NFTs Are Shaking UP the Art World and May Do a Lot More
A bubble it may be, but many digital artists have lunged headlong into the craze.
By Andrew R. Chow
Just a few months ago, Jazmine Boykins was posting her artwork online for free. The 20-year-old digital artist’s dreamy animations of Black life were drawing plenty of likes, comments and shares, but not much income, aside from money she made selling swag with her designs between classes at North Carolina A&T State University.
But Boykins has recently been selling the same pieces for thousands of dollars each, thanks to an emerging technology upending the rules of digital ownership: NFTs, or non-fungible tokens. NFTs—digital tokens tied to assets that can be bought, sold and traded—are enabling artists like Boykins to profit from their work more easily than ever. “At first, I didn’t know if it was trustworthy or legit,” says Boykins, who goes by the online handle “BLACKSNEAKERS” and who has sold more than $60,000 in NFT art over the past six months. “But to see digital art being bought at these prices, it’s pretty astounding. It’s given me the courage to keep going.”
NFTs are having their big-bang moment: collectors and speculators have spent more than $200 million on an array of NFT-based artwork, memes and GIFs in the past month alone, according to market tracker NonFungible.com, compared with $250 million throughout all of 2020. And that was before the digital artist Mike Winkelmann, known as Beeple, sold a piece for a record-setting $69 million at famed auction house Christie’s on March 11—the third highest price ever fetched by any currently living artist, after Jeff Koons and David Hockney.At face value, the whole enterprise seems absurd: big-money collectors paying six to eight figures for works that can often be seen and shared online for free. Critics have dismissed the NFT art craze as just the latest bubble, akin to this year’s boom-and-bust mania around “meme stocks” like GameStop. The phenomenon is attracting a strange brew of not just artists and collectors, but also speculators looking to get rich off the latest fad.