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NonFungible Tokens


Non Fungible Tokens

Recently an artist named Beeple sold a digital collage for $69 million. I make digital art. One of the characteristics of digital art is that you can make as many copies as you want. Making copies is almost literally costless and the copies are literally indistinguishable from the original. That kind of limits the value. Here in Second Life I can sell things that supposedly can't be copied or even transferred to a new owner. But I don't know how to do that with digital image files.

Along come non-fungible tokens. I don't really understand the tech yet, but you can attach a digital file to an NFT. The NFT certifies that you are the owner of the file. You can transfer the NFT to another person but you can't copy it. This supposedly makes the file into something that you can sell to collectors for high prices. Now this assumes that there are collectors willing to pay a high price to be the 'owner' of an image but that's another issue :-)

I've encountered the issue before; when I was a printmaker in a co-op studio. Printing is a process that makes many copies of an image. I've run printing presses making business cards. I could make 10s of thousands of copies of images every day. This was lithography and I used lightweight aluminum plates on an electric press. A hundred years ago lithography was a very different beast involving heavy slabs of limestone, amd drawing, and chemical processes. A skilled printer might pull a couple of dozen impressions in a day. When commercial printing shifted to aluminum plates and automatic presses artists found that lithography (on stones) was actually a wonderful artistic medium.

There are an amazing array of creative capabilities available. Many famous artists like Picasso worked in the medium.

I've made prints for a few famous artists myself. They'd draw the image and I knew how to print it. The art world deals with collectors who look for rare items. There is an element of aesthetics in art of course but collectible art is where the big bucks are.

So the art world rebranded hand lithography as printmaking and printmakers made 'original prints' .to distinguish from 'posters' which were mass produced by the thousands. I observed that a well printed poster has the same aesthetic value as an original print because they look the same, but the poster might sell for $10 while the original print might sell for $1000. To further enhance collectibility each original print was numbered and the size of the edition was noted and each was signed by the artist. I came to the studio after working in the printing industry for decades. I could walk into a printshop and treat it as a medium of artistic expression. I even got to do it a few times. And I could make thousands of copies. At the co-op studio I was writing about this for the newsletter. I started a series of articles proposing that we explore media like printing presses and photocopiers to develop a new model for selling art. Instead of having limited editions of 10 prints that sell at $1000 each let's make press runs of a thousand that sell for $10 each. That idea went over like a lead balloon - the president of the co-op even refused to let me publish the final article of my series.

t the time a wonderful artist named Robert Bateman was doing just that. He used modern tech to produce original prints in editions of !500, each hand signed and numbered by the artist. He was anathema among printmakers.

Non-fungible tokens make a digital artwork rare and therefore collectible. NFTs do provide an interesting feature that I've long thought should be normal in the art world but could never figure out how to do it. Imagine that you sell a picture for $100 and later it sells for $10000. All the artist gets is the original $100. I thought it would be great if a portion of the $10000 would go to the original artist. NFTs actually enable that. When you create it you can specify a percentage of subsequent sales that will come to you.

I can't imagine paying $69 million to be the 'owner' of an artwork of any sort, but it happens Fine with me - glad the collector has the spare cash and glad the artist got it. I like Beeple's '5000 Everydays'. It's art that's right up my alley - reiteration of an idea. But let's not confuse collectibility value with aesthetic value - can the aesthetic value of anything be that high?

What do you think?

Star I present regular philosophy discussions in a virtual reality called Second Life. I set a topic and people come as avatars and sit around a virtual table to discuss it. Each week I write a short essay to set the topic. I show a selection of them here.

I've been thinking and reading about philosophy for a long time but I'm mostly self taught. That is I've had the good fortune to read what interests me rather than follow a course of study. That has it's limits of course but advantages. It doesn't cost as much and is fun too.

My interests are things like evolution and cognition and social issues and economics and science in general.