“What the Heck Is Cryptoart?”

I get this question a lot. Here’s my crack at a nutshell answer.

Karen Frances Eng
The Startup
Published in
5 min readSep 2, 2020

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Emergence (2020) by @oculardelusion // NFT available in edition of 3 on KnownOrigin

On 1 January 2020, at the casual invitation of my friend Lenara, I jumped into the world of cryptoart. It’s since taken over much of my time, neatly dovetailing with — and keeping me insanely busy during—the global COVID crisis. But I’ll tell you my own story another time. The purpose of this post is to offer a quick and easy introduction to the concept of cryptoart.

Here’s as simple an explainer as I can muster. (For any cryptoartists reading this—this article is meant for the entirely uninitiated. Feel free to add what you think folks need to know in the comments.)

1.It’s a way of introducing scarcity and value to art in digital form. Imagine: Picasso paints a canvas and signs it. Because it is scarce and unique, this canvas is worth millions. Meanwhile, the same image recreated as a limited-edition fine art print is less valuable, a postcard in the gift shop even less, and endless reproductions of the image on the internet obtainable for free.

Digital art is endlessly multipliable without loss of quality. Cryptoart works by adding a unique and indelible signature to a digital file, called tokenizing” or “minting” it on the blockchain — a technology that acts like a permanent ledger or registry distributed across many computers instead of a central one. This non-fungible token (aka NFT) represents a value of scarcity for the associated artwork. The token holder can enjoy that value or sell or gift it to someone else, but only those who hold the token can “own” that particular blockchain-signed artwork, even as unsigned copies are free to circulate. The artist retains copyright.

The market for cryptoart has been growing quickly. Tokenized artworks are traded in cryptocurrency, which can be converted to normal currency like dollars or Euro—what crypto users call “fiat.”*

2. It’s bringing together communities of artists from all over the globe — even during, and maybe because of, the pandemic. For some, this is the first time people who have made art on their own have found community. Artists in crypto are from all over the world and communicate and gather constantly in virtual meeting spaces (the Metaverse) — including a Minecraft-like…

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Karen Frances Eng
The Startup

organic unidirectional time machine // writer + artist // aka oculardelusion // karenfranceseng.com