Just recently, an artist named Mike Winkelmann, known to the art world as Beeple sold a piece of artwork for $69 million at auction. While this excessive amount of money makes little sense to most people, it may not seem too absurd to those in the art world. The newsworthy aspect of this auction is the kind of artwork that was sold. The artwork was a little different from a physical painting that you hang on your wall or a sculpture you can display in your home. Winkelmann’s record-setting artwork sale was for a JPG file.
This JPG file is a unique digital asset known as an NFT, which stands for nonfungible tokens. To give a little background: a fungible asset is something with units that can be readily interchanged. Non-fungible assets are things with unique properties, so they cannot be interchanged with other things. Artwork is a non-fungible asset because it is one of a kind; while a painting or print can be copied or reprinted, there will only be one original copy. A nonfungible token goes by this same logic. According to the New York Times, “an NFT is an asset that has been verified using blockchain technology, in which a network of computers records transactions and gives buyers proof of authenticity and ownership.” It makes digital pieces of artwork unique, and therefore easy to sell.
Digital files seem relatively easy to duplicate and resell, so what makes NFT’s worth millions of dollars? NFT’s allow the artwork to be tokenized, meaning that a piece of artwork is given a digital certificate of ownership showcasing that this version is the original copy. Thousands of computers maintain a legend of who owns the original copy, so while digital artwork can be copied and resold, only one person maintains the “token” that proves they own the original copy. If you copy yourself or download a copy of a piece of artwork, while the content would be exactly the same, you wouldn’t actually own the artwork itself without verification from a blockchain.
While the technology for NFT’s has been around since the mid-2010s, the buying and trading of NFT’s have recently been in the news thanks to the large amounts of money for which these pieces are selling. Beeple is the most high-profile of artists to make one of these sales, but he is hardly the first to do so. Some other examples of NFT’s that have been sold recently include the CEO and co-founder of Twitter, Jack Dorsey, selling his first tweet on the app for $2.9 million. Lindsay Lohan sold a piece called “Linday ‘Lightning’ Lohan” for around $50,000. Rob Gronkowski is in the process of selling limited edition championship trading cards in NFT form, and he has made over one million dollars so far.
If buying and selling NFT’s is something you’re interested in, this is definitely the time to get started! With their popularity on the rise, more and more people are learning how to create NFT’s so that they can eventually sell them on various platforms. At the same time, as the rarity of what becomes digitized and sellable increases, people are willing to spend considerable amounts of money on unique digital artwork or digital pieces of history. Several sites that sell NFT’s include OpenSea, Foundation and SuperRare; and there are many more that you can take advantage of if you’re looking to buy or sell!
If you’re still a little confused about this new art form, watch this video from SNL to learn more!