“What the Heck Is Cryptoart?”

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

Karen Frances Eng
Sep 2, 2020 · 5 min read
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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.)

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

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 virtual world called Cryptovoxels, which is entirely dedicated to art. The space is wide open to anyone who’s willing to jump in, learn, and try out new things. Conversations are cropping up in virtual locations like Cent (a Facebook-like social media blogging platform on the blockchain), in virtual conferences over Instagram Live, Twitch, and Crowdcast, and on messaging apps like Discord and Telegram.

3. It’s a way of rethinking art and art economies. The artists drawn to this platform tend to have strong ideas about overturning traditional economies of art. Example: Dada.art experiments in collaborative artmaking and a financial mechanism to reward effort and cooperation. Rethinking value and economics in the art space strikes me as being the vanguard of rethinking the fundamentals of our current systems of value and reward, and their social implications.

4. It’s pioneering new aesthetics and seems to be a movement in its own right. The range of art is fascinating, too. The space attracts people working in generative art, digital illustration, glitch/gif art, video collage, AI art, and most recently artworks made in VR. (To see one of my many adventures in digital art mashup, read “The odyssey of a Pink Dress in Pixels”.) The space is wide open for experimentation, and it’s a good way to see what kinds of art people are making, and a good place to swap skills and support. There’s a sense of excitement as people communicate and churn out artwork — maybe like the spirit of the Dada movement of the early 20th century. I also feel cryptoart has a kinship with the Mail art and DIY zine movements, as one of its core values is to democratize artmaking.

While all this is exciting, and it is possible to make an income, it’s not the easiest thing to get started. This is all so new that there’s very little documentation on how to get set up (or any documentation tends to become obsolete almost instantly because things change at a breathtaking pace) — so be prepared to be patient, to be willing to ask for help from strangers, to put in lots of time to learn, and to have an attitude of openness and reciprocity.

Two more caveats. While the cryptoart community is generally welcoming and supportive to newcomers, it is also afflicted with trollers and loud, competitive characters with sometimes reactionary, sometimes offensive stances. It’s still the internet, after all! Try to stay out of the line of fire, and instead look for people you can respect and trust. Active cryptoart communities and discussions abound on Telegram, Discord, and Twitter.

Secondly, at the time of writing, the transaction fees charged for every piece tokenized, sold, or gifted (known as “gas”) have exploded in the last few weeks, with brief periods of coming back down to a reasonable rate. This has profoundly affected artists, and makes this an awkward time to get on board. Various members of the community are looking for a solution to this problem, though, so stay tuned.

I might post a primer on how to get started in the future. Meanwhile, here are a few resources to explore.


How to explain cryptoart to your mother-in-law by Lenara Verle

Rare digital ownership – rare digital art market by Lenara Verle

What is Cryptoart? by Artnome

History of Cryptoart — a handy timeline

Cryptoartnet: A directory of cryptoartists—explore the breathtaking variety of talent out there!

A good overview for the general public. Podcast: “What is blockchain and how might it transform the arts into a more equitable space?Goethe Institute (added 5 November 2020)

Uncurated platforms for buying and selling cryptoart:

Get yourself an Ethereum wallet and start buying and selling digital creations!

Curated platforms for buying and selling cryptoart:

Blockchain Art Exchange

Online virtual worlds populated by cryptoartists:
Cryptovoxels (Just plug in and explore! You’ll need a wallet for full functionality.)

Open cryptoart communities where conversations are happening:
ArtProject Decentralized — a very busy Telegram chat
Cent.co—a social media site like Facebook but populated by cryptoartists and powered by Ethereum

*This tokenized NFT art is what I’m talking about when I say cryptoart, for the purposes of this article. There is no universal agreement on what constitutes cryptoart — but I won’t get into all those arguments here.

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>>> Visit my cryptoart links via Cryptoartnet and keep up with my collective at 105collective.uk. My most current site is at KnownOrigin, and you can follow me on Twitter/Instagram @oculardelusion.>>>

Thanks to Lenara Verle and Sparrow Read for feedback and fact check on this piece.

The Startup

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Karen Frances Eng

Written by

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

The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +754K people. Follow to join our community.

Karen Frances Eng

Written by

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

The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +754K people. Follow to join our community.

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