Non-fungible tokens could help artists make a living

I didn’t realize that my art was non-fungible but that was because I didn’t know what the word fungible meant. Until recently, fungible was rarely used outside legal circles.

image: Decrypt

Now, non-fungible tokens (NFTs) have become all the rage.

Fungible things can be exchanged for something else of the same kind: they are equivalent. A twenty dollar bill is fungible because it can be exchanged for a ten and two fives. A house is not fungible because you can’t exchange it for a garage and two sheds. They are not equivalent.

My art is non-fungible. One of my acrylic paintings can’t be exchanged for a charcoal sketch and two plastic-fork mobiles.

Tokens that are non-fungible raise the level of abstraction beyond that of abstract art.

A non-fungible token is entirely virtual. It’s a bit of information stored on a blockchain, the same technology used to record cryptocurrencies. Blockchains can be used to store indelible records about almost anything, from the grocery store produce in as it moves through the supply chain to medical records.

And digital art can be stored as a token using blockchain -a record of provenance that establishes ownership and authenticity.

Artists are reaping the rewards of the craze. Michah Dowbak from Thunder Bay, Ontario, never heard of NFTs or digital art a year ago. Dowbak, who goes by the name Mad Dog Jones, recently sold a piece of digital art for US$ 4.3 million. He was stunned at the sale:

“How do you describe making $4-million in five minutes?” Dowbak said a few days afterward. “My hands were numb, for one. I couldn’t feel my fingertips. My whole body was shaking.”

Even the old-school auction house, Christie’s, is riding the wave. It sold a work by the digital artist known as Beeple for US$69 million.

Making a living as an artist has always been a struggle. I wanted to become a commercial artist when I left high school but I quickly learned that would be tough.

After working for a year as an arts and crafts instructor for the City of Edmonton in after-school programs, it became clear that I needed to develop another career path.  That’s when I decided to study electronics and it became the story of my life.

I’ve never stopped being an artist. But because I don’t have to make a living from art, I exchange my art for donations to charity.

For artists who immerse themselves in their art, making a living is hard; especially when they are unknown.

NFTs could help artists bypass the middlemen -the galleries and agents who take a cut of sales- and allow artists to market their work directly to buyers.

NFTs could solve another problem that struggling artists face: resale. Artists often sell their work to art speculators for very little. Then the speculators sell the art for many times more than what they paid. NFT contracts could include a clause that requires a percentage of the resale price go to the artist.

With a background in art and technology, I take some satisfaction in seeing this marriage of art and NFTs. As a teenager, little did I know that technology could lead to digital art and that digital art could be owned exclusively as a token.