“When bankers gather for dinner, they discuss art. When artists gather for dinner, they discuss money.” - Oscar Wilde
A digital artist, Mike Winkelmann, aka Beeple, sold ‘Everydays: The First 5000 Days,’ a collage of computer illustrations, for $69 million at Christie’s. The work was able to command the humungous sum for what was essentially a montage of Winkelmann’s posts over 13 years, because it was attached to a digital certificate known as an NFT or Non-Fungible Token. That deal sparked a mad dash among artists — a gold rush – to join the NFT bandwagon.
The NFT craze has quickly caught on. Despite the fact that the modern art world is inherently volatile, the rise of NFTs is shaping the artistic landscape. Several Indian artists have created digital artworks and sold them to collectors all over the world, using the NFT route.
What’s so special about an NFT?
Anyone can view individual images - or even the entire collage of images – of digital art online for free. So, why are people willing to spend millions of dollars on something that can be downloaded or taken a screen shot of? It’s because NFTs vest the ownership of the original item on the buyer.
People can have a picture of Da Vinci’s Monalisa on their phones or go to the Louvre Museum in France and take a picture of it, but the original Monalisa is priceless, and the copies and replicas are worthless simply because the museum is acknowledged to be the sole possessor of the original. NFTs on art works are the equivalent of attestation – they are digital certificates from the artist saying, ‘This work has been created by me and accompanies the artwork.’
Artists who want to sell their work as NFTs must first register with a marketplace before “minting” digital tokens by uploading and validating their information on a blockchain.
Each NFT has its own valuation, which is determined by the highest bidder, who receives a digital token rather than the actual painting, sculpture, or print copy, when it comes to art or collectibles. The NFT contains information about the current owner of the piece, transfer procedures, artwork details, a link to the digital image or a hash code, and built-in authentication that serves as proof of ownership.
Modern monetizing tool
Santanu Hazarika, a multidisciplinary autodidact visual artist and illustrator based in Mumbai, has just released his first major NFT. Santanu says, the global NFT market is slowly becoming a crucial promotional tool for all artists to monetize their work and uniquely engage with the community of collectors and fans who value art. “There are numerous ways in which NFTs helps artists. Individual artists can sustain themselves by putting out their own work without the involvement of middlemen, galleries, art collectors, or dealers of any kind,” he explains.
Cryptocurrency is frequently used as a form of payment for NFTs.
Physical money can be exchanged for cryptocurrencies and vice-versa – in other words, the two are ‘fungible.’ Each unit of both physical money and cryptocurrencies is equal in value to a similar unit of itself - one dollar will be worth the same as another dollar, and one Bitcoin will have the same value as another Bitcoin at a given point. But NFTs are different. Each NFT has a digital signature, which prevents it from being exchanged for another one, or being of the same value as another token - hence, they are non-fungible. Put another way, NFTs are essentially assets that have their own digital identity and ownership record, and they can’t be replicated to form new versions of themselves.
Art, GIFs, sports videos, video games and virtual avatars, designer shoes, music, and even tweets can all have NFTs attached to them, making them unique and collectible. These NFTs can be sold for varying sums. For example, Jack Dorsey, co-founder of Twitter, sold his first NFT tweet for more than $2.9 million.
Trading in art
When it comes to art, because they establish ownership of the artwork, NFTs are valuable. They can be purchased and sold online. If you own an NFT for a work of art, you have the option of keeping it, selling it, or trading it. There are numerous NFT marketplaces where sellers can upload their products, and buyers can connect digital wallets to purchase them. To attract potential buyers, some digital artists post their work on social media platforms such as Instagram.
“I like the value for the original in a world full of fakes," says Venkat Gaddam, an artist and fashion designer from Telangana who plans to launch an NFT series soon. It's an exciting time to be a creator, an ideator, or an artist, in my opinion."
“With NFTs, artists no longer need to pay huge commissions to galleries to showcase their artworks! Our artworks can be minted as NFTs, and preserved on the Blockchain forever,” says artist Swati Pasari from Kolkata.
Royalties for repeat sales
NFTs are providing transparency and accessibility to the art world like never before, ensuring musicians and artists and the like are compensated fairly for their work.
Because of the nature of NFTs, artists will not have to be content with a one-time sale of their work. They will be able to profit from subsequent transactions through royalties on secondary sales.
“I feel it gives you complete control over when and how you drop your work. You realise how transparent the transactions are, and you can keep track of who is trading your art work and how much it is going for; you also have the royalty system in place, which means that every time your art is resold, you not only know who is buying it, but you also get paid,” explains Santanu, who has launched a first-of-its-kind digital artwork Breaking the Frames (BTF) on the WazirX NFT Marketplace in collaboration with Pop sensation Ritviz.
“Royalties and partial sale opportunities do not historically have a place in the world of fine arts. Artfi (a blockchain-based fine arts NFT ecosystem) offers the unique opportunity for artists, sellers, and collectors to earn royalties on each NFT transactions, sell 90% of their art and keep 10% locked in their wallets for the future,” says Artii founder Asif Kamal, who is also an art connoisseur.
Creators can also incorporate clauses into their NFTs. Beeple, for example, stipulated that he receive a 10% royalty on any subsequent resale of his $69 million piece. “In the case of physical artwork, you only get paid once; however, with NFTs, artists receive a royalty even on all future sales of their work,” adds Swati.
Has anyone in India sold an NFT?
The answer to that is, Yes, many have. Raghavendra Rathore was the first designer to use exclusive blockchain technology to convert his art work into NFTs. Canada-based Tamil musician Kaber Vasuki sold an unreleased demo of his track ‘Vasanam’ on OpenSea (web3 marketplace for NFTs) for 50 Ethereum, roughly amounting to Rs. 1.5 crore. Kanthraj N, a Bangalore-based water color artist, auctioned 12 of his original award-winning paintings on the RubiX marketplace.
“With NFTs artists are now open to working with anyone, anywhere,” says Santanu, adding, “The process eliminates various obstacles such as approaching galleries, waiting for galleries to pick up your work, getting an art dealer to push you and promote you, and logistical issues too.”
Artists who have created NFTs are forming online groups and communities to help and educate one another.
A multitrillion-dollar business in the making
According to the database Artprice, NFTs have grown in popularity, accounting for one-third of online sales or 2% of the overall art market. Artists who have adopted NFTs find it empowering. Suvigya Sharma, an Indian artist, painter and fashion designer known for his miniature paintings, Tanjore painting, fresco work, and portraits, has partnered with OwlUnited - an NFT project uniting business, charity, and digital art. He says nowadays, digital art, particularly NFTs, is used to raise funds for the launch of medium to large companies.
“NFTs are expected to be a multitrillion-dollar industry in the global economy, and many people are beginning to accumulate these digital assets for artistic or utility purposes. In the last two years, many NFT projects have emerged on the market,” Suvigya says.
A revolution is indeed sweeping across the art world, and it’ll never be the same again.