The Digital Art Scene

Paula LaBrot
Paula LabrotBy Paula Labrot

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The Digital Art Scene
Beeple, aka Mike Winkelmann, sold his work, Everydays–The First 5000 Days, in March 2021, for an impressive $69.3million, the highest price paid for an NFT so far. The piece is a true labour of love, a collage Winklelmann created by collating one artwork a day for 5,000 days, since 2007, and continues the project to this day, using software including Cinema 4D and Octane. Highend auction house Christies sold the collage in the first-ever purely digital NFT auction held by an auction house. Find out more about it: creativebloq.com/features/nft-artwork
You probably don’t remember, but in the early days of computers for the masses, around the early nineties, artists were the ones out in front using the new technologies. A great number of the first school computer labs were set up by art teachers, including Topanga Elementary School. In the world of blockchain commerce, artists, once again, are out of the gate and moving fast. Digital art sales are booming, and lots of money is exchanging hands. It’s hard to get your head around the idea of “owning” art that does not exist in real life (IRL). Nevertheless, people love to claim ownership, love to collect for love or speculation, love to have bragging rights about owning original material, and, for you Topanga Artists, it’s time to learn about it, unless, of course, you’re already there. First, some vocabulary: You need to understand Blockchain and NFTs. Blockchain Don and Alex Tapscott, authors of “The Blockchain Revolution,” define the blockchain as “an incorruptible digital ledger of economic transactions that can be programmed to record, not just financial transactions, but virtually everything of value.” Let’s take that apart. A digital ledger is a record kept on the internet where it is distributed and decentralized. What does that mean? Blocks of data holding information about transactions are sent out over a network as they happen. This network is essentially a chain of computers spread out over the internet that must all approve an exchange before it can be verified and recorded. Transactions are not held in one place; they are sent to everyone on a network and “distributed,” then are verified by each computer on the network that carries that particular ledger. When a block is full and the transactions verified by consensus of everyone on the network, then that particular block is linked to the blockchain. It is extremely difficult for a hacker to change the transactions because they need control of more than half of the computers on the network for a change to be verified. Another plus is that, if one computer crashes or is hacked, the information remains intact on all the other computers on the network. (Caveat: nothing is truly unhackable.) What does this have to do with art? Digital art transactions are being conducted on the blockchain through very profitable NFT transactions, a brand-new paradigm of currency. NFT stands for “non-fungible token.” Non-fungible means unique, singular, one-of-a-kind, indivisible. According to nfteducation.org, to establish value, you have to create scarcity. Will Fuer, writing for the NY Post, explains, “Fundamentally, NFTs are one-of-a-kind, verifiable digital assets that are traded on blockchain technology. That’s a high-tech way of saying it’s a bit of data representing something unique, or at least scarce, that allows the owner to prove the asset is theirs. Instead of receiving the physical objects, buyers of NFTs receive a digital file that authenticates ownership of some asset.” To understand this, think of a famous painting like Starry Night. There are lots of prints of it, but only one original, which is worth millions. Think of the value of the original United States Constitution” compared to the value of the millions of copies of it. Anybody can copy or download an NFT. The real value is in the owning of the original, hence, the emergence of NFT mania. As designer Adam Fard says, “We like to own stuff. We especially like to own things that we find valuable, whether from an emotional or financial standpoint.” Monetizing NFT’s You may be thinking, what is the value of something that only exists in a virtual world or, in other words, something that exists as code on the internet? Brace yourself. Mike Winkelmann, better known as Beeple, joined the world as one of the most valuable living artists when he sold an NFT for a record-breaking $69.3 million.” The work, “Everydays: The First 5000 Days,” is a collage of 5,000 drawings, one created and posted every day for 13.5 years, and was delivered as a strand of code. Michael Bouhann, Sotheby’s co-head of digital art sales, stated, “With Sotheby’s Metaverse (a world created in cyberspace, like a virtual, immersible, digital art museum you can visit in 3D), we will create a new industry ecosystem that serves as a destination for the most sophisticated digital art sales and auctions, positioning Sotheby’s at the center of some of the most important NFT industry activity.” This is also happening with musicians. Points to Ponder It seems odd to want something that does not exist IRL. But then, what is real? Are we real? From the Hindu concept of Maya, all the material world is an illusion. From Yoda telling Luke he is not “this crude matter,” to breaking out of the Matrix, reality has always been controversial. Is the Multiverse theory correct? Are there an infinite number of realities? In cyberspace, there is a whole new paradigm of reality ahead. Keep an open mind, check out NFT’s, learn the new vocabularies and… Vamos a ver!
Paula Labrot

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