NFT Art Explained: The Future of Art Collecting?
The authenticity of digital art can be impossible to prove. That’s where NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, step in, creating a chain of ownership that is publicly viewable and unable to be amended. Find out more about how NFT art works, and what steps you need to follow to create your own.
NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, have become to the art world what Bitcoin is to the financial markets – a valuable new toy greeted with excitement by some and scepticism by others.
Pieces of NFT art can change hands for thousands or millions of pounds. They have even been sold at Christie’s, one of the world’s most renowned art auction houses.
Yet, since NFTs mainly represent digital assets, it can be difficult to get your head around what owning an NFT artwork actually means.
Below we answer the question of what NFT art is and how you can create your own.
» MORE: What is an NFT?
NFT art meaning
Previously, any copy of a digital artwork would be just as valuable – or valueless – as the next. In theory, NFTs have changed this.
NFT art can be anything – a video, an image, a song, or even something else entirely. When it comes to NFTs, the art matters less than its non-fungible packaging.
When you buy a piece of NFT art, you are buying the certificate of ownership and authenticity of the artwork in question.
This certificate will contain a series of specific elements that denote its uniqueness and record of ownership, found in its identification code and metadata. It is what makes non-fungible tokens non-fungible.
An NFT can only ever have one owner at a time, the proof of which is built into the NFT and is easily and publicly verifiable.
A clear record of ownership will then be created, and extended, every time the NFT art is sold on in the future. This means it can be easy to trace the history, and therefore the authenticity, of the art that has been minted as an NFT.
From the perspective of the creator, meanwhile, it allows them to give a digital artwork, which previously had no tangible value and could be freely distributed, a price tag and chain of ownership. Even if said artwork remains freely distributed online.
What can you do with NFT art?
Let’s say someone minted, i.e. created, an NFT of a picture of Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. If you bought that NFT, you wouldn't own the Mona Lisa. That would still be hanging in the Louvre.
Nor would you own the image file of the painting, in the sense that you cannot stop it appearing elsewhere like you would a physical piece of art.
You also wouldn’t own the copyright. While some NFTs may include the copyright of the original artwork, it isn’t automatically conferred on to the buyer with every NFT purchase.
This means you wouldn’t be allowed to reproduce and sell whatever was contained within the NFT. You could only sell the NFT itself. The same would normally be true of physical art.
What you would have in our Mona Lisa example would be the certificate of authenticity and ownership of this specific digital representation of the painting. And because of how NFTs work, no one else could question that record of ownership.
You could then sell this NFT at a later day, potentially for more (or less) money than you originally bought it.
NFT art examples
The example of a Mona Lisa NFT above is slightly misleading, as the Mona Lisa wasn’t originally a digital artwork. It’s a physical painting, of which only one exists. There are numerous ways to confirm its authenticity.
Most pieces of NFT art will be digital from their inception. As in, they are not digital representations of something physical, but digital alone. Normally this means that it can be nigh on impossible to prove you have the ‘original’ artwork, as each copy is essentially identical. NFTs try to solve this problem.
One such digital artwork is Beeple’s EVERYDAYS: THE FIRST 5000 DAYS. It is the most expensive NFT to date, selling for $69,346,250 (£50,673,182) in March 2021.
In this specific instance, the man who bought this Beeple NFT, Vignesh Sundaresan – known by his username MetaKovan – received a digital file of the artwork and is allowed to display the EVERYDAYS digitally.
However, Sundaresan does not own the copyright. He also wouldn’t be able to prevent the image of EVERYDAYS being hosted anywhere else on the internet. He can simply say he has the certificate of ownership to prove what he owns is authentically the ‘original’ artwork. In other words, bragging rights.
NFT art has perhaps also challenged the notions of what an artwork can be. Memes, such as ‘Disaster Girl’ and ‘Success Kid’, or viral media such as ‘Charlie Bit My Finger’ have been sold for thousands of dollars.
By turning cultural ephemera into purchasable items, the NFT process has commodified a previously intangible section of internet culture. And in the eyes of the market, potentially canonised those items as art.
NFT art scams
Although one of the most touted aspects of NFTs is the indisputable nature of their record of ownership and authenticity, that can be undermined by the qualities of the asset contained within.
In August 2021, a hacker sold a fake Banksy artwork as an NFT through Banksy’s own website for $336,000 (£245,524).
While this is an extreme example of an NFT art scam, and echoes the idea of physical art forgery, it still raises questions about the value of NFTs.
It is why you can have an NFT of a picture of the Mona Lisa. There is often nothing stopping someone from minting an NFT of an artwork they didn’t create.
Legally, you should get permission from the copyright holder before minting an NFT, but not every platform requires such proof. And, as the artist whose work has been stolen, you would have to know someone was selling NFTs of your art before you could do anything about it.
In this sense, NFTs haven’t necessarily fixed the Wild West of digital art rights and ownership, but have rather created a way to profit from it.
How to create NFT art
If you want to create NFT art of your own, the process is relatively simple.
First, you would need to create the art itself. This can be anything, as long as it can be turned into a digital file.
If you wanted to mint an NFT of an artwork that you didn’t create, you would first need to seek permission from the copyright holder.
You would also need to ensure you have a crypto wallet containing ether (ETH). This is how you will both fund and store the NFTs you mint.
Then it is time to choose where you want to mint your NFT. Many of the same marketplaces where you would buy an NFT will also allow you to mint an NFT.
Although each site will have its own minting process, you will usually be required to:
- Upload the file of the digital asset you have created.
- Add a title and description to your NFT.
- Set the sale price, or opening bid price, of your NFT.
When minting an NFT, you may be subject to gas fees, which differ from platform to platform. A gas fee goes directly to the Ethereum miners providing the computer power for the entire NFT process. This fee is ever changing and is based on how busy the Ethereum network is at the time of minting.
After these steps, you will be ready to sell your very own NFT. You may even be able to receive royalties every time the NFT was sold in the future.
» MORE: How to buy and sell NFTs
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Connor is a writer and spokesperson for NerdWallet. Previously at Spreadex, his market commentary has been quoted in the likes of the BBC, The Guardian, Evening Standard, Reuters and The Independent. Read more