Is art moving online – the use of NFTs.

Author: Aaron Green LLB CIPD, Operations Manager.

“Charlie Bit My Finger” – didn’t’ we all laugh at the Youtube clip of the Davies-Carr brothers hijinks in 2007. (yes that long ago!) This 55 second video has been viewed 878 million times – so why has it just sold for £500,000 if everyone has already seen it online?  

Whilst we may all have seen the digital copy of the video, we do not own it. That honour belongs to the anonymous bidder who forked out £538,000 for it at auction – causing it to be removed from Youtube. So does that mean no more Charlie bit my finger? Well the answer to that is no – it is still available in digital format and can still be viewed by anybody who has a link to it.  

The new owner of “Charlie Bit My Finger” owns the artwork in NFT format – NFT stands for non-fungible token and is a digital asset that represents a real object. It is similar to crypto-currency and uses the same encryption methods but cannot be transferred for another NFT (hence the non-fungible) – so “Charlie Bit My Finger” cannot be transferred for the first tweet (which sold for £3million) even though they are both NFTs. They can, however, be traded on markets and exchanged for cash or (more regularly) crypto-currency.  

In the old-days, an art collector would go to a gallery, select the art that they wanted, pay the gallery and hang the art work at home or in a vault, hoping that they would increase in value over time. The art gallery would take a (sometimes) huge commission and pass the rest on to the artist. It was a simple exchange – one bit of artwork for money. The creator of the piece was clear as was the current owner of the piece. Digitising artwork has changed that. Art dealers and collectors across the world are queuing up to buy NFTs and artists are jumping on the bandwagon to sell their work.  

NFTs represent a fundamental shift in owning art – and it is a big business. £123 million has been spent on NFTs since November 2017 and there have been some massive purchases of artwork – Everydays, for example, sold for £50million despite being freely available online – that’s £33.2million more than Banksy’s Game Changer, but is there really a difference? You can download a print of Game Changer, or Monet or Van Gough just as you can Everydays but you don’t own it. It’s in the owning that the difference is – an NFT almost seems intangible, whereas having a Banksy hanging on your mantlepiece is most definitely tangible.  

But isn’t everything moving to an intangible system anyway? We no longer use tangible cash but instead use electronic devices to make payment – sometimes even not in tangible currency. We no longer rely on tangible assets to improve our lifestyle such as a big salary, but instead prefer intangible benefits such as training, flexible working etc. so is life imitating art or is art imitating life? It’s probably a mixture of the two with NFTs being the next “advancement” in arts and the art world adapting to NFT technology.  

Whatever the case is, should anyone wish to purchase the NFT for this article, by all means get in touch!