The Crypto Punks and Crypto Kitties (see Part 2), or perhaps their selling prices, made such an impression on anyone paying attention that some technically minded artists began to experiment with releasing their art as NFTs. The bandwagon got rolling in two directions: 1 of 1 exclusive works of a more traditional variety and limited-edition generative collections. In 2021 there was a lot of learning and experimentation going on, both by artists and collectors. At the end of the year, mainstream Art Review magazine announced ERC-721 (the very non-human NFT technical standard) as the most influential person of the year in art, citing CryptoPunks and Beeple.
Late 2020 and the spring of 2021 saw a huge increase in the number of artworks being sold as NFTs, even if far too frequently neither the seller nor buyer really understood what they were dealing with. The hype grew until reaching its ultimate expression in March 2021, when American digital artist Mike Winkelmann, known professionally as Beeple, sold a piece at Christie’s for an incredible $69.4M. Critics started accusing NFT artists of being more interested in the money than the art, which, in reality, was indeed likely to be a prime driver. As word spread, more artists wanted in on the new trend. Mainstream British artist Damien Hirst pivoted a collection of 10,000 pre-existing paintings (‘The Currency’) into NFTs, making him over $20M according to ArtNet, and was accused of a shameless money grab.
Selling a 1 of 1 piece as an NFT provides additional proof of ownership and provenance on-chain, but how different is that really from buying on Etsy or a gallery website? Just replicating the traditional art market doesn’t add much. It’s like having a smartphone but not installing any apps. But, by applying the new capabilities of computer programming, NFTs and Web 3 can revolutionise what is considered art, before, during, and after the sale.
- The breadth of styles and ‘quality’ (so subjective) of art being sold as NFTs is as wide as art itself. Even physical works by Warhol and Banksy recently had the NFT treatment. Given the technical knowledge required for NFTs, however, it’s not surprising that most is digitally produced – an accessible medium for any level of artist.
- Traditionally, art has been sold as unique works or limited edition runs of a few dozen. This creates rarity (value) but is labour intensive. Individually produced NFTs have the same drawback.
NFT technology allows artists to add new dimensions to their work to create NFT native art, a new thing entirely. A prime example is the Art Blocks platform. It adds generative minting to the creation process. Artists can create algorithms that are called upon during the minting, resulting in every piece in a collection is unique. Thus, a new tool was added to the art toolbox. Artists can use computer programming as an additional means of expressing themselves. The art is produced by computer but under the direction of the artist. There is a vast range of styles being produced to suit all tastes, with collection sizes that would be impossible to achieve manually.
- When a collector buys a piece, it is created then and there as unique art, according to the rules the artist set in the algorithm. Neither the buyer nor the artist knows exactly what they’re going to get until it’s there. Other types of algorithmic art present more control and curation by the artist but Art Blocks leans on the serendipity of the minting moment and the participation of the minter (collector) in the creation process.
- One of the aims of the platform is to, “democratize art”, by keeping the initial prices at reasonable levels. Like many platforms, prices are set in Ether. However, the prices for Art Blocks pieces did begin to go well beyond access to the everyday collector during part of 2021. That was somewhat mitigated by complementary offerings in the Playground and Factory and has since come back to lower price points in many of the drops.
- There is a two-year waitlist for Art Blocks Curated. The founders of Art Blocks want to ensure that the content remains true to their initial vision.
- The original demonstration collection, the Chromie Squiggle, has become a status symbol in its own right and many collectors value them.
- Although algorithmically unique, the art is still just an image, nothing more. At most, some react when you click on them. You can put it on your Twitter profile but that’s about it. Granted, individual artists can enable additional features (utility) if they choose.
In the next article in this series, we’ll talk about the thing that has really made NFT art stand out from the crowd and promises an enormous impact in the future: utility.