How NFTs could change the art world

Rory Bishop explains the latest crypto-fad of NFTs and the controversy around them.

If you’ve been keeping up with your cryptocurrency, you may have recently caught wind of a concept called NFTs. This term, which stands for non-fungible token, describes a non mutually interchangeable form of online value and seems to be the next big thing in the ever-changing and ever-unstable crypto-world. However, this time there’s a twist. As the name suggests, these are tokens rather than a currency and seem to perhaps be the next big thing in the art world. The unprecedented concept lets one own digital art rather than monetary crypto-coins. But what does that actually mean?

Part of the Ethereum Blockchain, a software already known for hosting various cryptocurrencies, NFTs can be sold on many online markets such as OpenSea, Rarible and Nifty Gateway and have been gaining traction with the likes of William Shatner, Banksy, and Grimes, all making quite a sum of money through them. The tokens let you buy pretty much anything digital to be your own property. Fine art, videos, music, and even memes can be officially yours. Whilst you would not own the copyright and copies can be used elsewhere, you can claim the verified rights to whatever you purchase in what is best described as a digital certificate of authenticity. The benefits of this are debatable, but much like a fine art collection the answer simply seems to lie in bragging rights.

The ‘cryptographic token’ as they are described have been rising in notoriety over the last couple of weeks. Ten year-old meme Nyan Cat recently sold for almost $600,000, Grimes sold $6,000,000 of digital art, and Kings of Leon are to be the first band to distribute their upcoming album via NFT. The hype around NFTs is utterly intriguing, as are the debates. Many have questioned whether or not you can actually own digital art. Some argue that unlike the complex recreation of a real life art piece, a simple digital copy and paste can create an identical work. On the contrary, others have compared the ownership to owning a fine art piece, whilst recreations are simply prints, much like how you could buy a postcard of the Mona Lisa but not claim you own the Mona Lisa.

There are particular benefits for the artists. This method means you can support them directly, which is especially important in an age of ever-growing issues surrounding usage of digital art. Controversially though, there is nothing to prevent exploitation. The whole token mechanism is essentially a trust exercise. An artist can sell one copy of an item and then change their mind and sell 50 more. There is also a huge controversy surrounding their environmental cost. Needless to say problems seem to be arising around every corner.

At the moment the future significance of NFTs is hard to guess, as another parallel it shares with the fine art industry is that it appears to presently be a playground for the super rich. Much like cryptocurrency, there are also the natural worries of dying servers, forgotten passwords and data file formats that make many hesitant to go down the path. However, to its credit, the exposure they have accumulated over the last few weeks is only continuing to rise. Maybe sooner or later the editorial team will be advertising Martlet Online articles in the form of NFTs!