Non-fungible tokens

Non-fungible tokens (NFTs) are one-of-a-kind asset that lives online and is managed in a digital ledger. These digitally unique assets are attached to a distinct value with a certificate of authenticity, so even though it exists online, the asset can’t be easily and endlessly duplicated. It means that it’s unique and can’t be replaced with something else.

Non-fungible tokens can really be anything digital (such as drawings, music, your brain downloaded and turned into an AI), but a lot of the current excitement is around using the tech to sell digital art. This means that if you are an artist, NFTs give you a way to sell work that there otherwise might not be much of a market for.

For example, a bitcoin is fungible — trade one for another bitcoin, and you’ll have exactly the same thing. A one-of-a-kind trading card, however, is an NFT. Most non-fungible tokens are part of the Ethereum blockchain. Ethereum is a cryptocurrency, like bitcoin or dogecoin, but its blockchain also supports these NFTs, which store extra information. 

Where can you find Non-fungible tokens? There are several marketplaces that have popped up, which allow people to buy and sell non-fungible tokens. These include OpenSea, Rarible, Grimes’ choice, Nifty Gateway, etc.

Should artists be worried about non-fungible tokens? Probably. Bit rot is a real thing: image quality deteriorates, file formats can’t be opened anymore, websites go down, people forget the password to their wallets, etc. On the other hand, physical art in museums is also shockingly fragile. Some philosophers argue that all art is existential. It not only reflects the time (the culture, history, etc.) but exists in its best quality in that time too.

Platforms such as rarible have become a worldwide phenomenon. They openly display the top sellers of the day and it is easy to see that, typically, artworks rarely sell for high prices. There is also no gauge on quality. They make it easy to set up non-fungible tokens too, so if you want to try your luck, feel free.

My thoughts on non-fungible tokens

I personally think that Non-fungible tokens don’t really work that well. Let me give you an example. Copying a two-dimensional picture (e.g. clip art) is ridiculously easy on the internet. So if you buy a digital image you may have to keep it off the internet to stop it from being copied! – either that or you could end up constantly taking others to court for copyright infringement. If you look at anything popular, e.g. albums by the Beatles, you can easily find digital copies on Pirate Bay, etc.

Digital artworks thus ONLY have value, if you keep them safe – which defies the purpose of having them! I am thus of the opinion, that if you create digital art and want to display it, you also accept that others may copy it. I thus think that selling physical art makes more sense. Creating physical art also tends to be a more labor-intensive process and in this sense, attributing value is easier, and copying it is significantly harder too.

A physical experience has more options for them to do other things, eg. get to know each other and have a good time, etc. This is why physical art will, in my opinion, typically continue to have more value than digital art. There are, however, exceptions to the rule and some forms of digital art are harder to create and will thus be harder to copy (e.g. animations, 3D modelling, interactive multimedia, video, etc.).

If you are interested in buying one of my paintings, please contact me on Facebook. I do NOT use non-fungible tokens. I do however create digital art. You can find examples of it in my online gallery.

Author: Piers Midwinter
I am an artist and teacher. I live and work in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam.