Got NFT? Crypto art for dummies


By now, you've likely already heard about Crypto art and NFTs. And even if you haven't heard about it, I'm certain you will hear about it within a week or two. Some pieces are already selling for millions of dollars.

Perhaps you've already skimmed some Tweets and headlines, but you came here because you still have no idea what the hell is happening. My hope with this article is to give you the shortest introduction possible. No big history lesson or deep dive for today, just a light overview.

That means this article will lack in details. That's intentional. You can find those details elsewhere.

This is your quick Crypto art & NFT crash course. Let's start from the top.

What is Crypto art?

Think of it this way: In the physical world, we have physical art. It's made by artists, then bought with money by someone who loves art. It's usually just one piece of art so when you buy it, you know that you're the only one who has it (that's assuming you bought the original, not a print). On top, the original art always comes with a certificate, so you know it's authentic. This certificate, is what *really* proves that you own this piece of art – not even the art piece itself.

Crypto art is exactly the same. But now, it's digital artists, who create a digital piece of art (like a digital painting, video or animation) and then sell it for ETH (which is a cryptocurrency, like Bitcoin, but different). That's literally it.

Anyone in the Crypto art world will tell you it's a lot more complex in the background, but that's all you need to know for now.

Now you might wonder: "Yeah, but if it's digital, couldn't I just save the image to my computer to own it?"

That is correct. With the only difference that you don't own it, you made a copy of it. The same way you can buy a print of a famous Monet painting and hang it in your house. Do you own it? No. But you own a copy of it.

What makes a a digital artwork "unique," then? Welcome to NFTs.

I could write a book on how an NFT (non-fungible token) technically works, but we don't care for the sake of simplicity. Think of an NFT like a certificate. Like a piece of paper that's signed by the artist that says, "Congrats, you now own this original piece of art. Here is my signature to make it all official looking."

An NFT is just that. A certificate. The certificate only exists once (or a few times in different versions, if the art is a series) and is tied to the piece of art. So when you buy a piece of Crypto art, you really just buy the certificate – the NFT.

Why the hell would anyone spend money on this?

Well, I don't know. But why would anyone spend millions of dollars on a painting? Why would someone spend millions on some baseball from a famous sports match? Why would anyone spend thousands on a hat Brad Pitt was wearing in a famous movie? It's really all the same question. It just depends how you answer it yourself.

Everything is worth the amount of money someone is willing to pay for it.

People buy a piece of art because they like it. Or because they think it will rise in value so they can sell it for twice as much or more later on.

How do you know which art or artist will explode, so you can sell it for 10x later on? Isn't that real risky? Yes it is. And you never really know for sure. Same as in the stock market or the current art market. Many factors play into why something rises in value, and to know it you'd have to dive deep into the art world, culture and whatever else might be relevant.

Okay, so where can I purchase Crypto art?

Many platforms exist already that offer NFTs (the certificates tied to a piece of media you can own). Some of the most notable ones currently are Rarible, SuperRare, Zora, Foundation, OpenSea and so on.

What's the difference between those platforms? Not much, from a technical perspective (other than small features). Think of Crypto art platforms like an art gallery. A gallery in the real world simply curates art from a specific group of artists so you can go there, look at the art and purchase it.

Crypto art platforms, same thing. All they do is show the art, and then facilitate the transfer. So as an artist you go there, bring your piece of art and your certificate and say, "Please sell this." The gallery will then show it, feature it and try to find a buyer, sometimes via bidding. Once a buyer has been found, they transfer the certificate (NFT) to the new owner and the artist gets paid.

Galleries differ in the way they present the art – which artists they pick, the way they feature it, how many visitors they have and how they help the artist. This is why you can only find some artists in some galleries and not others, same as a traditional gallery. Often that's not even up to the artist; you could say galleries are the gatekeeper. Even new crypto platforms (which some are invite only) imitate this behavior.

That's it. This is all you need to know about Crypto art and NFTs right now.

There are hundreds of articles already out there that go more into detail, such as how to make your own NFTs, how to buy NFTs, etc. This is not that kind of article, but if you have questions, feel free to write me on Twitter @vanschneider.

Cover art by Crypto artist, FEWOCiOUS. The original is currently owned and being sold by WuTangClan for close to a million dollarinos. That's right, not a typo.

Hi, I'm Tobias, a German designer living in New York. I'm the author of this blog, nice to meet you!