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Digital Art For S$93M? Why Non-Fungible Tokens Are Gaining Traction In The Local Art Scene

non-fungible token NFT

A Singapore investor recently made waves in the art world when he spent a record-breaking US$69 million (S$93 million) worth of cryptocurrency on a digital art piece.

The sale of the piece by artist Mike Winkelmann, titled “Everydays: the First 5,000 Days”, caused a stir in the art market, where digital art was still considered fairly niche.

Winkelmann became one of the top three most valuable living artists, according to auction company Christie’s, as his sale became the highest for any online bid to date.

The purchaser of the digital collage, Vignesh Sundaresan, is one of the oldest investors in Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs). NFTs operate as a new type of digital asset, and have rapidly gained popularity in recent years.

What Is A Non-Fungible Token?

non-fungible tokens NFT
Image Credit: The Guardian

NFTs are unique cryptographic tokens that exist on the Ethereum blockchain that cannot be replicated.

Each NFT has a unique identification code and metadata that distinguishes one from another, which differs from other forms of currencies. For example, one Bitcoin is always equal in value to another Bitcoin. Similarly, a single unit of Ether is always equal to another unit.

However, since each NFT is unique, they cannot be traded or exchanged at equivalency. Therefore, the digital tokens can be thought of as certificates of ownership for virtual or physical assets.

NFT
Image Credit: BearBulls Capital via Medium

As with cryptocurrency, a record of who owns what is stored on a shared ledger known as the blockchain. The records cannot be forged because the ledger is maintained by thousands of computers around the world.

Anyone can “tokenise” their work to sell as an NFT and an interest to do so has been fuelled by million-dollar sales hitting the headlines recently. For example, an animated Gif of Nyan Cat — a 2011 meme of a flying pop-tart cat — has been sold for more than US$500,000.

Music can also be sold as NFTs. American rock band Kings of Leon has made over S$2.6 million in album sales so far, and The Weeknd’s new song will also be released as an NFT.

It’s not just art that can be sold. Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey has listed his first ever tweet for sale, with bids reaching US$2.5 million (S$3.9 million).

Putting A Value To Art

Shavonne Wong NFT
Lunah Moon, an artwork by Shavonne Wong, sold for 2.50 ETH or S$4,554.28 / Screenshot from Shavonne’s Foundation page

The copying and redistribution of artwork, especially digital ones, has been a problem faced by many artists and creatives for a long time.

NFTs allow buyers of a certain art piece to prove that they own the original copy, increasing the incentives for them to purchase the work. As for artists, the value of NFTs lie in the ability to monetise artwork despite endless copies being made.

“From an artist’s perspective, this (NFT trend) is revolutionary as we can create our work and release it directly to the public while giving buyers the confidence that it won’t be replicated and that the authenticity of their purchase will always be verifiable,” said Shavonne, who is a celebrity photographer and Forbes 30 under 30 award recipient.

Furthermore, NFTs are providing creatives with the ability to make money off personal work, which is something that is not common for creatives who are not active in the physical art world.

As the world becomes more digital, why shouldn’t our art?

There are a lot of concerns at the moment that the NFT space is falling victim to hype and while the ecosystem might go through ebbs and flows, ultimately it’s giving artists a new platform to express themselves on and it’s a bet on the continued digitisation of the world. 

– Shavonne Wong, Photographer and Artist

Shavonne told Vulcan Post that she has been creating 3D virtual human models for the past year. When she was first told about NFTs, she felt like it was “a perfect match” for her work with virtual models.

With 3D virtual models, she is able to create a huge range of personal work that would not be possible with a human model, both creatively and practically.

For example, she can add in creative features onto her models, such as having fishes swim across their faces. Furthermore, the human models she typically photographs are from modelling agencies, and her personal work with models cannot be used for commercial purposes.

Having virtual models solved both problems, and when coupled with NFTs, it gave her the valuable opportunity to sell her digital work.

Shavonne Wong
Image Credit: Shavonne Wong

Despite being new to the NFT space, Shavonne shared that the crypto art space is rich with helpful information, resources, and a community that is very ready to help.

“As long as you’re willing to be challenged and engage the community on Twitter and Discord, you’ll be fine,” she said.  

Furthermore, crypto has been going through a process of validation and legitimisation, with a wave of large and well-known corporations and individuals getting involved in the space. More specifically, Tesla has started accepting bitcoin as payments for its vehicles, while venture capitalist Mark Cuban has endorsed the NFT space.

Shavonne now sells some of her work as NFTs on Foundation, an invite-only NFT platform. So far, she has sold four of her six creations, with prices going up to 2.50 ETH or S$4,554.28.

Besides Foundation, other platforms for creatives to host their work include Rarible and Opensea.

At the core, all of the marketplaces have the same utility, allowing creators to sell their art to collectors who then purchase them for the perceived value. However, the latter two allow for anyone to create and sell on their platforms, while Foundation is invite-only.

The Future Of NFTs In Singapore

Observers have warned about the dangers of investing in NFTs, and many have also dubbed it as a bubble waiting to burst.

This is due to the fact that NFTs are traded with cryptocurrencies, which are highly volatile and subject to speculation which could lead to a sharp rise or fall in prices.

Of course, there are supporters of NFTs as well. The crypto space in Singapore is just taking off, and as Singaporeans become more tech-savvy, NFTs may be something that they want to try their hand at investing in.

The local arts community will also benefit heavily from NFTs, with the ease of access and reduced barriers to entry to selling their work.

For a long time, many digital artists have been unable to sell their work, and have to resort to giving it away for free in order to gain exposure and build a reputation.

NFTs are changing this notion. Artists, especially those in Singapore, are finally able to put a value to their hard work, paving the way for greater developments in the art scene here.

“As we all know, the arts community in Singapore isn’t exactly the easiest one to get started in and develop in, but there is nothing keeping someone from diving into the NFT space and having access to a global audience,” said Shavonne.

Featured Image Credit: Everydays: the First 5,000 Days via The Verge / Nyan Cat GIF via Hypebeast

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