A Beginning But How? Art and NFT in The Digitalized World

Sinan Eren Erk

by Sinan Eren Erk

Published July 1, 2022

We have spent the last two years of our lives in the uneasiness and uncertainty created by the pandemic. While many sectors’ work style has been changing, our daily lives and ways of thinking have started to be filled with concepts that have settled in the upper steps of our importance with the epidemic. While we have not been able to properly explain how life begins, how protein synthesis develops and diversity, so the first steps of life, we have started to learn about RNA, mRNA, herd immunity, SARS and Covid-19 viruses, and even their delta, beta and omicron variants. Today, all kinds of information on this and similar subjects can be found easily anywhere at any time. However, everything is waiting to be understood while it is flowing at its usual speed for the person who is faced with the news on the web.

The pandemic that is spreading around the world and changing our habits is starting to enable us more focus on what’s happening to our environment. Thus, the days when we started to spend more time at home provided us to understand better how big the limits of this information universe we live in. One of the things caught in the web of our increasing curiosity in online media was the reflection of the changing world in art, especially for art professionals such as artists, curators, galleries, collectors and corporate executives, as well as for art lovers.

Art, Computers and the Web

The basis of the existence of art in digital media went back to the 1960s, when devices that could be counted as computers began to be used and gradually became widespread. The first exhibitions to bring together computer-generated images were Georg Nees: Computergrafik and Computer- Generated Pictures, opened respectively at the University of Stuttgart and Howard Wise Gallery1 in New York in 1965, a few years later Cybernetic Serendipity2 which opened at The Institute of Contemporary in London in 1968 that they were important examples of the digitization of art. On the one hand these large-scale exhibitions have paved the way for a new medium to be included in the art scene, but on the other hand they pioneered the recognition and spread of digital technologies. By the 90s, as the web infrastructure became more and more involved in our daily lives, online structures such as Turbulence.org and äda ‘web began to include artistic productions. However, the main breaking point came with the new millennium.

By the 90s, as the web infrastructure became more and more involved in our daily lives, online structures such as Turbulence.org and äda ‘web began to include artistic productions.

The year 2000 was the beginning of a time when computer technology would accelerate in terms of software and hardware. As the web swept the planet, microchips got smaller and the computer processing speed increased exponentially just as the information was produced and stored. The amount of data generated is now difficult to calculate with the spread of smartphones, the inclusion of many technologies such as virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), artificial intelligence (AI) and cloud, and the spread of social media platforms such as Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, Twitch, Tiktok. According to World Economic Forum datas3, 500 million tweets, 294 billion emails and 4 million gigabytes of Facebook digital data were just produced every day in 2021.

Does NFT Mean Cryptocurrency?

Now, data in countless areas is stored from banking transactions to our personal information in the digital environment. The security of data necessitated the emergence of important encryption systems. One of the most advanced forms of these safety nets is blockchain technology. Blockchain can be briefly described as the method in which all encrypted data within the network is continuously verified in a multi-center system. This technology is the infrastructure of cryptocurrencies, coins and altcoins such as Bitcoin and Ethereum today. The system makes the data within itself traceable, archiveable, controllable and verifiable by users; therefore, data are not lost and secured.4

This technology, which has become rapidly popular recently, has also made a great impact in the art environment and has led to the emergence of NFT. In realiy, NFT or Non- Fungible Token has a pretty descriptive name. Using blockchain technology, NFT differs from cryptocurrencies with this feature. While cryptocurrencies can be changed within themselves, NFT creates a unique data and thus becomes non-fungible but changeable. Therefore, the digital data of artworks (video, image, sound, text, video game, etc.) are secured and recorded by blockchain technology. Moreover, when these NFTs change hands, all legal and copyright issues that may arise as the transaction takes place in the digital environment are resolved.

The system makes the data within itself traceable, archiveable, controllable and verifiable by users; therefore, data are not lost and secured.4

Market Reaction to NFT

Due to these features, NFT soon consolidated its position in the field of art. Beeple’s Everydays: The First 5000 Days was the first NFT to be sold at an auction and was sold by Christie’s for $69.3 million in March 2021.5 Thus, Beeple became the “most expensive” living artist after David Hockney and Jeff Koons by Artprice’s 2021 report6. According to Artnet’s datas, a total of 3 NFT works were sold for more than 4 million dollars in the first half of 2021. The total sale price of works by Beeple, Larva Labs and Mad Dog Jones is around $91 million.7 Although still fairly new, NFT already seems to have caught up with the traditional art market. Considering Chainalysis data, the conventional art market had a volume of around $50 billion in 2020, while in 2021 just NFTs had a market cap of $41 billion.8 In January 2022, a museum, named the Seattle NFT Museum (SNFTM), dedicated only to NFT artifacts was opened in the USA, by Jennifer Wong and Peter Hamilton, who had previously served as tech company executives.

Not even a century has passed since the first computers appeared. However, the distance covered continues to increase at a dizzying pace. We are going to witness what all these will bring to the art scene. Although it is difficult to predict what direction this will take, it seems possible that the upcoming period will pave the way for major changes.