The talk surrounding the future of art is often focused on how digital technology like the iPhone and YouTube have democratized access and made it easier to be an artist. But there’s a gap — in order to make money off their work, artists need buyers. And until now, individual content creators haven’t had much luck getting those buyers through the internet alone.
True, YouTube cuts artists a share of the proceeds for hosting on its platform, but the platform owns all of the data about subscribers and has all the power to monetize it.
As Denis Quaid’s character Remy McSwain says in The Big Easy, “Your luck about to change.”
NFTs are being seized by creators as a tool to control ownership and sale of their work without needing a middleman to facilitate transactions.
“NFTs allow for more transparency and direct relationships with fans on the blockchain rather than traditional social media websites,” says Joan Westenberg, founder of Studio Self. “For creators like me, NFTs help build communities that support our work financially while also bringing us closer to our fans by making it easy for us to collaborate on projects together.”
NFTs are stored on the blockchain and have many benefits over traditional media because they are cryptographically secure and decentralized. Importantly, they cannot be deleted or changed by anyone other than the creator, making them scarce and immutable.
The basic technical details of creating an NFT follows the same pattern. Westenberg details them:
First, a user must generate a private key and public address. This is done through a wallet interface that allows users to store their data privately on the blockchain.
Next, they use their private key to hide parts of an image file. The user then stores the confidential data on the blockchain. Once the confidential data is stored, it becomes public and can be accessed anytime, like any other transaction or data stored by a public address.
She admits that NFTs can be challenging to grow as a creator tool because they come with the technical challenges of working on the blockchain. For example, NFTs don’t work well on mobile and wallets need to be compatible with regular and dApps (decentralized applications).
And since NFTs require the same infrastructure as other blockchain technologies, this means “running full nodes, downloading and syncing with blockchains, and potentially costly transactions due to gas fees,” — none of which Westenberg clarifies.
There is also an environmental cost to bitcoin mining which is not considered here.
The lack of documentation and tutorials for artists wanting to create NFTs are no help to the less technically minded artist, she says, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
“The ability for artists to take complete control of their careers through a mastery of the technical infrastructure that enables it is incredibly empowering and represents a barrier to entry that will block out scammers and poseurs.”
Perhaps NFTs should be part of the education curriculum, certainly at art schools and film schools.