Own digital art – O’Reilly

It would be hard to miss the hustle and bustle around Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs). Non-fungible tokens are, at first approximation, purchased digital goods that exist on a blockchain. At this point, NFTs exist on the Ethereum blockchain, but there is no reason why they cannot be implemented on others; it seems reasonably likely that specialized blockchains will be built for NFTs.

What Kinds of Value Do NFTs Create? It has certainly been claimed that they are creating a market for digital art, that digital artists can now be “paid” for their work. Wikipedia points to a number of other possible uses: they could also be used to represent other collectibles (a digital equivalent of baseball trading cards), or to represent assets in online games, or even for represent actions in a real world athlete’s contract. – or a part in the body of an athlete. Of course, there is a secondary market in the NFT business, just as a collector might sell a work of art from a collection.

Learn faster. Dig deeper. To see further.

All of these transactions are based on the idea that a TVN establishes the “provenance” of a digital object. Who does it belong to? Who owned it before? Who created it? Which of the many copies is “the original”? These are important questions for many precious and unique physical objects: works of art, historical documents, antiques and even real estate. NFTs present the possibility of bringing “ownership” to the virtual world: who owns a tweet? Who owns a jpeg, gif or png file?

Whether or not you think ownership of virtual objects is important, keep in mind that digital objects are almost meaningless if they are not copied. If you don’t see a png or jpg in your browser, it might as well be hung on a museum wall. And it is worth talking about it, because the language of “provenance” comes directly from the museum world. If I have a painting, say a Rembrandt, its provenance is the history of its ownership, ideally tracing it back to its original source.

The provenance of a work of art serves two purposes: academic and commercial. Provenance matters academically because it lets you believe you’re studying the right thing: a real Rembrandt, not a copy (copying famous paintings is a time-honored part of a painter’s training, in addition to a counterfeit opportunity), or something that looks like Rembrandt, but isn’t (“hey, dark, depressing Dutch paintings are pretty cool; maybe I can make one”).

Commercially, provenance allows works of art to become extremely expensive. This allows them to become fetishized objects of immense value, at least for collectors. Especially to collectors: “Hey, my Rembrandt, worth more than your Vermeer. It is much more difficult to bid for a painting in the millions if you are not sure where it came from.

TVNs allow the commercial function of origin; they allow @jack’s first tweet to become a fetishized item worth millions, at least until people decide there’s something else they’d rather pay. They establish a playground for the ultra-rich; if you have so much money that you don’t care how you spend it, why not buy Jack’s first tweet? You don’t even have to stick it to the wall and look at those old Dutch, or worry about burglar alarms. (You have a good password, don’t you?)

But I think it’s not worth much. What about the academic function? It’s helpful to study the early days of Twitter, possibly including @jack’s first tweet. But what exactly is NFT showing me? That these are really Jack’s pieces? Certainly not; who knows (whatever) what happened to the 0’s and 1’s that originally lived on Jack’s laptop and Twitter’s servers? Even if the original bits still existed, they wouldn’t make sense – a lot of people have, or have had, the same set of bits on their computers. As any programmer knows, equality and identity are not the same. In this case, equality is important (did @jack write?); identity is not.

However, an NFT does not certify that the tweet is what @Jack actually said. An NFT is only about a bunch of bits, not what the creator (or someone else) says about the bits. @Jack could easily be wrong or dishonest (in literature we deal all the time with writers who want to change what they “said” or what they meant by what they said). Our beliefs about the content of @jack’s first tweet have everything to do with our beliefs on @jack and Twitter (where you can always find it), and nothing to do with the NFT.

A tweet is one thing; what about a digital work of art? Does a TVN establish the provenance of a digital work of art? It depends on what is meant by “the provenance of a digital work of art”. A copy of a Rembrandt is always a copy, which means that it is not the artefact created by Rembrandt. There are all kinds of techniques, from very low to very high tech, to make the connection between the artist and the work of art. These techniques do not make sense in the digital world, which eliminates noise, eliminates errors in copying. So why should I worry if my copy of the songs isn’t the artist’s original? The artist’s pieces are not “the original” either. This kind of originality doesn’t make sense in the digital world: has the artist ever restored from a backup? Was the artwork never swapped to disk and then reinstalled?

What “originality” really means is “this is the unique product of my mind”. We can ask a number of questions about what this might mean, but let’s keep it simple. Whatever this statement means, it is not a statement that an NFT or blockchain has any bearing on. We have already seen cases of people creating NFTs for the work of other people, and therefore “owning” them. Is this an intellectual property theft or a full-fledged form of meta-art? (One of my favorite avant-garde piano compositions has the instructions “The performer should prepare any composition and then perform it to the best of his ability.”)

So what kind of statement about the originality, uniqueness, or authorship of a work of art might be made by an NFT? Beeple, who sold an NFT titled “Everydays: The First 5000 Days” for over $ 69 million, says the NFT is not about copyright ownership: “You can display the token and show that you own the token, but you don’t own the copyright. I assume Beeple still owns the copyright to his work, does that mean he can resell it? NFT usually doesn’t include not the bits that make up the artwork (I think this is possible, but only for very small items); like @jonty points out, what the NFT actually contains is not the work, but a URL, a link. This URL points to a resource (a JSON metadata file or an IPFS hash) that most likely resides on a server operated by a startup. And this resource points to work. If that link becomes invalid (for example, if the startup goes bankrupt), then all that you “own” is an invalid link. A 404.

Some of these problems can be solved; some are not. The bottom line, however, is that the connection between a creator and a work of art cannot be made through cryptographic checksums.

So are NFTs creating a market for works of art that did not exist before? Perhaps – even if what is bought and sold is not the actual work (which remains infinitely and perfectly reproducible), or even the right to reproduce the work (copyright), I fail to see in what this really benefits artists, or even how it changes the image a lot. Guess it’s kind of 21st century sponsorship where someone rich gives an artist some money to be an artist (or gives Jack Dorsey money to be @jack). As a patronage, it looks more like Prince Esterhazy than Patreon. A few artists will make money, maybe even more than they otherwise would, as I see no reason why you can’t sell the work itself in addition to the NFT. Or sell multiple NFTs referencing the same job. But most will not. The irreducible problem with being an artist – whether a musician, painter or sculptor, whether the medium is digital or physical – is that there are more people who want the work than people who are willing to pay.

In the end, what do NFTs create? Some sort of digital fetish around bit possession, but maybe not much else. An NFT shows that you are able to spend money on something, without involving the “something” itself. As Beeple says, “you can display the token”. It is conspicuous consumption in perhaps its purest form. It’s like buying jewelry and framing the receipt. That an explosion in conspicuous consumption is occurring at this point in history is not surprising. The tech community is teeming with wealth: the wealth of unicorn startups that will never make a dime of profit, the wealth of cryptocurrencies that are very difficult to use to buy or sell anything. What’s the value of being rich if you can’t show it? How do you show something during a socially distanced pandemic? And if all you’re interested in is showing off your wealth, NFT is where the real value lies, not in the artwork. You can buy, sell, or trade them just like baseball cards. Do not confuse an NFT with a “property” in anything other than the NFT itself.

Banksy’s self-destructive artwork was much more relevant. Unlike Banksy’s many public murals, which anyone can enjoy for free, this painting shredded as soon as it was bought at auction. Buying it destroyed it.

Source link