NFT art: What is an NFT, how do they work, and can YOU make millions from them?

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Chances are, you’ve seen the headlines about NFTs making huge amounts of cash for digital artists, the real people behind some of the internet’s biggest memes, and celebrities like Emily Ratajkowski and Eminem. But what is an NFT? Well, thankfully we’ve got answers to all your questions about the bizarre new trend that encompasses models, rap artists, memes from the mid-00s, and millions of dollars…

What is an NFT?

Well, NFT stands for Non-Fungible Token. But, let’s be honest, knowing that is probably not all that enlightening.

In a nutshell, NFTs work in the same way as a certificate of authenticity. If you buy a renown work of art, an antique, or a celebrity signature at auction, you will receive a certificate of authenticity to prove that what you have on your wall is the real deal. One of a kind.

With digital artwork, it’s not that easy. Digital files can be reproduced in seconds — either by the artist saving another copy from their hard-drive, or by anyone else who has access to the file simply duplicating it. In the world of digital art, how can you prove that you own the original.

Well, that’s where NFTs come in.

In economics, if something is a “fungible asset”, then it can be readily interchangeable. Like money. Swapping a £20 note for a £10 and two £5 changes what you have in your hand — but the value remains identical.

If something is non-fungible, then it’s impossible to change it with anything else and retain the value. The value comes from the fact that it cannot be swapped or altered.

So, if you have bought an NFT of your favourite digital artwork, then you own that one-of-a-kind file. It cannot be swapped or exchanged. It’s value comes from the fact that you own the original — exactly like if you had an original painting from John Constable in your collection.

How Do NFTs work?

NFTs leverage a similar technique to cryptocurrencies, like Bitcoin. A record of who owns what is recorded in a ledger, which is shared across the globe. Thousands of computers maintain the ledger, so it’s impossible to simply tweak the records to claim ownership of something that you don’t — as there are thousands of witnesses to the contrary.

These machines maintain and update the ledger as it’s one of the only ways to “mine” cryptocurrencies. By authenticating transactions with these digital coins, and registering ownership of digital artwork via NFTs, these machines are able to slowly work towards earning a small piece of Bitcoin for free.

But while this was a pretty simple task anyone with a half-capable desktop PC could do in the first few years of cryptocurrency and Bitcoin, these coins are so in demand — not to mention that fact that there are a finite number of these coins — means that it now takes some serious computing power to get any results from this ledger maintenance.

Even If You Don’t Own The NFT, Can You Just Copy A Digital File?

Yes, of course. If you see an image online, you can screenshot it, set it as your desktop background. The fact that someone might’ve spent a small fortune on the NFT of that image won’t physically stop anything on your machine.

However, you will never own that image as the rightful owner is recorded in the millions of Bitcoin and cryptocurrency transaction taking place every day in the shared ledger.

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How Much Do NFTs cost?

Well, that’s what we’re finding out at the moment. In theory, anyone can tokenise their work to sell it as an NFT right now. Got an old draft of that novel you’ve been working on for the last decade? An old CV? The only limit is whether there is any interest from bidders.

This year has been huge for NFT sales. Back in February, an animated GIF of Nyan Cat — a popular meme from 2011 of a flying cat with the body of a Pop-Tart shooting out a rainbow — sold for more than $500,000.

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A few weeks later, musician Grimes, who is married to SpaceX billionaire Elon Musk, sold some of her digital art for more than $6 million. Twitter founder Jack Dorsey has got in on the action, selling an NFT of the first-ever tweet posted to the social media website, with bids reaching $2.5 million.

Digital artist Beeple set a new record of $69 million (£50 million) for his entire collection of digital art, which he produces every day and shares on Instagram.

Next to jump on the trend, Emily Ratajkowski and rapper Eminem have announced plans to auction NFTs. The model confirmed the news on Twitter, writing: “In a step toward my ongoing effort to reclaim and control my image, I’m thrilled to announce my first conceptual artwork to ever come to market, an NFT entitled Buying Myself Back: A Model for Redistribution.

“The digital terrain should be a place where women can share their likeness as they choose, controlling the usage of their image and receiving whatever potential capital attached. Instead, the internet has more frequently served as a space where others exploit and distribute images of women’s bodies without their consent and for another’s profit. Art has historically functioned similarly: works of unnamed muses sell for millions of dollars and build careers of traditionally male artists, while the subjects of these works receive nothing.

“As a model I have become all too familiar with this narrative, as chronicled in my 2020 essay for @NYMag, Buying Myself Back. Using the newly introduced medium of NFTs, I hope to symbolically set a precedent for women and ownership online, one that allows for women to have ongoing authority over their image and to receive rightful compensation for its usage and distribution.

“This work will be at auction @ChristiesInc Post War and Contemporary Art Day Sale on May 14.”

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