Contemporary art today is already taking on a digital form: artists digitize their old works, create new ones especially for NFT, museums organize exhibitions of NFT art.
The abbreviation NFT is now well-known, although not everyone has an understanding of what this phenomenon is, how it works and what it has to do with art. We heard that NFT allows artists to earn many millions of dollars, but the words "blockchain", "tokens", "crypto art", "NFT" all sound like slang from the future to many. What awaits us in this future, which, as the inhabitants of the NFT space say, has already arrived?
We tried to understand what NFT is, how the manifestations of this trend are reflected in art, what adjustments are being made to the contemporary art market, how they affect fashion and society as a whole.
NFT art is very difficult or even impossible to explain in conventional art terms. It can even be seen on a wall in a museum, but only as a projection on a screen or a hologram. It exists in virtual reality, namely, in the blockchain space.
Blockchain (translated from English as "chain of blocks") is an object similar to a database that is stored on many computers at once, connected to each other via the Internet. At the same time, the blockchain does not have centralized servers (as it happens on the Internet), and the information is stored immediately on all computers in the network. A blockchain consists of blocks connected in a chain, and each block contains information from the previous link and new information. Thus, this technology is used to store, encrypt and transmit data. Today, representatives of various sectors of the economy are showing interest in this technology. In particular, with the help of the blockchain, cryptocurrency transactions are made. In the blockchain, it is impossible to lose or fake money, because information about any transaction is stored on many computers at once. And this is the obvious advantage of this technology.
A token is an entry in a blockchain ledger. It plays a role similar to that of stocks in the real world, it can function as a currency in the system, but it is not the same as a cryptocurrency. The token is exchanged for cryptocurrency or services in a digital system.
NFT is a non-fungible token. Such a token is not exchangeable, unlike regular fungible tokens. NFT token is a unique element of the blockchain. Thus, works of art converted into these tokens remain unique as well. To understand how an NFT token differs from a simple digital reproduction of a painting on the Internet, imagine the thousands of existing reproductions of the Mona Lisa portrait and the only original work by Leonardo da Vinci that can only be seen by visiting the Louvre. Any artist can make a copy of the famous painting, but only the museum in Paris will have the original anyway.
Ethereum is a cryptocurrency for which NFT tokens are usually sold and bought. The exchange unit of this cryptocurrency is called ether. Ethereum was created by Vitalik Buterin, a native of Russia.
The marketplace is an online trading platform in the blockchain, where works of art in NFT format are sold and bought. Marketplaces charge a commission for their services. The size of the commission and from whom it will be withheld - from the seller or the buyer - depends on the specific site.
To acquire your own work in NFT format, it is not enough to digitize it or create it digitally right away. The existing file must be "taken" to a special platform, for example, OpenSea. Such platforms are both marketplaces and places where NFT tokens are created. In addition to the file itself, you will need a wallet in the Ethereum system. An artist does not have to be deeply versed in IT technologies. Its task is to create a collection on the selected platform and add your own file with a name and description to it.
Moreover, not only images are converted to NFT, but also, for example, texts, music, videos in any of the available formats. Next, you just need to click the Create button and get the finished NFT.
The history of NFT began in 2017, and since then this technology has managed to gain popularity in various sectors of the economy. The emergence of the social network Clubhouse and the rise in the value of the cryptocurrency played a role in the surge in the popularity of NFTs this year. In the art industry, NFT has become both a new way of self-expression and income for digital artists, and another space where digital art collectors have opened up new ways to replenish their collections.
Every day there are more and more works converted to NFT, everyone is trying to join the ultra-modern art, to become part of the digital art community.
Now a new direction in art has already appeared - blockchain art. It looks like growing digital flowers and sentient forests or creating bitcoin-generating paintings.
The world's first fully digital work of art (that is, without a physical embodiment), exhibited and sold at a real online auction Christie's for a record $ 69.3 million for digital art, is the work of American digital artist Mike Winkelman, working under the pseudonym Beeple. Under the title Everydays: The First 5000 Days (Daily: the first 5000 days) hides a collage of five thousand JPG images that Beeple made every day for 13 years.
This historic sale sparked an explosion of interest in NFTs around the world.
One of the brightest events in the world of NFT art of the last year was the sale of the work of the English anonymous street artist Banksy "Morons", which the artist created in 2006. The painting with the provocative caption was exhibited at the Tagliatella Gallery in New York. It was bought by the blockchain company Injective Protocol, staged an online performance, during which the picture was burned and converted into NFT. After that, the value of the picture began to exist only in the NFT token format.
For connoisseurs of contemporary art, it is not news that artists can work at the intersection of different disciplines, enter the territory of engineering, technology, biology, anthropology and other fields of knowledge. In the NFT world, the artist gets, as it were, another dimension in which there is an opportunity to explore their own creativity.
Although NFT has opened up a lot of opportunities for digital artists, traditional artists have also appreciated NFT technology. They digitize and convert their work into NFT tokens. Moreover, to be a participant in the digital art market, it is not necessary to be an artist, because not only paintings are sold with the help of NFT: literally anything can be tokenized, including even objects and lands from computer games. Let's look at some Russian and foreign representatives of the NFT community.
Mike Winkelmann (Beeple) is arguably the most well-known member of the NFT art community and remains a very successful NFT artist.
Meta Rite is a digital artist from Russia, a winner of Samsung's Light and Energy competition.
Group 404.zero is a duet of artists from St. Petersburg. They sold NFTs to their "Arrival" installation.
The first musician who decided to turn his album into tokens was DJ 3LAU. The new owner of the most expensive token got the right to order a 3LAU track to his liking.
Russian punk band Pussy Riot is selling its clips in NFT format, and plans to donate the proceeds from sales to charity in support of women. Pussy Riot put up for sale cut into 4 parts of the video for the new song.
The Weeknd is a singer from Canada who put up for sale in the NFT space his track, which was not published anywhere else, and an exclusive album cover, which he drew himself.
Texts and media:
As we already mentioned, not only visual and audio art can be encrypted in NFT and put up for sale for cryptocurrency. Thus, a journalist of the famous American edition of The New York Times wrote a column with the telling title "Buy this column on the blockchain!", photographed the text and published it in the form of an NFT token. The sale was carried out for 350 ethers (the purchase price is equivalent to approximately 568 thousand dollars).
NFT technology has not bypassed even the Bible: the Israeli startup CryptoVerses sells poetry tokens from the most widely read book in the world. One of them has already been sold for 2.02 Ether. This is equivalent to approximately $8,400.
Museums, foreign and Russian, are beginning to master the world of new technologies by digitizing objects from their collections. An example of such a museum is the Uffizi Gallery in Florence. They sold a digital version of Michelangelo's Madonna Doni for €140,000.
Art that has been digitized, hosted on a virtual reality platform, will never disappear. It cannot be lost, broken, burned in a fire, or stolen. Recently there was news that at a virtual exhibition organized by the Hermitage, a visitor tried to take a virtual painting out of a virtual room.
However, the content of this news is more comical than really worthy of attention. Items placed on the online platform are simply impossible to steal.
Collectors can easily have their digital art collection always with them, without contacting intermediaries and transporting it from place to place, showing it at exhibitions in different parts of the world.
Crypto art works are put up for sale on online marketplaces. There are now over 50 NFT trading platforms. The most famous of them are OpenSea, Binance? Rarible, Foundation, Mintable, SuperRare. Some marketplaces deal with a specific type of assets, others do not have a particular specialization and are general, for example, Opensea offers almost all types of digital assets. Each of the marketplaces has its own rules for sellers and buyers.
Major auction houses create a virtual version of themselves. So, the famous house Sotheby's launched its own marketplace called Metaverse (Metaverse). Sotheby's has already collaborated with several digital artists, and the appearance of its own marketplace speaks to the giant's desire to enter the NFT art space and have an impact on the digital world.
What gives the NFT token to the buyer? When the collector acquires the exclusive right to the purchased item. In theory, the owner can do whatever he likes with the object: store it, exhibit it, sell it, rent it out. To some extent, the buyer gets the rights to the historical fact, because the blockchain stores not only all the information about the author and owner of this or that NFT object, but also about who, when and from whom bought it up to the present moment.
Those artists who caught the wave of NFT super-popularity could hope to sell almost any of their projects. Collectors of digital art were interested in replenishing their collections with any work, simply because it is encrypted in a unique token and purchased at a high cost.
Now the NFT market continues to grow, although some of the hype has passed, and collectors are spending more effort on finding exactly what they think can bring them benefits. In addition, traditional art collectors and curators are also interested in the new field. Their arrival is connected with the desire to settle in the future of the art world, but they have to find new ways to work with the artist.
It seems that only crypto millionaires can buy such art, but it turns out that this is not entirely true. The works of not every artist are worth thousands of dollars, most are quite affordable for ordinary people. The purchase price starts from the minimum prices. Therefore, the NFT market is available to literally anyone who wants to become the owner of the rights to the work of a digital artist.
New technical trends always influence art as a stimulus for development. Due to the spread of the coronavirus in 2020, the art market, like other areas of life, had a hard time. Artists have rushed into digital art, although, as art critic Anastasia Perova says, not all artists, even the most successful in terms of traditional art, can find the very niche that will interest collectors of crypto art.
Nevertheless, interesting events take place in the NFT community: exhibitions, performances, and the like. Artists are more daring and free experiments.
During the pandemic, many young artists have appeared in art, eager to use every opportunity to try new things, find their own style and share their work with as many viewers as possible. The NFT art market now has huge potential among these young artists. Art critic Anastasia Perova believes that this gives life to artists' experiments not only with technique and idea, but also with the technical implementation of this idea, including the possibility of determining the lifespan of their works, their aging and destruction.
NFTs give a strong impetus to the development of contemporary art in a completely new direction. In the new digital world, everything is moving towards the fact that art forces the viewer to go inside and be not so much an observer as a participant. It is interesting, however, that people here also seek interaction, and not just tokens and digital. This year saw the launch of a new social network Showtime, which allows maximum interaction with NFT art objects and artists.
It is important to note that the art reproduced in the blockchain does not require special skill of the author. The idea comes to the fore, and the idea is perhaps the highest value of this kind of art.
Despite the ambiguous attitude towards cryptocurrency in Russia, there is also interest in NFT here, and many young digital artists have found themselves in it.
The first NFT art exhibition in Russia was organized in the spring of 2021 by Herbert Shopnik, an expert and collector of digital art, founder of the Digital Art Expo agency. The exhibition was held as part of the Blockchain Life conference in Moscow. The number of works shown there exceeded 60: 15 digital artists presented their works. Access to the exposition is stored online on the company's website.
Herbert Shopnik and the educational project 1artchannel organized a joint booth at the Cosmoscow event, where collectors of contemporary art could see the work of NFT artists.
The museum that is associated with classical art - the State Hermitage Museum - is trying to keep up with the times and master the NFT market. The Hermitage has already sold a collection of tokens containing digital copies of famous paintings stored in it. Among them are the Madonna Litta by Leonardo da Vinci, the Lilac Bush by Vincent Van Gogh, Judith by the Italian artist Giorgione and other famous canvases. In November 2021, the Hermitage launched a new project: it opened its first NFT exhibition of works. The virtual interiors of the Stock Exchange building house 38 works of art, some of which were created specifically for this event.
Street artists (street artists) have always sought to go against the system of intermediaries, avoiding the market model of promoting art. It is not surprising that the NFT format attracts many street artists, because here the artist performs on his own and can even choose the most convenient conditions for selling his works.
In the wake of interest in the new space for the implementation of contemporary street art, artist Pokras Lampas (Arseniy Pyzhenkov) has already sold more than one of his works in the form of NFT tokens. The first work that Pokras Lampas translated into NFT, he created literally the day after the auction of Mike Winkelmann's The first 5000 days at Christie's. Pokras Lampas creates works based on the art of calligraphy.
To the creation of the work, which has become so far the most successful sale of Pokras (it was sold for about 2 million rubles), he approached conceptually. Having digitized the picture painted on canvas, he projected the image onto the Chirkey Hydroelectric Power Plant and digitized this image again. The fact is that the sale was made in ethers, which are produced on electricity, which in turn is produced at the Chirkeyskaya hydroelectric power station.
Misha Most is a Russian street art artist, known both in our country and abroad. The artist has long been interested in the issues of the impact of technology on life and art, so the appearance Among his projects is a mural on the facade of a metallurgical plant in the city of Vyksa. The painting covers 10,800 square meters. Misha exhibits his NFT works on the Binance marketplace.
The field of NFT art provides an opportunity for well-known artists to expand their presence in the art market, and for those who are just starting their journey, start it right away with NFT projects.
Styopa Brickspacer is a young NFT artist who successfully sells her projects for thousands of dollars. For example, he parted with two of his works at a price of $10,000 and $13,000. Many digital artists from Russia consider him the pioneer of NFT technologies in the CIS.
NFT technology is now penetrating into a variety of areas, including the fashion industry. It can be said that NFTs themselves are now fashionable, but what does this technology have to do with the real fashion industry? It turns out that representatives of major brands have begun to offer virtual things that are available for trying on using augmented reality (AR) devices. Luxury brand Gucci is offering a $13 pair of sneakers called the Gucci Virtual. This price, of course, is practically nothing compared to what they usually charge for their products.
In addition to Gucci, Nike sells virtual sneakers. Interestingly, one pair of shoes can be bought by many people at once (621 people bought these sneakers) - this allows the digital nature that such objects have.
Another interesting project on the market is the Wanna app, created by a company of the same name from Belarus, which specializes in augmented reality technologies for online shoe and watch fitting. Today, the app serves as a virtual fitting room for sportswear brands Reebok and Puma.
Lukso is one of the blockchain platforms that aim to help fashion brands move work into a digital reality. Lukso experts study existing and predict future ways of leading a digital lifestyle.
It is probably impossible to answer this question unequivocally yet: after all, the NFT market is still too young to draw any conclusions. However, it is impossible not to notice that some supernova processes are going on in contemporary art, which are becoming a response to today's reality. For collectors of classic art from older generations, this may look too new. NFT objects cannot be physically hung on a museum wall or used as a home decoration. At the same time, you can safely go to an exhibition of NFT art, even in the most real reality. There, most likely you will see projections on screens or something like that.
Of course, one cannot but agree that collectors in the NFT world are forced to rethink the traditional understanding of a work of art in order to keep up with the process, but this has happened many times in history as technology has developed. It's just that in our time this development is happening as revolutionary as possible, with a transition to a new aspect of reality.
The growth of interest in NFT is accompanied by the emergence of people who do not understand the principle of the existence of this phenomenon. They argue that buying works for millions of dollars is stupid if the same photo or video can be downloaded for free on the Internet. Questions about Internet ownership have come up before, but now the focus is on the NFT.
Most of the controversy flares up around limited collections of small pictures that users who do not want to buy the rights simply download. However, enthusiasts continue to defend their status as the owner of this or that art, who paid for the right to own it. You can find a lot of themed memes on social networks.
In addition to naysayers who simply do not believe in NFT and are unwilling to pay for it, there are other opponents of disruptive technologies.
Surprisingly, it turns out that there are artists who do not aspire to sell works on the blockchain and be part of virtual reality. One of the arguments against is the environmental damage caused by the mining (mining) of any cryptocurrency that is used to sell works. The amount of electricity that users spend on mining cryptocurrency has now reached 121 terawatt-hours per year.
Researchers have calculated that by the end of 2021, electricity consumption for mining will grow to 91 terawatts per day. Some countries, such as Pakistan, consume less. A side effect of mining is the greenhouse effect, which is greatly increased by the release of heat from constantly running computers.
The world of virtual reality has already arrived, despite the reluctance of some people to accept it.
Digital artists do not need to think about how to receive money from a client, how to package and ship their sold work: everything is on the blockchain. It is impossible to fake either money or works of art here, because the data about them and the actions performed with them are reliably protected by the blockchain from any changes. And while not everyone is able to make millions of dollars from their work in the NFT, this is another way to make money by selling your own art.