The word ‘artist’ has long been considered a synonym for ‘suffering’. Van Gogh was called a madman and an epic failure during his lifetime, famously cutting off his own ear to mail to a woman he was madly in love with before shooting himself in the chest with a revolver. But now, he’s considered a misunderstood genius and has critical acclaim across the art world. His art is some of the most expensive paintings ever sold.
Most artists live alone in dank apartments struggling to sell their paintings for a few hundred dollars — works they spent weeks, sometimes years, perfecting. They work as baristas, in warehouses, and as waiters. Many of these artists post their artwork online for free to try to get exposure in the hopes that one day they would be plucked out of obscurity and given millions of dollars — or at the very least a few thousand for a piece of their artwork.
A Digital Revolution
However, this may all be changing for many artists thanks to an emerging technology that is upending the rules of ownership. Non-fungible tokens or NFTs are digital tokens tied to digital assets that can be bought, sold and traded, possibly enabling artists to profit from their work easier than ever before.
In 2021, collectors and art enthusiasts spent more than $300 million on an array of NFT-based artworks, including prints, mems, and GIFs.
NFTs are sometimes described as a computer file that has a piece of digital code that proves ownership like a signature. NFTs exist on a blockchain which is a tamper-resistant digital leger just like cryptocurrencies, however, the difference is that NFTs are unique, meaning no two are alike. NFTs do not have a set price and their valuation is determined by how much one is willing to pay for them.
To see how NFTs are changing the way artists create art, let’s look at five ways NFTs have revolutionized the art industry.
They Give The Power To the Artist
In the current model of selling art, artists have very little power or control over their artwork. If the artist puts their work online, it’s easy to copy and share it without the artist’s permission. While the internet has provided us with many benefits — especially through the pandemic — it has not been kind to artists. NFTs allow artists to tokenize their work, giving it uniqueness and value, which allows the artist to sell digital copies of their work.
An artist can create a hundred NFTs or just five, creating whatever level of scarcity for their work they wish. And they can tie their work to a smart contract that triggers royalty payments every time the piece of work is sold, kind of like how a recording artist is given money every time his or her song is played on the radio. This puts the artist firmly in the driver’s seat.
Giving Artists Multiple Revenue Streams
More business savvy artists understand the concept of multiple streams of income and either supplement their income through teaching workshops or doing commission work and now NFTs have opened up a new revenue stream for artists.
Before NFTs, artists could only sell the physical copy of their work. With tokenization, they can sell digital artwork and they keep the ownership of the copyright to their original work which means they can still sell the physical copy if they want while continuing to make profit from the digital copies.
Auction Houses and Galleries No longer Are The Gatekeepers
In the old days of selling art, there were the traditional gatekeepers such as galleries and auction houses which had to champion the artist if there was any chance of selling a piece of artwork for a decent amount of money. It was very tough, if not impossible for artists to make a living with art if not for the support of these gatekeepers.
Like many things on the internet, NFTs have democratized how artwork is sold. No longer do you have people with an inflated sense of self-worth dictating what is and what is not good art. The public can now decide. The auction houses and galleries no longer have control over the artists’ career and that’s definitely a good thing.
Artists Are Given Freedom of Expression
One of the many things that NFT celebrates is freedom of expression, with no limitations on the medium. An artist is not restricted to a traditional form of art, such as a photograph or an acrylic painting on canvas. The very definition of art has changed, making art less defined and more creative. In the world of NFTs, the limits are only defined by what one can imagine. Tweets, GIFs, videos, and music are just the beginning of what artists can create.
Changing How We View Ownership
Since the dawn of civilization, people have looked at ownership as something physical that they can touch and feel. After all, anything digital is just a bunch of 1s and zeros, isn’t it? Not necessarily.
Original ownership, scarcity, and uniqueness are hard to determine online, muddying the waters of how precisely to value works created in the digital realm, but NFTs have created a paradigm shift for digital art and other forms of online media. They allow for online assets to have verifiable scarcity and ownership that cannot be manipulated. They bring the elements that endow physical art and assets with value into the digital realm.
The Bottom Line
In the last couple of years, the influx of attention and investment in the NFT space has proven there is vast interest not just in digital art, but specifically in the unique value proposition of digital scarcity and verifiable ownership. The participation from both creators, collectors, and curators alike demonstrates the interest and benefit to all sides of the artist market. As blockchain technology continues to evolve, the NFT ecosystem will evolve alongside, growing not just in size but in complexity and opportunity, providing artists almost untapped opportunity.