Life before NFTs: how to buy and sell digital art without cryptocurrency
The third most expensive work of art sold by a living artist is an intangible JPEG file, given its digital nature, and immutable, because it has been coined as a non-fungible token (NFT). Having gone through this last process turns the image auctioned by Christie’s on March 11 into a unique piece whose authenticity is validated in the decentralized database Ethereum and whose acquisition requires a payment in ether, the native cryptocurrency of this decentralized platform.
In short, the work of the artist Beeple Everydays: The First 5000 Days, Sold for 57 million euros, it is digitally associated with a serial number that makes it irreplaceable. In addition, both the authorship of the work and its changes in ownership are permanently registered in that database. “In a sense, the work and intellectual property become the same with NFTs,” explains Francisco Gordillo, an expert in the world of cryptocurrencies and decentralized networks, who is convinced that the sale of original digital products to through Blockchain technology is the beginning of “the great solution” to trading with intangible assets such as digital art.
However, the sale of digital art was not born with NFTs. Creators who work with new media have been selling intangible works in the form of digital files for decades and certifying the authenticity of their pieces with attached documents. “I am not even remotely a cryptocurrency. I was doing digital art long before all this shit and if this whole fucking NFT thing disappeared tomorrow, I would still be doing digital art, “said Mike Winkelmann, aka Beeple, in a interview with The Newyorker. Within days of its historic sale, the author exchanged his cryptocurrencies for dollars, scared by how much the cryptocurrency exchange rate varied. Carolina Sánchiz, PhD candidate in the Humanities and Digital Society Doctoral Program at the International University of La Rioja (UNIR), downplays the gesture: “One thing is the investor in cryptocurrencies and another is the person who uses a crypto art platform to sell. At the end of the day, you need to live, and today cryptocurrencies are used to buy and sell very few things. “
Beeple’s work is one more example of the trickle of large sums that have been invested in different types of NFT in recent weeks. “The market serves as a reflection on the world in which we live. If you realize it, neither is they talking in depth about the type of works or artistic proposals ”, reasons Luis Rivero, doctor in Art History and researcher at the University of León. Jack Dorsey, the founder of Twitter, sold his first tweet. The New York Times did the same with an article. The ever-timely humanoid robot Sophia, manufactured by the Hanson Robotics company, auctioned his self-portrait. Meanwhile, artists who have always made a living from digital attend the circus with a mixture of curiosity and suspicion.
Jeremy Bailey He has been creating art with new media for 20 years. His journey began by publishing videos on the Internet. “I wasn’t looking to make money,” he recalls. At the beginning he left the savings in paying for the accommodation of his works. When YouTube arrived, he saw the heavens open: he finally had a place to hang his videos for free. As the Internet giants grew older, Bailey has never received more than a dollar in advertising fees. “Those companies have made billions of dollars and I have not achieved anything,” he sums up. In this context, he understands and almost shares the excitement that NFTs are generating. “NFTs exist because of a problem created by the internet: abundance. Everybody shares. We have an overabundance of information. How do you build an economy on that? ”, He reasons. “Most of my income has come from live performances or commissions for exhibitions,” he explains.
In this sense, Rivero currently finds an attempt to bring digital art closer to the framework of more traditional proposals with which it is easier to trade. “It could be said that digital art or art on the internet at the time was something collective by definition. Open, radical, anti-market, unstable, difficult to keep… Nobody is interested in having this, ”he explains. Coining the work as NFT gives repeatability the unrepeatable value of a book signed by its author. “I do not see it as something so radical or avant-garde, but as the adaptation of new economic terms that are being tested on the art market.”
In this context, NFTs, and the added value they bring to works by making them unequivocally unique and authentic, is presented to Bailey as a possible solution. In addition, according to Gordillo some marketplaces —NFT’s sales platforms— include the possibility for artists to continue receiving royalties for subsequent sales of their works. “For most artists, value doesn’t matter. The problem is that they need it to survive. But you don’t have to get paid to create art, ”Bailey reasons.
One of his latest projects is YOUar, a platform where different artists can sell sculptures in augmented reality. Each purchase includes the download of the files to view the pieces on Android or iOS, access to the web viewer and a PDF certificate of authenticity where the artist’s signature and the identity of the buyer appear, along with the date and time of delivery. the transaction. “When I talk to people who have bought these works, they explain to me that they just want to support the project,” he says. Although it does not seem unreasonable to try to sell his works as NFT, he does not believe that this format is valid for any piece, especially when they go beyond the mere photo, video or sound file. “It doesn’t suit everything. I find it a bit weird as an artist trying to fit a performance —Interpretation— in an NFT ”.
For both experienced artists and newcomers, landing in this market requires some adaptation, explains Sánchiz: “You have to have training on blockchain, you need a wallet —Purse where to store these tokens—, you have to buy cryptocurrency, everything is in English … “. Furthermore, the inhabitants of this ecosystem are not exactly the usual artists and collectors. “Most of them are people who work or have a relationship with cryptocurrencies. They are people who in many cases do not have an academic background in fine arts, but come from the world of technology, “he says.
Artists of his time
Wolf Lieser, founder of the Digital Art Museum (DAM) from Berlin, has accompanied the sales of software-based art that it has made for the last twenty years with a certificate, the documentation necessary to reproduce the work according to its author’s designs and its source code. The expert is also following the new fad with interest, but at a distance. “I’ve been approached by several startups that want to jump on the NFT bandwagon and make a quick buck. In the long term I will do something, but I’m not in a hurry, ”he says.
At the request of the collectors he advises, Wolf has been snooping around some of the platforms that sell this type of work, and what he has found does not convince him. “I am convinced that 20 years from now no one will remember Beeple. The work is not convincing at all. I have looked at many websites that offer NFT. Of course, there is some art there, and some serious artists involved in the subject, but most of it is… bad news, ”he says. The expert compares this fashion and the great names who are amassing large sums thanks to it with the good fortune of classical artists who knew how to adapt to the tastes of their time. “There were always artists who were overrated and considered stars. But over time they had no effect on culture and society ”, he stresses.
The approach of Paul Slocum, gallery owner And/Or, the sale of digital art is the closest to the model on which the NFTs are based. “Our editions come with the digital files, a certificate, and sometimes a handmade file box,” he explains. With each new sale, the information of the work is inserted into its own database. This model, which And / Or has been using for the last 15 years, has served to sell works contained in web pages, JPEGs, Youtube videos, PDF files, gifs and even video games. However, Slocum does not close the door to the future incorporation of NFTs in some of its sales. “We see it as a marketing tool to support our artists.” Sánchiz agrees that the current appeal of this market may allow a new generation of digital artists and graphic designers to sneak into shop windows and open doors to a burgeoning industry. “If you have your porphtolio within the world of crypto art and you exhibit your work there, it is easier for them to hire you than if you are totally outside.”