, with the curious emergence of CryptoKitties. They are a cartoonish series of bizarre cat characters with googly eyes and a blockchain game on Ethereum that enables you to buy, collect and even breed these virtual kittens. If you’ve grown weary of them, you can also just sell them again – arguably a modern incarnation of Neopets, a platform that may be familiar to some millenial-aged readers.
And so CryptoKitties solidified the first instance that standardized blockchain technology for recreation and creativity.
Recent and most incredible examples of NFTs include: Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey’s first ever tweet which is currently on auction (the highest bid so far is $2.5 million, which he plans on donating), Grimes having sold various videos for about $6 million, a unique Nyan Cat collectible which was sold for around $580,000, as well as CryptoPunks, algorithmically-generated characters that can also be purchased through auction. Again, these are just a few examples. There are a vast amount of digital collectibles out there on the web.
There are a number of digital objects floating around the cyberspace these days, you might think. So, what is it about NFTs that caused them to explode in popularity? Could this be one of the first digital revolutions that happened as a result of the pandemic? Lockdowns all over the world have certainly increased the amount of time people spend online and often we don’t have a choice but to interact and use online alternatives to previously ‘physical’ activities.
This might be one of the reasons, but generally NFTs have the potential to serve as an innovative way for artists to monetise their digital art. Of course, you could always take screenshots or simply download their artworks, but this way people can prove “ownership” of the art and assign value to it. Everything else will merely be a worthless copy – just as you could get a copy of the Mona Lisa and hang it in your living room. It just wouldn’t be the same.
With the Internet not necessarily prioritising authorship and online artists sharing their intangible digital creations without payment or credit, this seems like a pretty decent solution. Ownership creates value, that’s how it’s been with physical artworks and this is what seems to be happening in the cyberspace with non-physical items as well – and due to blockchain technology it even comes with transparency, for everyone to see.
Through the benefits of blockchain technology, digital collectibles seem to have the potential to turn over the cyberspace in terms of digital recreation, art, fashion, gaming and many more disciplines within the creative industries. The normalisation of NFTs could bring exciting prospects to the future of the cyberspace, where intangible and tangible objects would start to merge or interact with one another: mixed-reality NFTs could be the next big thing. Who knows where societal spheres are headed when it comes to the digital space, but the metaverse might not be afar.