Earlier this month, Wazirx, India’s largest crypto exchange, announced the launch of their new NFT marketplace that is specifically dedicated to artists. NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, are the latest development in the world of blockchain—and they are providing the art world with a much-needed disruption. For crypto novices like me, non-fungible tokens are a type of currency that, by being non-fungible, can not be traded for another token—as in the case of bitcoin, for example. Each token has a specific unique value that makes it a viable alternative in the realm of monetary exchange. NFTs are rapidly making their way into the mainstream, with artists like Grimes selling $6 million worth of work through these tokens or Christie’s auctioning a digital collage by the artist Beeple for nearly $70 million.
For any artist that can produce—or reproduce—their work digitally, NFTs are an appealing solution to common problems surrounding ownership, replication and compensation. Every sale made using a non-fungible token guarantees the authenticity of the work since artists can sell their work directly using blockchain platforms. For many artists, regaining control over their own work is what drew them to the world of Cryptoart in the first place. “The myth of the starving artist needs to be rewritten. Every creator, artist and influencer has the right to showcase their IP with dignity and on a credible platform with legitimate buyers,” comments Vishakha Singh, an advisor to WazirX’s NFT marketplace.
Everydays: The First 5000 Days | Collage by Beeple, auctioned at Christie’s
Naturally, NFTs are not without problems. Most are powered by the blockchain Ethereum (this is how Paris Hilton sold her art for $17,000), which is proving to be very ecologically costly. CryptoArt.wtf, a database created to share information about the environmental and energy impact of crypto art and the NFT market, predicts a single-edition artwork on the Ethereum blockchain has a carbon footprint starting at 100KG CO2, which is equivalent to a one hour flight. Selling an art collection of more than 100 pieces—which is not uncommon—equates to a carbon footprint larger than the per capita annual footprint of someone living in the EU—including all emissions from industry and trade. There are, however, ways in which sellers and buyers can offset their footprint. One could offset their emissions by adopting lazyminting (producing the artwork only after it has been purchased), by creating bridges with other blockchains or replacing Ethereum with other marketplace platforms that expend less energy, such as KalaMint or Kodadot.
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There are other concerns present too. Khyati Trehan, an independent visual artist and senior communication designer at IDEO Munich, explains the concept of copyminting. “NFT collectors buy into provenance and authenticity when they bid on an artwork, but there’s nothing stopping infringers from downloading someone else’s digital art and minting an NFT to sell on platforms.” It is something she has experienced personally and found no actionable guidelines beyond sharing screenshots on social media or taking the heavy, long route of filing a DMCA notice or copyright infringement case. Still, she remains confident NFTs are helping expand an artist’s practice by opening up the creative potential for monetizing digital works’ virality, which currently only exists in metrics of shares, likes and views.
For many, the concept of Blockchain continues to remain confusing. Still, those within the industry know that India has always had a ripe digital art community, so it follows that there would be a huge interest in the Crypto art scene. As artists move from focusing on 3D art into new film and music spaces, what is required for Crypto art to flourish in India is an increasing interest by collectors— that Trehan tells me requires a risk-averse investment-friendly mindset. “As an artist that spends blood and sweat over personal work, the prospect of creating something more with that body of work is really exciting,” she says. Navigating the technicalities might remain bewildering for a while, but it is clear to me that NFTs are paving a way forward for many artists who might have previously been disenchanted with the traditional routes that have been available to them.