How Art and Blockchains Come Together

tl;dr: One is a rare physical asset. The other is a provably rare digital asset.
Art and blockchains are destined for each other.

I am not an art collector, but the combination of art and blockchain long seemed like an obvious fit.

Art is designed to be a rare physical asset. Blockchain creates, stores, and securely transfers ownership of rare digital assets.

The challenge of getting a physical art object “on” a blockchain is real. After all, just because there’s a digital token that means you are the owner of a piece of art, doesn’t mean you can actually take physical ownership of that piece of art.

Start-ups like Mattereum are approaching this challenge. It’s sizable. After all, you have to deal with existing laws, norms, and regulations. They’ve done it with a $9m Stradivarius violin, so they are well on the way.

But I don’t want to talk about physical art today, I want to explore crypto-native digital art.

Non-Fungible Tokens

One of the most important moments in blockchain history was the launch of CryptoKitties. This was not only because it basically brought the Ethereum network to its knees, but because it was the first instance of a wide-scale deployment of what is known as a “non-fungible” token (NFT).

The founders of CryptoKitties, Dapper Labs, with whom I’ve had the pleasure to work for some months, had a unique insight.

This idea was that instead of every coin/token being the same (much like every dollar bill that you have is like every dollar bill that I have), there was a way to make it so that every coin/token was provably unique.

Known in technical parlance as the ERC-721 standard, this innovation unlocked an entirely new industry of “crypto-collectibles.” Rare digital assets which shared characteristics with rare physical assets.

Understanding Art on the Blockchain

This combination of

  • provable digital scarcity
  • provenance and anti-forgery
  • a way to provide monetization methods for artists
  • new ways for our relationship with art and how we engage with art is the

is at the heart of the excellent post, A Beginner’s Guide to Blockchain and Art by Evan Keast of Dapper Labs.

CryptoKitties was a sensation when it launched.

Within the realm of blockchain, it’s still a very popular game. My 11 year old daughter has played. There was an art installation about it at a museum in Germany. Seriously, it was a watershed moment.

As the on-ramps to crypto become easier, more and more people will play the game. Yet, the impact of CryptoKitties will probably be far bigger than the game itself.

It demonstrated the possibility of new forms of creative expression that are protected for both the creator and the owner.

When we think about which use cases will generate mainstream adoption, a case can be made for crypto-collectibles (NFTs).

NFTs are native to crypto and complement, rather than replace, the existing paradigm so it’s less of a threat.

For more, check out Arnold Waldstein’s great post on NFTs and “Impact Economies”. It offers a strong vision for this technology to create positive social change.

Bottom line: as Evan writes elegantly:

It’s the artists that apply technology in novel ways — poking and prodding and tracing the edges of its capabilities — all in the pursuit of better expressing themselves.

Often their experimentation shapes how these new technologies are adopted by mass audiences.

For this reason alone, it’s worth familiarizing yourself with some of the ideas in his post.

Here’s my experience in buying a CryptoKitty and here’s one of mine.

How Art and Blockchains Come Together was originally published in Data Driven Investor on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.