Why are we talking about NFTs?

Are NFTs good or bad for the art world? Is it money or art ... or is it the art of making money?


We are here talking about NFTs because, all of a sudden, the art world has been shaken up by this new form of art collecting. We see artists making big bucks when they turn their art into NFTs. But how do they do this, and why do they choose to do it? Is this wave an everlasting one or are we just waiting for the trend to pass?

When we talk about NFTs, will it always be about the money?

We know that an NFT can be sold for up to US$91.8mil – there is actually no limit for how much they can fetch. US$91.8mil was exactly how much anonymous digital artist Pak made when he sold his digital artwork, The Merge, in late 2021 on Nifty Gateway, a leading NFT marketplace.

But that’s international news. You can make big bucks as an artist on a non-Malaysian platform, so what else is new?

How about this?  A locally-made artwork, Rusuk Emas, by Malaysian artist Sue Anna Joe made waves as the most expensive NFT on Malaysia’s first NFT Marketplace, Pentas, when it was sold for RM52,000.

Sue Anna Joe had been doing art for a while before the NFT boom. A multimedia artist doing digital and physical illustrations and paintings, she promoted her work on social media, mostly on Twitter. Once Pentas came on to the stage, she joined the wave. It was good for her, and at least for now, she has since rebranded herself as a full-time NFT artist. 

Has the traditional art collecting method and commissioning failed our local scene that some feel it’s best to be a full-time NFT artist? Can one form be better than the other, or maybe there is a point where traditional art collecting and NFTs meet to bring the best of both worlds? Is NFT art or is NFT money? Or…is NFT the art of making money? Is that what art is all about in the first place…money?

To clear the air, we need to take a closer look at NFTs..

The Merge by anonymous digital artist PAK was sold as an open edition NFT – similar concept to art prints for a total of USD$91.8million on Nifty Gateway. Photo: Niftygateway.com

Why are we talking about NFTs when we are not sure what NFTs are in the first place?

These three letters simply stand for non-fungible token. Even if at first you thought NFTs only benefit artists blessed with talent, you could not be more wrong. Any kind of content or data that can be stored in a blockchain can become an NFT. In fact, any kind of content you deem worthy of being preserved in the blockchain should be an NFT. 

You are a photographer and you take good photos (in your eyes, at least), turn them into NFTs. You are a writer and you write excellent articles that your readers love? Make those into NFTs. You make videos and publish them on TikTok and have a good following? Turn the videos into NFTs.

We can be like Indonesian student Ghozali. He turned his five-year series of selfies into NFTs and what did he get in return (besides endless throwback material)? US$1million.

Can we talk about how to make an NFT in the first place?

We already know that an NFT is stored on a blockchain, so what is a blockchain? And why does an artwork need a blockchain?

A blockchain is a database. Imagine a public ledger, accessible by anyone. This would be the best place to store NFTs as their authenticity would not be easily compromised.

And of course, there’s an artist’s biggest fear – plagiarism – and the ugly fight to prove your artwork belongs to you, especially when you are a small fish swimming among sharks. Once an artist’s artwork is minted as an NFT on any marketplace, any transaction associated with the said artwork is forever stored in the blockchain. The artist is legally registered as its verified creator and when an art collector purchases it, they will be known as the owner.

Another bonus point for the artist is that royalties are perpetual. When the owner decides to flip the work on the secondary market, the artist gets a royalty payment for that transaction, and every subsequent transaction. 

But not everything is sweet and dandy in the world of technology. 

Sue Anna Joe scored big when her Rusuk Emas broke the record as the most expensive NFT sold on Pentas at the time. Screenshot of @belakangpentas’ tweet

Can we talk about the other side of NFTs?

There is always another side to consider. As with all new inventions, there are cons. There is talk of NFTs being a platform for money laundering. Since the trade of NFTs uses cryptocurrency, they are said to be bad for the environment because of the amount of energy used to mine cryptocurrencies and perform transactions. 

Not much has changed for cryptocurrencies from an environmental perspective, but Etherum, the second largest cryptocurrency, plans to roll out a version 2.0 that aims to reduce energy consumption by 99.95%. There’s always a chance it won’t deliver as promised, but we will wait and see. At the very least, it will set a precedent for other cryptocurrencies. 

In terms of ownership, even when a blockchain guarantees the authenticity of an artwork, this won’t help an artist whose artwork was stolen off the Internet and minted as an NFT by someone else. That’s a scam with two victims, the artist and the collector. 

There should be a database of stolen art that can be referred to before making a purchase, much like the Art Loss Register which has done this for physical art since 1990, way before the idea of NFTs. 

Look at it this way, any new technology is bound to be manipulated and exploited beyond its original intentions. We can hide from technology and keep doing what we’ve been doing, or we can choose to embrace it and put pressure to change things for the better. The majority of cryptocurrency trading and wallet platforms make Know Your Customer (KYC) verification are a must to prevent manipulation by money launderers. 

NFTs and the crypto world are far from perfect, but we know that change is the only constant, and we have to move with the ever evolving times. 

Featured illustration on top of page by Aqilah Aminuddin

Aqilah Aminuddin is a participant in the CENDANA ARTS WRITING MASTERCLASS & MENTORSHIP PROGRAMME 2021

The views and opinions expressed in this article are strictly the author’s own and do not reflect those of CENDANA. CENDANA reserves the right to be excluded from any liabilities, losses, damages, defaults, and/or intellectual property infringements caused by the views and opinions expressed by the author in this article at all times, during or after publication, whether on this website or any other platforms hosted by CENDANA or if said opinions/views are republished on third party platforms. 



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