Once upon a time, if you bought a painting, you could hang it on your wall.
Today, the trend is to buy digital art that you can display on a screen, or keep in a digital wallet. Just as physical copies of books and music have faded in importance for many people now accustomed to eBooks and MP3s, NFTs are becoming a new medium for technology-forward art collectors.
But first a reminder that NFT stands for “non-fungible token,” and represents a digital object that is electronically signed and marked as a unique item — even though it may appear at a glance to be like any other digital image. Currently the most popular form of NFTs is in the fine art sphere. While only one person can own an original Georgia O’Keefe painting, anyone dropping in to a bookstore or two could find a postcard with one of her works on the front.
An in-between option, though, would be a limited edition print, produced and signed by O’Keefe: by definition, multiple copies exist as part of the set, but buyers know exactly how many were produced of these official copies. Think of NFTs like these limited editions, in digital form.
With digital images that you can’t physically touch, anyone could right-click to download a copy, but only one version of the official and original file exists. When digital artwork is minted as an NFT, information proving its authenticity is built into its digital fingerprint, so to speak.
NFTs, which use the Ethereum blockchain, are each issued a unique serial number. You cannot trade one non-fungible token for another and expect them to be equal in value.
And these tokens can be worth millions of dollars.
NFTs began to skyrocket in 2021, as unique digital assets – often artwork, music, videos, in-game items, trading cards and so on – began to be valued as collectible items.
In March 2021, the first-ever tweet by Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey sold as an NFT in an auction for $2.9 million. The tweet, from 2006, said simply, “just setting up my twttr”. While not a literary masterpiece by any stretch, it is a one-of-a-kind digital collector’s item from a time before smartphones and social media were fully integrated into our daily lives.
Coming back to our fine art analogy, the owner of the original NFT retains copyright, guaranteeing a percentage of each transaction every time the token changes hands. So if the owner of Dorsey’s tweet sells it to someone else, Dorsey gets a residual percentage of future sales.
Can you buy an NFT of this article?