In an ordinary world, if an artwork auctioned at the prestigious Christie’s for a whopping $69 Million, made it to the news headlines, one would assume it’s for a grand canvas, making its debut in the elite world of art dealership. Except, it’s not. This headline is attributed to a digital image Everydays: The First 5000 Days, created by Beeple, also known as Beeple Crap — a renowned digital artist. So, what’s so unique about this digital collage, that you could easily pass as a screenshot on a webpage or while scrolling through the ‘gram? Yes, it’s a collage of a highly-established digital artist’s graphic design pieces, collated over the years, but the fact still remains that it is a single digital file. Here’s the catch. It’s not just any digital file. It’s an exclusive piece of digital artwork, which is verified as an original piece, in a similar way that fine art paintings have traditionally been validated. It’s a digital work with a unique NFT — a non-fungible token, which stands as a marker for the digital file’s authenticity.
In a highly-digitised modern society, where the World Wide Web has been seamlessly integrated with ground realities and the lines between virtual and in-person are blurring by the day, it may come as a shock to some people that digital artworks and modern graphics have been unrecognised as ‘original’ pieces of creation, until recently. While the others, who fall into the category of tech-cynics, may argue that this is yet another way of ‘web sabotage’, where the virtual world is trying to replace the hard-earned place of immortalised artists who’ve spent a considerable span of their lives creating original hand-crafted artworks.
But whether you’re a friend or foe of technology, in both cases, it’s worth wrapping your head around the concept of NFTs for one simple reason — it’s potential to revolutionise the content you consume on a daily basis, almost in a taken-for-granted manner, dismantling the intellectual property measured by facets of time, effort, originality and creativity, attributed to digital artists creating for the web. So, how do these digital tokens, akin to certificates of verified ownership for digital files, actually work, and how are they altering the ground realities for artists? We speak to a Dubai-based digital artist and graphic designer, Gigi Gorlova, who recently sold her 3D artwork as NFTs, becoming one of the first digital designers in the UAE to become a crypto-verified artist.
A graphic designer by profession, Gigi has over 12 years of experience, making digital graphics for a wealth of organisations in the corporate sector. “Digital graphics have been my bread and butter ever since I graduated university. But it has always been for corporate clients. As a creative person, you kind of feel trapped in the corporate space. So, crypto art has been my saviour. I get to express myself through the artwork I feel inspired to create, while earning money from it,” says Gigi, who deep-dove into the realm of 3D art and subsequently, crypto art during the lockdown last year. “Last year, with so much free time in my hand, I finally got a chance to ask myself what I really wanted to do, going forward. I had always been interested in learning 3D design and sculpting, so last year, I decided to teach it to myself, through the help of YouTube videos and online courses. There’s a plethora of resources available online, like Ducky 3D on YouTube, which facilitate this learning,” adds the British artist, who stumbled upon the concept of NFTs, while learning 3D art. “It seemed like a natural progression for my field of work. So, I decided to take the plunge and see if my art could actually make some money, through NFTs.”
The 3D artist defines NFTs as the key differentiators for digital files, including digital artwork. “The main attribute of an NFT is its ability to verify an original piece of work, through coding and blockchain encryption. Similar to how you know the difference between a real Monet painting and the copy.”
While the industry continues to get accustomed to the latest buzzwords in the art world, the crypto artist highlights the prominent difference between crypto art and NFTs. “Crypto art is in the form of an image file, which can be a painting, 3D art, illustration, architectural blueprint or a photograph. Whereas NFTs can be any digital file, like music, video game or even a photograph of an original piece of art, resold as a digital copy, with unique ownership,” adds Gigi, identifying NFTs as a prime opportunity for photographers to monetise their work as well as opening up a wealth of avenues for other disciplines. “Some of my friends in this industry are fine-artists, so they create the painting, digitalise it and turn it into an NFT, then destroy the original physical artwork, passing on the attribution of ‘original artwork’ to the digital copy.”
According to the digital artist, NFTs can offer revolutionary benefits when it comes to advocating for artists’ rights, not only bringing in due legislation in the digitalscape, but also through bridging the divide between traditional and modern art forms. “Having been to an art school, I felt that digital art was often pigeonholed as technical, rather than creative, limited to 3D printing or architectural and interior design. It was always segregated from traditional fine art.” NFTs, then, become a fundamental way to pierce through these demarcations, bringing digital art to the forefront of the creative industry.
“For the first time in history, I’m able to sell my digital artwork as an original piece of art. Digital art is now a part of the art world. In the past, it would have been almost impossible for a digital or 3D artist to be able to showcase their work in a gallery but now NFTs have created value for digital artists, bringing an opportunity to exhibit in galleries,” exclaims Gigi.
In an otherwise web-savvy world, digital artists have often been marginalised, when it comes to monetising and having ownership of their work. “In the social media world, it’s so easy to reuse an artwork or screenshot an image and copy and paste it somewhere, without giving credit to the designer and that’s what NFTs can change. People will now be able to verify the original file and know who it belongs to due to the digital certificate,” adds the 3D artist.
“In the past when an artist sold their work, they would not be able to benefit from the profit made from the resell chain. But with NFTs, every time a piece of art is resold, the original creator of that NFT gets a royalty, which is usually 10 per cent, but you can change that value while minting your NFT,” explains Gigi, highlighting the barrage of advantages this new way of art dealership offers, to budding graphic designers and artists.
NFTs, rooted in the blockchain system, ironically face the same scepticism once met by cryptocurrencies, for revolutionarily decentralising world currency. When asked if NFTs can be a potential medium of decentralising art networks in a similar way, Gigi pointed out, “Earlier, it would take established, often segregated platforms like Christie’s auction, to give value to an art piece. But now, it’s really up to the public and how much they’re willing to pay for an artwork based on how unique or rare they think it is. The way that Beeple and CryptoPunks are able to mint their artworks now is unparalleled to how conventional auctions have sold pieces.”
As in the case of historic revolutions, NFTs too come with a fair share of apprehensions and reluctance, when it comes to the general sentiment within the art world. There’s a predominant fear that NFTs may create a sort of ‘art bubble’, leading to creative destruction. The artist, whose 3D art is inspired from the works of Salvador Dalí, René Magritte and contemporary artists like Damien Hirst, also acknowledges the potential repercussions that NFTs might have, while shaping the future of art. “Just like all trends, this might also be reduced to a method to make quick money, rather than being a way to give noteworthy pieces of digital art their due. And since it’s such a new field, there’s not a lot of data and regulation around the use of NFTs, to monitor any loopholes or exploitation that may happen as a result of selling and reselling online artworks,” says Gigi.
Pondering over the impact the rise of NFTs might have in the local art market in Dubai, the British graphic designer also adds, “I think there are so many phenomenal digital artists in this region, doing some really inspiring work. And Dubai has always welcomed new technologies. So, I feel like the next step should be to bring the digital artists together, under one roof, to work with the art galleries here and organise interactive exhibitions that facilitate and celebrate digital art,” the crypto artist signs off.
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