NFT artworks have been setting record prices and making headlines all over the world. But what exactly are NFTs?...

• The term NFT is an acronym for 'non-fungible token' - 'non-fungible' means, more or less, that something is unique (or part of a limited collection) and can't be replaced by something else.

• NFT is based on a digital method of verification known as the blockchain, the key feature of which, when it comes to art, is that it is impossible to change (this is because the ledger known as the blockchain is maintained by thousands of computers around the world). This means an artist can provide a proof authenticating an artwork which can be pass on to the artwork's new owners, but which can never be altered. So the owner of an NFT artwork has a token, a digital certificate, which proves ownership.


PICTURE: A M Hasan Nasim/Pixabay

• Some NFT art, also sometimes referred to as 'crypto art', is stored digitally on the blockchain itself but more commonly the NFT references an external artwork.

• The technology has led some artists to destroy their original artworks - the BurntBanksy collective has explained it thus: "If you were to have the NFT and the physical piece, the value would be primarily in the physical piece. By removing the physical piece from existence and only having the NFT, we can ensure that the NFT, due to the smart contract ability of the blockchain, will ensure that no one can alter the piece and it is the true piece that exists in the world. By doing this, the value of the physical piece will then be moved onto the NFT.”

• Some artists have welcomed NFTs because it enables them to sell works that otherwise there might not be a market for (and NFTs have a feature that can allow the artist to receive a percentage every time an NFT is sold).

• Owning an NFT doesn't mean you own the copyright to a work of art - they are distinct concepts from each other.

• NFTs are also used in computer games as a means of allowing gamers to win in-game assets and to sell a wide range of virtual collectibles including real estate in the virtual world of Decentraland.  

• The biggest sale involving NFT art to date took place on 11th March when Beeple, a computer science graduate whose real name is Mike Winkelmann, auctioned a piece of crypto art - Everydays — The First Five Thousand Days - at Christie’s for $US69 million.

• Other famous sales of NFT works have included that of the iconic GIF Nyan Cat by artist Chris Torres for $US590,000 and YouTube video Charlie Bit My Finger for $US760,000. And while it might be a stretch to call it art, Jack Dorsey, founder of Twitter, listed his first ever tweet for sale earlier this year, with bids reaching $US2.5 million.

• There have been concerns over the environmental impact of NFTs (as there have been over cryptocurrencies), specifically with regard to the energy used in creating the tokens through 'mining' processes.

• Paul Dylan-Ennis, 'NFT art: the bizarre world where burning a Banksy can make it more valuable' (The Conversation)
• BBC - 'What are NFTs and why are some worth millions?'
•  Mitchell Clark, NFTs, explained (The Verge)
• Laleh Samarbakhsh, 'What are NFTs and why are people paying millions for them?' (The Conversation)