It’s so easy to acquire digital art that many people, even professionals working on corporate design, tend to think of it as ownerless. Or at least valueless. After all, if a file can be infinitely replicated, how can it be owned?
But digital art has rights of ownership and rights of replication, just like art on more traditional media. Copyright law hasn’t yet caught up to digital reality—that much is quite clear. Every time you post a meme to Twitter or upload a photo from MoMA as your Facebook profile banner, you’re technically violating someone’s copyright.
Some digital artists have found another way to make sure their creation is unique, and that it stays that way. Using the same blockchain technology as Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, a digital file can be made not only unique, but non-replicable.
This new field of unique digital art is called crypto-art, or sometimes NFT-Art (Non-fungible token). And BEEPLE is, so far, its greatest success.
BEEPLE is the professional name of the digital artist Mike Winkelmann, and buying a piece of his crypto-art right now is a little like buying the very first painting in existence or an original of history’s first book.
In 2020, a Florida art collector bought a 10-second video by the artist for $67,000. In February 2021, that collector sold the same video for $6.6 million, making it the most expensive work of digitally created art ever sold. And it wasn’t a copy, like it would be if you downloaded a video from YouTube and then emailed it to your aunt. It was precisely the same file, verified by the attached blockchain code.
Another piece of crypto-art by BEEPLE, a collage of over 5000 photos, is currently for auction by Christie’s. Bidding is not complete, but as of the time of this writing, it has reached $3 million.