Artist Ryan Maloney had planned a conventional launch for his latest project, a series of collector cards called Beastly Ballers that feature cartoon creatures decked out in football gear. The New Canaan, Connecticut-based illustrator was going to use a Chinese printer to package the cards; then he’d market them online and sell them at $4.99 for a pack of 10.
Instead, Maloney skipped the physical product all together. He listed the card images on the online marketplace OpenSea as NFTs, or nonfungible tokens, the digital assets that are upending the art world. Maloney had followed the rise of the technology and decided to give it a try.
He began to rack up bids after a day or two. One card, with a drawing of a yeti named Yeta wearing a helmet and pads, sold for $85. In all, he’s tallied more than $700 in sales on 14 cards. For a working artist, it’s a meaningful haul, and more than he would’ve made going the traditional route.
“Artists are always looking for ways to make money off of their work,” Maloney says. “Once the word got out on crypto art, the gold rush really began.”
The gold rush for NFTs — essentially cryptological certificates of authenticity — is well underway. On Thursday, Christie’s, the 255-year-old British auction house, will close the sale of its first-ever digital-only art piece, a composite of 5,000 pieces created over as many days by the artist Beeple. The final price tag is sure to be eye-popping: As of this writing, bidding stands at more than $13 million. As Maloney’s story highlights, however, the implications of NFTs ripple far beyond the multimillion-dollar hammer prices set at fancy auction houses.
NFTs bring to digital art a one-of-a-kind or limited-edition quality that’s been lost in the copy-paste, post-repost world of the internet. Each work of art is associated with a proof of ownership that’s recorded on a blockchain, the distributed ledgers most commonly associated with Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. The authentications, which can be applied to images, videos, music and other digital files, designate the original. Copies and copies of copies might abound on the web. But only one person can lay claim to the NFT behind it.
The technology is beginning to touch every corner of art, entertainment and media. In sports, a clip of Lebron James ruining a fast break sold for $100,000 on Top Shot, the NBA’s marketplace for highlight reels. In…