The Rise and Fall of NFT Art

By November 15, 2022NFT
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“The auction room, as anyone knows, is an excellent medium for sustaining fictional price levels, because the public imagines that auction prices are necessarily real prices.”—Robert Hughes, 1984, The New York Review of Books

On March 11, 2021, Mike Winkelmann, a digital artist who goes by the online name, Beeple, auctioned off a digital work of art at Christie’s, one of the largest fine-art auction houses in the fine-art world. The title of the work was called, “Everydays: The First 5000 Days,” which was a collage of computer illustrations.

It sold for a staggering $69 million.

Why so much money? It’s a good question that’s difficult to answer. Aesthetically and visually speaking, Beeple’s work isn’t very original or interesting. New York magazine’s art critic, Jerry Saltz tweeted about the work, as well, “I looked up Beeple; just really really derivative Sci-Fi and Conan and Star Wars crapola as far as imagery and imagination go.” That’s not really a vote of confidence. It’s also not that Beeple’s work was the first digital work of art ever made. Digital artwork dates back to the 1990s, even before.

One reason Beeple’s work sold so high was because it included an NFT, or non-fungible token. NFT is an online digital format invented in 2014. An NFT is a digital certificate or digital file that’s connected to a blockchain, basically an online ledger. Blockchain technology also enables cryptocurrencies like Blockchain and Ethereum.

Part of what made the sale so remarkable is that worlds of fine art and digital media always had a frought relationship. This was particularly true when artists or gallery dealers try to sell digital art, which in some cases might be completely digital. Is the artist or gallery selling digital files? Or just the code of a website? And how exactly is it unique?

Photo courtesy of Nataworry Photography

Nevertheless, in 2021, many inside and outside the fine-art world seemed to be betting on NFTs, and by default, crypto, which is what NFTs are based on. The technology solves these and several other problems associated with digital media, by allowing cryptocurrency to digitally authenticate works bought online. NFTs solves the “unique” problem.

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