Sam Francis

Untitled, 1984

106.7 X 73 inch


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The Rise of NFTs: The New Phenomenon Taking The Art World By Storm


By Andrew Bay, UK


The eponymous word CryptoArt conjures plenty of images and references for any one of us nowadays. NFTs, which are the CryptoArt vehicle you have most likely heard of, are essentially multimedia art forms, supported by the  blockchain technology.  They are decentralized, genuinely rare artefacts, which preserve the artists' intentions, autonomy, and, most significantly, their intellectual property. 
You may reasonably wonder what makes NFT's unique and why there's such a buzzword around them.   Well, there are multiple explanations for this.

An NFT is a non-fungible token.  It is a distinctively individual item representing a given asset on the blockchain.   From its inception, Blockchain technology was specifically designed to enable secure, one-to-one financial trading and exchanges over the Internet; in other words, it allows individual economic actors to transmit information instantly to one another, without going through a third-party institution such as a bank, or a middle man.

On the back of this technical innovation, the concept of NFTs has altogether produced a  channel for digital artists and designers to display and share their creative output with the world.  This is a groundbreaking  approach to making, sharing, and distributing art.
NFTs radically enhance the artist's ability to devise and control the value of their output, whilst at the same time, giving the art buyers complete clarity about the genuineness and origin of their acquisitions.

NFT assets can be electronic art, memorabilia, archives, music, a symbiosis of all these, or completely untried and novel combinations of digital designs.   By their very nature, NFTs enable innovators in the field to continually push the limits of their creativity by exploring the unlimited power of these unorthodox and innovative templates.

The catch however, is that even if you could capture an NFT on your smartphone with a screenshot, you wouldn't be able to trade it for what it was initially worth.  Another way to look at this ideas is that, you would be hard-pressed to find a buyer for a mere photograph of Van Gogh's 'Sunflowers'.   Therefore, as soon as the NFT is handed over to its new proprietor, the transaction and its value are immediately documented on the blockchain: a computerized library of trades and transactions that no one can modify and anyone can have access to.  Being able to rely on the trustworthiness of these digital licenses, which are accessible for anyone to verify online, ensures the source of any NFT asset is legitimate and non-transferrable, that's why your screenshot of the NFT would have no tangible value.

On the other hand the real buyer is essentially acquiring software that displays pictures: it is art, but in an unconventional configuration.   Besides, it is worth remembering that you're not actually purchasing the image; you're acquiring the intellectual property rights embedded in the shot.

You may very well wonder how this whole new paradigm got started and how this new technology came to see the light of day.   As it turns out, the man behind the first NFT goes by the name of Kevin McCoy.   

In May 2014, McCoy minted an NFT, which he called "Quantum" at a time when a market for crypto art didn't even exist. "Quantum" is a pixel representation of multiple geometric shapes and forms , flickering dreamily to a background of flaming colours.  It was recently estimated to be worth in the region of seven million dollars. McCoy recently said that the rise of the NFTs space is a powerful example of the continuous evolution of the international art scene.

This is the latest step in the extended narrative of creators using technology to break new ground.

You do not need to have a technical background to create a basic token; all that's required is the ability to demonstrate that you are the owner or the author of the content produced, and voila, you are all set to start minting NFT's.  The original idea of non-fungible-tokens coincided with the arrival of a new group of coins on the Bitcoin Blockchain around 2013.  They quickly became referred to as 'coloured coins': they could be interpreted as symbols for goods, services, and resources from the physical world, which then could be stored on the equivalent of a standard accounting book, commonly known on the blockchain technology, as a digital ledger.

These coloured coins constituted certifiable proof of ownership of a financial dividend, transaction, or investment; they could be used in place of gold, silver, landed property,  stocks, and shares or even motor vehicles. Just as Bitcoin did in the early days, these coins were immediately viewed as a new high-tech product with great potential for various uses and applications.

By August 2016, the 'coloured coins' concept started to branch off in new directions and found an unexpected implementation within the gaming market, particularly the trading cards industry and culture.   Crypto-art, which referenced Internet meme Pepe the Frog, started to be traded on the Ethereum blockchain by 2017. Then, the  first Digital Arts Festival was organised in New York City in 2018, and the first crypto-art sale ever recorded during the show was the Rare Pepe Wallet. Digital art had made its way into the art world; it had proven that it could be monetised, that it had inherent desirability, and that artists worldwide could use this medium as a valuable asset.

The next crypto-art big sensation was the CryptoPunks series by Canadian artists John Watkinson and Matt Hall. This can be considered the beginning of the NFT mania, which has been taking the mainstream by storm over the last three years. Ten thousand CyptoPunks were initially released in 2017, and due to their uniqueness, they are now the coveted property of the prestigious Christie's auction house.  Over the next few years, from 2018 to 2021, NFT's became increasingly popular and visible in the art world, but it was in 2021 that they became an integral part of mainstream culture.

Today, the NFTs trading platforms are better regulated and more fluid than most other existing procedures for allocating equity.

It is a remarkable fact that they enable any digital creator to use this distributed ledger technology, to produce and distribute their work.  Artists worldwide can expand their reach beyond physical and geographical borders to captivate new patrons eager to discover and enjoy their creations.   While NFTs emerged from a series of lucky accidents and unexpected technological breakthroughs, the future looks bright for this new art form. Unlimited possibilities for configurability, teamwork, sales, and quick links between designers and curators,  will inevitably transform NFTs into a day-to-day technology. Once a little blockchain experiment, NFTs have now exploded into a multi-million dollar transnational ecosystem on the Internet, and there seems to be no end in sight to how far this new cultural paradigm will grow.

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