How will blockchain redefine art?

Jul 25, 2018 · 5 min read

Blockchain technology will impact art and the art industry. But what’s even more interesting is how it promises to reshape our relationship with art.

Digital scarcity embeds new value in virtual assets and redefines the idea of ownership — ultimately redefining how we engage, understand, and value digital art.

The interactivity and extensibility of tokens offer new avenues to create art and enable it to permeate our lives in unprecedented ways.

Blockchain and art are already growing intertwined, and that’s no surprise. Artists often appear at the forefront of emerging technologies, and blockchain is no different.

Creative Commons, one stream of the annual TNW Conference held in Amsterdam, focuses on the intersection of art and technology — right up our alley. We sent CryptoKitties founding team member, Bryce Bladon, to the conference to share the ways we think blockchain will reshape art.

Artists lead the way with new technology

CryptoKitties, our cryptocollectibles game, has one paw in blockchain and one in art, so, naturally, we’ve thought quite a bit about what blockchain means for the future of art.

Many mainstream audiences assume blockchain’s only use is for cryptocurrency. We created CryptoKitties to dispel that myth. Over $24M USD in transactions and hundreds of thousands of cats (and users) later, we’re well on our way. Much of the game’s success depended on the consistently top-notch quality of the Kitties’ artwork.

Whether it’s using earth pigments to scrawl figures on a cave wall, distributing the written word via the printing press, or painting images with light through the invention of the camera, artists are often the earliest adopters of emerging technology and mediums. Wherever you find a new tool or technology, you’re going to find artists fooling around with it.

How art changed in the digital age

Artists have suffered in the digital age. At the outset of the internet, the ownership and distribution of digital art quickly became a major headache. Scarcity was impossible: digital works, whether an image, song, film, or whatever else, were easy to copy and circulate. Artists were helpless to protect their work, and with no way to prevent piracy or prove ownership, the value of digital artworks plummeted. Legacy players like the RIAA made the situation worse by making piracy more user friendly than officially endorsed solutions.

Consider this situation from the 1990s and how we currently find and consume digital art. The majority of cases see streaming as the main way to engage: for less than the price of a CD, you have access to hundreds of thousands of hours of content via Spotify. Of course, you don’t actually own any of this content, and unless you’re Taylor Swift, artists aren’t making much of anything from being streamed. The only real winners are the giant authorities that act as the gateway to this content.

Let’s move on to art, drugs, and what they have in common

Fun fact: the art world is one of the largest unregulated markets on Earth, second only to illegal drugs. That means buying and selling art can be a risky enterprise, and many an embarrassed collector has invested a fortune in a convincing knockoff. In the traditional art market middle men (galleries and brokers) hold the power and independent artists have a tough time protecting themselves and their work.

But blockchain, which makes digital scarcity possible and provenance easy to prove, has solved these problems. Blockchain makes it simple to thwart forgery; by tracing a work’s history from the final brushstroke to its most recent purchase, it declaws copycats and protects buyers and creators alike.

This newly-possible scarcity also drives sales. Now artists can release single or limited editions of their work, which are much more valuable to collectors. Plus, decentralization enables new ways to distribute those works, taking the power from middlemen and returning it to the people actually making the art.

Why does all this matter? Well, art captures the essence of a time and place; the decentralized and immutable nature of blockchain technology means that these stories will last forever and cannot be censored or corrupted.

Art on the blockchain, easy as PIE

We like to sum up blockchain’s contributions to the art world with a handy (and delicious) acronym: PIE. That’s personalization, interactivity, and extensibility:

  • Digital assets empower users to find unique, one-of-a-kind art that perfectly encapsulates who they are. Like our Kitties, which, at 17-billion possible genetic combinations, offer the perfect cat for just about anyone. You can breed and customize the perfect Kitty for you.
  • Your digital art need not just live on a wall, either, but can integrate into other experiences. It can follow you into a video game, interact with you in a VR or AR setting, or engage in entirely new experiences being developed as we speak. It’s the core of the KittyVerse, where third-party developers use CryptoKitties as the base for engaging player experiences.
  • Developers are always inventing new things to do with your digital assets. As time goes on and you can do more with them, they’ll grow ever more valuable. Check out CryptoGoods to see a use case where your assets can be added to mugs, t-shirts, or even socks!

Our Nifty License is all about the artist

As a step towards this promised land, we’ve recently launched the Nifty License, a resource that demystifies the ownership rights of ERC-721 tokens (also known as NFTs, or “Nifty” — see what we did there?) when it comes to things like art. Essentially, it allows any cryptocollectible project to take the foundation we’ve laid and build upon it.

We’re still improving the license based on community feedback. It’s intended to be a collaborative, public, and iterative process resulting in a shared foundation everyone can use. Much like the blockchain, as time goes on the Nifty License will only get better.


If you want to see the full video of Bryce’s talk, it’s over here. Keep your eye out for CryptoKitty attendees at your local conferences, workshops, and hackathons.

And, if you haven’t yet, why not sign up for CryptoKitties and get your first piece of cryptoart?

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